Archos TV+ Review

Note: This article, whilst brutally truthful at the time of launch, related to a product which is firmware upgradable and additionally tied to an online content delivery service which is potentially constantly changing. As such the following review may no longer paint an accurate picture of the Archos TV+. Because the Archos TV+ currently has no successor that I have heard of, I will endeavor to produce an update of this review.

Archos have brought their portable media players to the home cinema in the form of the TV Plus, an underwhelming cluster of missed opportunities and wallet draining add-ons.

It’s very difficult to know where to start with the Archos TV+, I’ll readily admit to glancing over reviews and coverage of the device at other outlets and haven’t really found anything that scratches the surface of just how poor the TV+ actually is, and certainly not anything that makes a concerted effort to ensure consumers don’t waste their hard earned £300 on a fully loaded 250gb model. I am going to attempt to rectify this by detailing my experiences with the TV+.

I would apologize to Archos in advance for writing such a scathing, sometimes slightly exaggerated article but as they had the nerve to construct this piece of crap in the first place and somehow thought I might have something good to say about it I don’t think they deserve any such pleasantries.

I suppose it makes sense to start with powering on, surprisingly this is where I encountered the first issue with the TV+. I connected the supplied cable between it and my Sony Bravia KDL40W2000u SCART socket, powered it on, and waited. And waited. And waited. And waited. After an agonizing minute the TV+ stopped dreaming about being a “real” WIFI-enabled PVR and displayed a solid red light on the front to indicate that it was ready to be turned on. I hit the power button on the remote and, sure enough, the TV+ responded with a green light and… no picture.

After some powering on and off, resetting and checking of connections I decided it would be a good idea to consult the manual of the TV+ to determine exactly why I wasn’t getting any sort of picture out of the device. Apparently when powered on the TV+ cycles through different video formats and outputs until you see a picture on the screen and respond by hitting okay. Strangely enough the reset button is supposed to restart this process but never seemed to. To be fair, I’ll chalk this up as user error.

After connecting an HDMI cable to the TV+ in addition to the supplied SCART (eugh, bletch… what is it 1990?) I managed to obtain a picture, albeit a particularly bad one. Using this new found window into the world of the Archos TV+ I was able to go into the display settings and change the signal to composite, sure enough the screen went blank and a quick flip to AV1 revealed the Archos picture once again in all its glory, or lack thereof.

I spent approximately half an hour to an hour over the course of two days playing with both the picture settings on my TV and the Archos TV+ desperately trying to get a picture that didn’t look like it was somehow beamed to the 80s for processing and then back into my television, I went through widescreen, 16:9, PAL, NTSC and 4:3 modes before settling finally on 4:3 and allowing my television to stretch and upscale the resulting image to fit the screen. It doesn’t really look that stretched, and every single other goddamn mode results in overscan, under-scan or super-wide-screen-o-vision so I didn’t have much choice. Running the TV+ in 576p via HDMI not only tied up one of my valuable HDMI ports with a diabolically bad, low resolution signal but resulted in a picture no better than that I obtained after much experimentation over composite. Hooray for completely pointless HDMI implementations! The HD stands for High Definition don’t you know? Not Horribly Distorted.

Once I had my picture set up I tried the sample videos. I was, quite surprisingly, treated to a muddy mess of over compressed nonsense. These are the videos Archos have put onto their brand new entrance into a market they’ve never before ventured into to demonstrate its abilities? With 250gb of hard disk space, a file browser and a delete function available so the end user could clear this crap off one would think Archos would toss some significantly less compressed and worthwhile video onto the device to demonstrate just how reasonable a picture it is capable of displaying before it’s inevitably deleted to make room for the latest spate of torrented LOST episodes, the over compressed nonsense I was treated to would have looked poor on a 4 inch display, I have never used an Archos PMP and now nor do I ever want to but I suspect that’s where this demonstration content came from.

Photos were an entirely different story, however, a quick browse through the supplied demonstration photos on the TV+ yielded a fairly fantastic picture that was very difficult to imagine being sent through a lowly SCART cable. Flipping through photos is extremely fast and responsive and if the TV+ cost £250 less and was sold as a photo browser there would be nothing objectionable about it. I could end the review here and save myself, Archos, and anyone stubborn enough to read past the point I dive into a mindless, furious rant a whole lot of wasted time. I can hardly believe, in the face of all the bad points I have and will make about the TV+, that the words above are my own but the fact remains that the TV+ does photo browsing fluidly, quickly and impressively.

After ogling the photos and pointing out camels and pictures of London to my baby daughter I decided that the TV+ needed some somewhat higher quality video content thrown onto it. After all if photos can look this good then some reasonable uncompressed video can’t be bad?

There were two methods for getting video from my laptop onto the TV+, either directly via USB cable or indirectly via the network. I chose the hard way. Putting the Archos into writable network sharing mode was a synch, sadly the device is locked for all other use when copying files to and from it in network sharing mode… this is somewhat perplexing for something that’s capable of streaming media over a network but I decided that I would be unlikely to both copy files and wish to watch something at the same time.

My test subject was a rather poor choice of Family Guy, Season 6 to be precise, compressed to approximately 170mb per episode. But the TV+ wasn’t playing nice. After a couple of agonizing 4 minute waits as the files copied over the network to the TV+ I was greeted with an error message stating that I didn’t have permission to copy them. Now this may be an OSX issue but it would be nice to know that something can’t be done before watching it being done for 4 minutes. Twice. For a speed comparison I fired up my Freecom NAS and blatted the same 170mb of Family Guy episode over to it in a paltry and odly precise 2 minutes. Half the time it took for a single episode to not copy onto the TV+.

I decided to try the easy way, grabbed the nearest USB cable to hand and plugged it between the TV+ and my laptop without consideration for any settings or documentation. (Yeah, I’m a Mac user. Things should just work. Macs even crash efficiently) The TV+ froze. After slow power cycle and a quick trip to the settings to switch the device into “PC Hard Drive” mode I reconnected the Archos TV+ to my laptop and waited patiently. After some 30 seconds I rejoiced as the TV+ was recognized and added to my desktop as “Unknown”. In 2 minutes I was able to transfer all 1.4gb of Season 6 to the TV+, another minute and I was watching an episode. Suffice to say the picture was considerably better than that of the demonstration content, granted it’s a cartoon but compression is compression and there wasn’t much difference between the resulting picture and that which is output by my Sky+ box.

Sound, on the other hand, is somewhat disappointing. Whilst the audio is perfectly good in quality, clarity and all other gauges of audio outside those reserved for single-minded audiophiles who wouldn’t touch the TV+ with a ten foot barge pole, it seriously, seriously lacks in volume. The Archos TV+ has its own volume control, but even at maximum volume it’s significantly lower than the output of my Sky+ box, Xbox 360, PS3, and Wii. This means I have to turn up the TV to use the TV+, and then remember to turn it down again so the windows down blow out when I switch to any other input.

Okay, so the Archos TV+ does good old fashioned low resolution Video and photos quite well. What next?

Well, there are several more tricks up the sleeve of the TV+ like, for example, the Web Browser. That you have to pay £20 for. Fortunately I had scored a plugin download code so I headed on over to the Archos website to grab my free (normally £50) worth of plugins. Irritating add-on charges and the necessity to navigate to the Archos website instead of, I don’t know, using the internet connectivity that’s supposed to be built right into the TV+ seem to be running themes for Archos.

I earnestly and correctly filled in my download code, serial number and product key and was presented with 3 delightful graphics and links to the Podcast, Cinema and Web Browser plugins. Each of these 3 links resulted in a 404. This is about the point at which my already established prejudice against the Archos TV+ evolved into an outright grudge. I headed on over to the help section and discovered a link to a page where I could download already purchased plugins. No go. I tried entering my details to reach the download page again. No go, my download code had already been used to produce several wonderfully useful 404s.

To Archos’s credit all it took was one email to [email protected] with my download code and device details. I sent this on Saturday or Sunday, I don’t remember which, and received a response early on monday. 8:16 am to be precise. Bingo! I could now proceed to the download page and grab the plugins.

At this stage I’m not sure whether I want to revel in the speed at which Archos responded to and solved my problem or wonder exactly why they have a support email set up solely to deal with problems downloading plugins which should have come free with their devices in the first place. Nowhere on the Archos TV+ box does it explicitly note, in large, clear, text, that this web browsing, Youtube video supporting box requires £20 extra to actually do what I would have thought £250 bought me.

The same goes for PVR functionality. Nowhere on the Archos TV+ box does it explicitly state that the device does not contain a freeview tuner, instead relying on a complicated messy setup that hijacks your existing tuner. Neither does it say “Subscription Required After 1 Year For This Half-Arsed Functionality To Actually Freaking Work”. Yes, alongside £50 of plugins, an existing free-view, Sky or NTL tuner the TV+ requires a TVTV subscription.

Is this really the practice that gained Archos notoriety as a producer of solid, high quality, flexible albeit niche portable media players?

At this point I would like to say that if I had purchased the Archos TV+ with my own, hard earned cash this is when I would have marched it right back to the store and told them just where to shove it. I wish I had nothing more to say, but I can’t stop here so I will apologize in advance for the length of this review and would like to remind anyone who leaves at this point not to consider buying a TV+ until Archos work out the kinks.

Anyway. Onward. To the remote. Now the Archos TV+ remote is possibly my most favorite and most hated feature. It’s a novel idea; producing a very comfortable to hold, approximately square, black, infra-red, remote that boasts not only a full QWERTY keyboard but a thumb-operated mouse pad. However, whilst the TV+ remote oozes with style and innovation, it is sincerely lacking in execution and construction. The keyboard is mushier than a bowl of six week old fruit and has approximately zero tactile feedback. If you want to see a small thumb board done properly you only have to look at the HTC Kaiser or the Xbox 360 Message Pad. I own both of these devices and am able to type quickly and comfortably on them. The Archos TV+ remote, on the other hand, is a completely different matter. The mushy keyboard keys are tiny and incredibly close together, the general idea of a thumb board is that it can be operated with thumbs, suffice to say you’re going to need some long thumb nails or your little fingers to get any use out of this one. This is a huge disappointment because the TV+ remote just looks so right, please, please, Archos do it again and do it right! I haven’t even touched upon the poor positioning of the other buttons, and I don’t think I’ll bother either. As an additional note; having a remote with a keyboard obviously geared toward using the web browser functionality that the Archos TV+ doesn’t even have out of the box is unnecessary insult added to injury. Why not sell the TV+ with a compact, slightly more ordinary remote and onscreen keyboard and sell the web browser plugin with the remote?

Well, I mentioned above that I actually managed to obtain said browser plugin. Copying it to the TV+ (making sure to use USB mode from the outset this time) was a synch, I then had to go into the file browser and run it to “activate” the browser (which incidentally is already installed on the TV+ for the crappy Archos content portal (we’ll get to that shortly) and just locked from all other functionality. The browser itself does what it says on the tin, it browses. But somehow, despite being Opera based (and I am an avid Opera user) it manages to singularly fail where the Opera mobile, Desktop and Wii browsers succeed. I can’t even log into my fracking gmail! What the hell? Fortunately for me this problem is common and several months old and has workarounds but still somehow remains unresolved in the TV+. I guess this is what happens when you half-assedly rehash your PMP firmware and hardware and attempt to pass it off as a PVR-come-wifi-media-streaming-thingy.

I didn’t go past the gmail issue in the browser. I simply gave up. I had seen enough. Considering the fact that users are expected to pay an additional £20, deal with the awful remote keyboard, and dick about downloading plugins/copying them to the player before they can even use this functionality I had pretty much blown my last fuse as far as browsing is concerned. In the time it takes to cold boot the TV+ and get on the internet I could BOOT MY LAPTOP TWICE, hook it up to my television and be browsing YouTube in HIGH DEFINITION (albeit most of the YouTube content is godawful low-definition, over-compressed dross anyway). Archos. What the frack?

In truth the whole experience may have been a lot less painful if the Archos was capable of outputting an HD signal into my HD TV, combined with an entirely redesigned HD-friendly interface that actually makes use of more than half of my screen. As it stands the TV+ is simply just a 5th generation, Wifi enabled PMP that Archos have crammed, alongside a capacious hard drive, into possibly the ugliest piece of generic chinese knock-off look-a-like “wish-it-were-Apple-but-we-don’t-have-the-balls-to-fully-rip-off-their-design-like-TerraTec-do” plastic crap ever to adorn my A/V shelf since the squashed marshmallow excuse for a white Xbox 360 and the George Forman grill of a PS3. My Nintendo Wii is either weeping tears of joy at its new found simplistic beauty or cowering, alone, in the corner of the shelf simply weeping and wishing it were somewhere else.

Okay. What did I say I would get back to? This review (read: utter demolition) of the TV+ is running on for so long that I’m losing my place. Ah. Content Portal. Suffice to say I didn’t get far in the content portal, it’s a messy disjointed eyesore that somehow manages to occupy only half of my glorious television screen (the rest seems to be occupied with the ever invasive and entirely superfluous UI and large portions of the least ugly background I could find on the device) with its mediocre content. All of the free content in the content portal is either compressed to hell, in French, or both. This would be all very well if it were clip after clip of grainy french pornography but it’s not. Archos have endowed their content portal with crappy unwatchably compressed streaming videos that I can get from Xbox Live, the Playstation Store or the “real” internet in 720p inside of 5 minutes- if, for some reason, I haven’t watched them a year ago when they were released.

And films? No high definition. No decent sound. Rental only? I think I’ll buy the DVD if I ever get the inkling to watch “Black Snake Moan”… whatever the frack that is. As I currently own more HD-DVD than I have ever owned DVDs I think I’ll stick to my Xbox 360, PS3 and my LOVEFiLM subscription for all my movie watching needs. Okay Archos?

Now. Don’t get me wrong. Give me reasonable quality 720p downloadable content on a subscription comparable to that which I have with LOVEFiLM and I will be all over it like a rash, but I just don’t see the appeal in paying money to watch such classics as Aliens, Beverly Hills Cop and Broken Arrow in compressed-download-o-vision.

Also available on Archos content portal in the “Shit You’ve Already Seen And Probably Have On DVD If You Care About It” category (That’s the whole portal, it seems) such dross as: X-Men, X-Men 2, Whale Rider (what the frack is that!?), What Women Want, Working Girl, Speed, Super Troo… Okay I just can’t go on any more. I give up.

In a nutshell the Archos TV+ is a very, very poorly realized rehash of Archos’s (award winning?) PMPs that tacks together a whole lot of functionality that sounds great on paper but is really so badly executed it makes me want to cry and go out and buy a real media center system to make myself feel better. Fortunately I already have several devices that put the Archos TV+ to absolutely shame and actually have the balls to output, *gasp* an HD signal or, in the case of the Wii, a picture that isn’t abysmal. The PS3 and Xbox 360 combined do all that the Archos TV+ does and more and the Wii is just the slightly quirky icing on the cake… which is strange only because the cake is a chocolate brownie and doesn’t need icing. But I digress. What was I talking about again? Oh yes. The TV+. Don’t buy it. You’ve been warned. If somehow after this almost entirely truthful article (if you even read this far) you still want to buy the TV+ I’ve not only got one I will sell to you discounted, but I also have several plots on the moon going cheap and a flock of invisible persian sheep whose wool is renowned the world over for its luxurious softness.

Archos TV+ 250gb: £250.

Web Browser, Podcast and Cinema Plugins: £50.

TVTV Subcription: Pretty redundant when your TV+ will be sitting at the bottom of a dumpster before your free subscription period expires.

The realization that you just got shafted for £300 by a companies first tentative foray into a market it clearly doesn’t know jack about: Priceless!

One Response to “Archos TV+ Review”

  1. […] Despite the above wish list the SlingBox PRO and SlingBox SOLO are both absolutely fantastic products with an extremely impressive standard of quality and simplicity that far exceeds any similar products I’ve had the (dis-)pleasure to use. Sling Media prove that you don’t have to be a consumer electronics giant to produce a well rounded, properly polished product backed up by excellent software. If only more manufacturers would follow their example. Yes, Archos. I’m looking at you. […]