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So you've been listening to music on your hard drive portable for the past year or so and you think you're fairly tech-savvy, do you? Well, you were. Until Archos made you obsolete. Passé. So last week. But don't hold Archos accountable for your myriad shortcomings. Oh no. Archos has just done you a massive favour and unveiled its first music and video jukebox to follow on from its hugely popular MP3 fare. Archos has given you the means to be top of the gadget pile again. To regain the respect of your gadget brethren. Archos has given you the 20GB AV320 and its big brother the 40GB AV340 (the units are identical apart from HD size).
Whereas other portable hard-drive players satisfy themselves by supplying your every mobile musical whim, the Archos does all that as a hobby, then gets down and dirty playing MPEG4 video (encoded as DivX or XviD: see encoding video below for details), yet still manages to be every bit as pocketable as the majority of its music-only rivals. With a roomy and ultra-fast 20/40GB USB 2.0 hard disk to play with, the world is your digital oyster. You can store up to 40 hours of MP4 video, MP3 files, voice recordings, JPEGs, or any other type of file you care to mention.
Not content with being the most talented jukebox ever made, the master-of-all-trades Archos can even encode direct from any video or audio source, so it works as a universal digital recorder, capable of grabbing anything from Kilroy to xXx to the latest Blazin' Squad single, depending on how into self-abuse you are. The built-in timer function means you can get your VCR primed for dispatch from the nearest fourth floor window and toss your MD or tape player through just behind it. Forget DVD recording or Sky+, or other such rot. This is the only digital recorder you'll ever need.
The built-in, pin-sharp 3.8-inch LCD screen is large enough to comfortably watch a whole film on the train and yet the device is still only the size of a pocket A-Z. How Archos have done it is beyond us, but they've managed to beat Apple, Creative et al at their own game and come up with one of the most groundbreaking gadgets ever to plop through the Firebox letterbox. Remarkable.
Archos also make various accessories, such as a photo module, to turn your AV320/340 into a digital camera/video camera, or a combined radio/remote control. The JBM Memory Card Reader allows you to transfer data from Compact Flash, SmartMedia and SD cards. (View Java 3-D tour of plug-ins.)
Recording DVDs direct to the hard drive is a mercifully simple task thanks to the included Digital Video Recorder (DVR) and somehow the Archos manages to skirt round DVD's "uncrackable" Macrovision copy protection, although copying commercial DVDs would put you on the business end of the law's long arm and we couldn't possibly ever encourage it.
If you'd told us last year that we'd be watching films on pocket-sized MP3-playing devices, we'd have guffawed in your general direction and departed the scene post-haste. These days, we're older, wiser, and far more open to the mutterings of assorted madmen, particularly when they concern bleeding edge tech. The Archos AV320/340: so much to answer for.