Archos Players Tout Wi-Fi, Flash Support

Archos has introduced its Generation 5 line of personal media players, combining video playback and recording capability with big screens, plenty of storage, the ability to play Flash-powered video, and (for two models) Wi-Fi connectivity, a TV program guide, and the ability to purchase video content from CinemaNow.

“Generation 5 is a breakthrough product line for Archos, with the right combination of content, capabilities, and price to make it easy for technology novices, while still exciting gadget fans,” said Henri Crohas, Archos’s founder and CEO. “Our focus is on the consumer—their interests, their budget, and their time—and the new products represent the first connected PMPs that give consumers exactly the options they’re looking for.”

The new Archos line consists of four new media players: the diminutive 105, the 405, and the WiFi-enabled 605 and 705. So far Archos has only released significant technical details about the 605: the unit touts an 800 by 480 4.3-inch LCD display and either 4 GB of flash memory or integrated hard drives with 30 or 160 GB capacities—in addition to 4 GB of flash and an SD card slot for loading additional media. On the video front, the 605 handles MPEG-4 and WMV, while optional plug-ins let the unit play H.264, AAC, and MPEG-2. The 605’s integrated DVR capability captures NTSC/PAL/SECAM in MPEG-4 AVI fomat at 640 by 480 resolution. For audio, the 605 handles MP3, WMA, protected WMA, and WAV, with optional plug-ins adding AAC and AC3 support. Of course, users can side-load media via USB, but the 605 also sports 802.11g WiFI for streaming media from online and home network sources.

What’s this about Flash video? For the first time, Archos will offer the Opera Web browser—complete with Adobe Flash support—as a $29.99 software add-on for their Generation 5 media player devices. With the plug in, users of the Archos WiFi-enabled PMPs will be able to surf the Internet and view Flash-powered media, including popular sites like YouTube. The plug-in also provides access to the Archos Content Portal, a Web-based online store which will offer users downloadable movies, TV shows, and music without first downloading to a separate PC or Mac. Archos has inked a partnership with CinemaNow to offer television and movie content. Users can also record television programming using the DVR Station Gen 5, which will offer a personalized TV Program Guide tailored to a user’s local channel lineup. If that’s not enough, users can browse and play media on their home networks using the integrated Wi-Fi connection.

Other players in the Archos Generation 5 line include the tiny 105 (which will offer a smaller screen and 2 GB of flash storage), the 405 (with a larger screen, 2 GB of Flash storage, and an SD card slot), and the 705 appears to sport an even larger screen than the 605, the same media playback, Wi-Fi, and Web options, and hard drive capacities of 80 to 160 GB.

The Archos Generation 5 line will be available in September, with the Archos 405 starting at just $170 (with SD storage). Versions of the Archos 605 will carry suggested prices of $230 (4 GB of flash memory), $300 (30 GB hard drive), and $400 (160 GB hard drive). Pricing details on the 105 and 705 haven’t been released.

Overall, Archos’ offerings are a serious attempt to assail Apple’s current stranglehold on the portable media market by offering larger capacities, bigger screens, Wi-Fi connectivity, integrated Web browsing and support for online video, and an online marketplace to serve as an alternative to Apple’s iTunes Store—all at prices shoppers might find attractive. Now the only question is now many consumers will embrace Archos’ devices.

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