Product: Archos TV+
Price: $249 (80GB), $349 (250GB)
Pros: A home entertainment powerhouse that offers media streaming, movie downloading, and DVR performance.
Cons: The menus and interface are too complex and could use some streamlining.
Many companies have attempted to bridge the gap between the home computer and the home entertainment system, but you won’t find many of their products in the dens across America. The perfect solution has to be not only well-priced, but also ridiculously easy to set up and use. Archos makes some important steps with the TV+, a wireless solution that offers an impressive list of features for recording and streaming content. While it’s not difficult for anyone who’s comfortable with computers, the developers could have pushed ease-of-use a little farther.
Whatever you’re looking for from a media streaming device, chances are the TV+ has it. It can play content from your Windows computer, record programming from live TV, download movies, and even transfer recording programs to an Archos portable. The device it resembles most is the Apple TV, although it goes beyond the Apple TV’s abilities.
Setup requires following several steps, but the whole process isn’t difficult. The box includes the TV+ itself, plus two sets of component audio and S-Video cables. A reference sheet shows you how to connect the device to your TV first, and then to your satellite box, cable box, or VCR. The TV+ includes connections for component video, composite video, and HDMI, but you’ll need to provide those cables yourself if you want anything but an S-Video connection. Note that the TV+ only offers HDMI output, so you can’t record in high-definition.
When you first start the TV+, on-screen directions prompt you to connect to your Wi-Fi network. Do so and you’ll be able to stream from your computer or the Internet.
If you’re running Windows XP or Vista and using Windows Media Player 11, you can enable streaming on your computer (the manual explains how) and then play your stored videos, music, or pictures on your TV. Content shows up immediately in the TV+ menus and we saw no lag in performance even with video. The device also supports USB drag-and-drop content loading for people using other OSs, including the Apple OS. While the press release says that users can stream content from a Mac, that doesn’t seem to be true.
The TV+ can work as a digital video recorder (DVR), but only if you register with Archos and download a program guide. The guide is free for the first year; we can’t say how much it costs after that, as the price doesn’t seem to be on the Web site. Adding the episode guide is a nuisance we wish the developers would have simplified, as you first need to download and install a helper application to your desktop.
Connect the TV+ to your home network and you can download movies to it from CinemaNow. During testing, new releases cost $4 to rent and $20 to buy. You can also surf the Internet with the TV+ or connect a generation 3, 4, or 5 Archos portable to the included USB port to transfer video.
The TV+ worked as it should during our testing, discovering content on a networked computer and pulling content from the Internet without a glitch. Recording programs to the 80GB hard drive (Archos also sells a 250GB model) was simple enough once it was set up.
Archos has never been known for elegant interface design, and we wish the creators would have spent more time on simplifying the controls. The remote is packed with 52 buttons. Compare that to the elegantly simple 6-button remote that comes with the Apple TV. The on-screen menus should be much simpler. Why require users to press the “M” button on the remote to call up the menu settings, when they could simply scroll over to them? And why offer mouse capabilities on the remote, as well as left- and right-click functions, when you could simply have people use the arrow keys to move around the screen? The interface is tediously overcomplicated.
While Archos could have improved the controls, the functionality includes everything a video-junkie could hope for. The Archos TV+ does the best job yet of integrating the TV and the PC.
Troy Dreier is a regular contributor to Web Video Universe, PDA Street, Intranet Journal, and Laptop Magazine. He also writes a weekly consumer technology column, which is published in the Jersey Journal newspaper and distributed by the Newhouse News Service. His first book, CNET Do-It-Yourself Home Video Projects: 24 Cool Things You Didn’t Know You Could Do was published by McGraw-Hill in August.