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January 13, 2004

Not a vPod

Scoble talks about how an iPod for video would be ideal for coach-seat entertainment. Sam chimes in, but has reservations given that the new windows media center devices at CES were wma only. I think this is the moment I need to give an update a device that actually fits their requirements perfectly, the Archos AV3xx series. I have an AV380, see my earlier post on the history of it.

First I have to confess that I probably would never have bought the device. Bottom-line price for it is a whooping $850, and its cheapest little brother, the 20 GB version still goes for about $450. Now that I have one I think it is one very cool device and you'll have a hard time taking it away from me again. I would be tempted to buy one, especially if I would have to travel coach class. I always do a lot of laptop work, but I have yet to encounter an airline that gives a linebacker-sized guy like myself enough space for working in coach. But USAirways loves me and always put in the good seats.

I was a bit skeptical at first about the device. After all a 3.8" screen isn't that big. But is has impressed me immensely, the clarity and crispiness of the screen are magnificent and watching movies is a pretty intense happening. The device forces you to focus on such a way that you don't really notice it is such a small screen. Movies with a lot of breathtaking scenery are a bit lost, but others like action movies or those that center around a strong human interaction element, are a good watch. Television shows in general fits this bill very well and watching shows like 24, CSI or the Shield is just as good an experiences as on the big screen.

I have been playing mainly with watching TV shows. I have a WinTV 350 (the same as Sam wants), and have it set to record a few shows and and sometimes movies. The quality of the recordings is such that you cannot really watch is in full screen mode on my WUXGA monitor, but it turns out to be perfect quality for the AV380. You do have to do a few transformations on it though, as the recording application of the 350 outputs crappy mpeg and only very few (liberal) decoders can read the files. For example Virtual Dub (which ships with the AV380 with a control application for transcoding files for the handheld)  cannot read the mpeg files produced by WinTV. It took me a while to figure what the best transcoding applications are and I now use a mixture of Dr.DivX, DVD2DivX, Xmeg and VirtualDub to et the job done. The AV380 accept MP4-SP, DivX and XviD. BTW I am very surprised that there are no encoding applications out there that exploit multi-processors. With hyper-threading this would be something you would expect to see showing up.

I am very happy with the device, it is a bit chunky to carry along mp3 player, but it is certainly great as a video player. If you upgrade to the new 2.0 firmware, you can now also listen to your wma music files, and it includes video editing on the device itself. Battery life is a bit short when watching video: 2.5 - 3 hours, mp3 listening only gets you about 9-10 hours.

If you can afford this kind of device, it is certainly worth buying.

Posted by Werner Vogels at January 13, 2004 09:43 PM