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Archos AV420

Volume Number: 20 (2004)
Issue Number: 11
Column Tag: Programming

Focus Review

Archos AV420

by Dave Mark

Here is a wonderful gadget that combines the video recording features of your Tivo or ReplayTV with the portability of a Game Boy.

To start things off this year, we've got a wonderful gadget that combines the video recording features of your Tivo or ReplayTV with the portability of a Game Boy. The Archos AV420 is a pocket video recorder. It comes with a cradle that you hook up to your video source using either three RCA connections (red, white, and yellow) or two RCAs (red and white) for audio and an S-Video connector for higher quality video. There's also an AC adapter that you'll need to plug into the wall. Once you are connected, plug the AV420 into the cradle and you are ready to start recording.

Figure 1. The AV40, in its cradle, playing video.

In its simplest configuration, the AV420 acts like a VCR. Set your video source to watch what you want to record and the video signal appears on your AV420's display. Press the record button and the AV420 starts capturing the video. The AV420 will continue to record until it either runs out of hard drive space or you press the stop button. The 420 comes with a 20 GB hard drive which equates to about 80 hours of recorded video. Once you stop recording, the recorded video is saved into an MPEG-4 SP format with ADPCM stereo sound.

The AV420 interface is easy to use. To play video, use the arrow keys to highlight the Video icon, then press the center button. You are presented with a very Window-like directory listing of all the video files in the video directory. Scroll down till you select a file you want to play, then press the center button. That's it.

Figure 2. The front panel of the AV420, immediately after booting.

The AV420 comes with a pair of reasonable quality ear-bud headphones with a built in thumb wheel volume control. You can also adjust the volume by pressing the up and down arrows. Since I like to share (and who doesn't?), I use a Boosteroo headset amplifier so two of us can watch video at the same time. I lower the volume on the headset thumb wheel, then use the arrow keys to raise the volume till my viewing partner is happy. I can then use the thumb wheel on my headset to fine tune my volume. The Boosteroo is very cool (

If you like, you can use the AV420 to drive an external video device. The cradle comes with a set of 3 RCA cables labeled AV-out. Plug those into your TV or VCR and press the TV/LCD button and the video output will go to the external device instead of to the AV420's LCD display.

Much More Thanks Just a Video Recorder

I love the whole idea of being able to load up 80 hours of video and taking it on the road. We went to the beach for a week and recorded movies, hours and hours of the kids favorite shows, and even a couple of Sopranos episodes for me. But, as I discovered, there is so much more that this machine can do. It has a built-in microphone so you can record audio on-the-go. The hard drive is just as happy with MP3 files and photos as it is with video files.

You can use the built in USB 2.0 port to connect the machine to your computer and move your photos and music collection back and forth. The battery life is terrific. I regularly got more than 3 hours of life with the LCD driven the entire time. And if you pop the AV420 in the cradle, you can watch video as you recharge the battery. Just like a laptop.

The AV420 also comes with a relatively simple recording scheduler, so you can use the AV420 like a VCR. The unit comes with an IR emitter so you can change channels on your satellite receiver or VCR.

There's also a built-in CompactFlash Type I slot that takes your cameras CompactFlash card or an optional Archos adapter for SD, SM, MMC, MS and MS Pro. This means you can take a bunch of pictures, fill up your camera's card, then pop out the card and pop it into the AV420. The AV4220 makes it easy to copy a single file or all the files from your card to the AV420 hard drive. You can use the LCD screen to preview the pictures, though things do slow down if your picture sizes tend toward the multiple megabyte size.

Price and Size

The Archos AV420 lists for $549, but the street price can run as much as $100 less. It's about 3 inches by 5 inches and about 7/8 of an inch deep. The AV420 weighs just under 10 ounces. It comes with a carrying case that is designed to protect the screen. The carrying case features a Velcro closure, as well as elastic on the sides which make it very easy to get the unit in the case. The case does an excellent job protecting the AV420, but does not allow space for the headset. Seems to me, this is in line with the iPod cases I've seen as well.

The Future of the iPod?

Speaking of the iPod, as I played with the AV420, I couldn't help but sense that I was getting a peek into the iPod's future. Now that we have a color iPod, can't you just see the iTunes store starting to carry a variety of video for download to the iPod? I see this as a logical next step. That's the future. For now, the Archos AV420 will do quite nicely!

Dave Mark is a long-time Mac developer and author and has written a number of books on Macintosh development. Dave has been writing for MacTech since its birth! Be sure to check out the new Learn C on the Macintosh, Mac OS X Edition at


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