504 Portable Multimedia Player
Improved Fifth Generation with Video iPod
The Archos 504 has two
enormous advantages over other competitors.
The first is obvious -
its huge screen, much better suited for watching video on.
The second is more subtle, but equally advantageous - a less
intrusive copyright management scheme.
Archos is insufficiently well
known as an alternative to the iPod. Archos has been
consistently at the leading edge of MP3 and video player
development, and the 504 unit reviewed here equals or exceeds
the capabilities of its iPod and Zune competitors.
The Archos 504 is the only
practical portable video player. Both the iPod and Zune
have ridiculously too small sized screens.
And the Archos 504 has the
flexibility that the other two players lack in terms of how you
set up your music directories on the player.
With plenty of plus features,
and no relevant negatives, this is the player to consider.
What you get with your Archos
The Archos 504 MP3 player comes packaged in a
cardboard box, somewhat larger than the iPod or Zune boxes, and
without any of the clever design elements of the Zune box.
Inside the box is the player
itself, a connecting cable that runs from a USB port on a
computer to a connection on the 504 (this is, like with the iPod
and Zune players, a unique size and shape of connector that is
incompatible with other brands of players), a set of ear bud
type headphones (colored black) complete with a volume control,
a nice protective carry wallet, and an adapter 'saddle' to
enable the unit to be mated to the Archos DVR Station (an
optional extra accessory).
In terms of paperwork, there
is a quick start guide in English, French and Spanish with 11
pages of helpful information, a six language booklet of legal
and safety notices, a warranty sheet, a discount voucher for
some music track downloads, and a promotional brochure of Archos
To get more detailed
information on how to use your Archos 504, you need to download
a manual from their website and/or read the manual that is
preloaded onto the player. The user manual I downloaded
(version 2.1) was 59 pages in size.
The warranty coverage is for
one year, and there seems to be unlimited phone support (via an
800 number) offered. This is the same as offered with the
Zune, whereas the iPod - which also has a one year warranty -
has a 90 day/single call support period. To get more iPod
support, you need to buy a $59 additional warranty.
There was no CD-rom or
software supplied with the unit, other than that already loaded
Accessories You'll Want to Buy
The Archos player (like the
Zune and iPod) comes with no power recharger - it assumes you'll
always be close to a computer or laptop with a USB port from
which to recharge the unit.
If you want to get a
separate recharger, you'll either have to get some sort of
after-market recharger that ends in a USB socket into which you
can plug the Archos connecting cable (stores such as Radio Shack
and cell phone stores sell these devices that plug into car
cigarette lighters) or else you'll have to buy a docking adapter
and power supply. There are three different options to
choose from here :
The simplest is the Docking
Adapter. This provides a way to charge the 504, plus
allows the unit to act as either a host or slave for USB
connections. As a slave, it could be connected to your
computer, and as a host, you could connect your camera to it and
transfer images off its memory card. This unit lists for
$29.99 and a power supply is extra.
The mid level unit is their
DVR Travel Adapter. This allows you to record video in
various formats, including direct from cameras and camcorders.
It lists for $69.99, and a power supply is extra.
Their top of the line unit
is the DVR Station, which offers all the functions of the other
two units, plus allows you to record and play video in high
quality as well as compressed format, and comes with a remote
control as well. This lists for $99.99, and
includes a power supply, making it effectively the same price as
the DVR Travel Adapter.
A power supply sells for $30
- either one that plugs into the mains (a nice kit with various
different plug adapters included for international travel), or
one that plugs into a car cigarette lighter.
We suggest you also buy a
second battery; indeed, they're so inexpensive and lightweight,
why not buy two or three extra batteries! Batteries are
$30 each. You can also buy an oversized double life
battery for $50
here (but be careful not to buy regular batteries from this
company because they sell them for $10 more than list price).
You might also want to buy
the software plug-in to enable you to play AAC formatted music
and H.264 formatted video. This is a $20 download.
The Archos 504 measures
approx 5.1" x 3.0" x 0.7" and weighs 11.1 ounces. This is
almost exactly twice the weight of either the iPod or Zune
players, and almost twice the size too.
But there's a reason it is
bigger and heavier. It has a much bigger screen - this is
such an important feature it is discussed in its own section,
The unit is made out of a
brushed metal/plastic, and has a series of five control buttons
on the right hand side, each of which can be clicked to the left
or right, giving a total of ten different functions. There
are also two buttons on the top, and four LEDs on the left side,
and the battery release lever, making for a unit that has a lot
more controls than the minimalist iPod or Zune. On the
other hand, Archos is to be commended for not slavishly copying
the look and feel of the iPod/
The unit doesn't impress as
being of the same ultra-high quality and very polished design
and build standard of the iPod. Part of this is due to
having a removable battery on the back rather than an enclosed
'all in one' case, and for sure, the slight reduction in
'slickness' this creates is a most worthwhile tradeoff for the
benefit of being able to replace the battery (and travel with a
spare) that it allows.
Like other units, it can
play back audio and video, and display pictures. But
unlike many other units, it can also record audio through its
built in microphone, or from any external line-level source in
conjunction with the DVR Travel Adapter or DVR Station.
And it can record video, too - again in conjunction with either
the DVR Travel Adapter or DVR Station.
It also has a miniature
speaker to allow you to play back audio through the unit itself.
This is neither a high quality nor a loud play back capability,
but to quickly check on something you've been recording, or to
'in an emergency' hear some audio, it is helpful.
The Magnificent Screen on the
The huge screen is one of
the two strongest features of the Archos 504. Its
screen measures 3.8" x 2.2" with a 4.3" diagonal. It has a
pixel resolution of 480 x 272 pixels in 16 million colors.
This screen is enormously
bigger than the screen on an iPod or Zune, and has widescreen
16:9 proportions too.
The Zune and iPod screens
have regular tv style 4:3 proportions, and are much smaller (3"
and 2.5" diagonals), and both have 320x240 pixels, with 65,000
If you're watching regular
4:3 type programming, the improvement of the Archos is more
limited - you'd have 363x272 pixel resolution and an image size
with a 3.7" diagonal. This is 30% more pixels and a 6.5 sq
inch viewing area (compared to a 3 sq inch or 4.3 sq inch
viewing area on the iPod and Zune). So the Archos has more
picture detail and a lot more picture size for regular tv type
If you're watching a
letterboxed movie or widescreen type television, then the
difference between the Archos and the other two units really
opens up. The Archos uses its full screen and all pixels
for 16:9 type programming, whereas the other two units are
forced to have empty space above and below the picture on their
screen. The would be using a picture area of 320x180
pixels, and would have a screen area of only 2.3 sq inches or
3.2 sq inches. The Archos has 2.3 times more pixels, and a
screen that is more than three times the size of the iPod and
almost three times the size of the Zune.
That is a huge difference in
picture size and picture quality/detail (and don't forget it
also displays finer gradation in coloring, with 16 million color
levels compared to 65,000 in the iPod and Zune).
As I've commented in the
iPod review in particular, the iPod screen is just too small to
sensibly watch video on. The Zune screen is only slightly
bigger than the iPod screen, and has no extra resolution than
the iPod. But the Archos screen is big enough to be
sensibly used for watching video, and is a great compromise
between too big and bulky, with more weight and less battery
life, such as is the case if you use your laptop or one of the
larger portable DVD players, or way too small as is the case
with the iPod and Zune.
If you want a portable and
practical way to watch movies and other video, the Archos
presents as the best compromise on the market today.
Removing the battery is very
easy - you simply move the battery lock lever to the unlock
position, and then slide the battery out and off. This
reveals the inside of the unit and its hard drive, which is a
Hitachi unit operating at 4200 rpm.
Some websites have
recommended getting the smallest size Archos 504 and then
upgrading the hard drive yourself to save money - this would of
course invalidate the warranty and probably would require some
complicated activities, especially in reloading the operating
system onto the new drive.
The difference in list price
between a 40GB equipped unit and a 160GB equipped unit is $250.
A replacement hard drive would probably cost you the better part
of $200, so the saving is not major and probably not enough to
compensate for the hassle. If you do decide to do this,
one suggestion - get the hard drive with the slowest rotational
speed possible. You don't need the extra speed of a
5400rpm or 7200rpm drive, and the faster drivers consume
appreciably more power.
Being able to replace the
battery oneself - or simply travel with two batteries for longer
playing life - is a tremendous improvement on the iPod and Zune,
both of which require you to return the unit to the manufacturer
for a battery 'replacement' - in actual fact, they don't replace
the battery in your unit, but send you back a completely
remanufactured unit with new battery included.
A replacement battery costs
$30. This contrasts with the $66 cost (plus the hassle,
time, and cost of mailing the unit) to get the battery replaced
in your iPod. The battery is slim and weighs only 3.1
ounces, and so I'd recommend you get a second battery, just for
the sake of having, and to give you longer battery life when
traveling. For sure, the battery life when listening to
audio is already good (17 hours) but if you're going to be
watching movies, then the 5.5 hours you get from one battery
might be a bit short.
Using the Archos 504
The Archos player is ready
to go, right out of the box. You don't need to load any
software or drivers or anything onto your computer, you don't
need to learn any new program, you just connect your Archos
player to the computer via the supplied USB cable, copy over
music, video and picture files, and start playing.
The lack of any custom
software (unlike both the iPod and Zune) means also that you're
not going to be confronting any new bugs, either (a welcome
change from the bug infested Zune software).
It takes about 15 seconds
for the unit to boot up when you first turn it on, about twice
as long as the iPod. But at least you never get
embarrassed at forgetting how to turn the unit on and off -
unlike the iPod is has a simple obvious On/Off button at the top
of the unit.
The player uses a fairly
intuitive series of menu options to guide you to the music or
video or pictures you want, and has plenty of on-screen
prompting, and even has a full copy of the 59 page manual loaded
on the unit which you can read via its PDF viewing capabilities.
It is much easier to understand than the Zune.
Some people like the 'clean
and simple' look of an iPod, but others find the interface a bit
counter-intuitive, because the five buttons have to do various
different jobs depending on what menu you're in at any time.
Perhaps it seems a paradox, but because the Archos has ten
rather than five control buttons, you don't need to learn as
much about what each button does and can quickly find your way
around the unit's functions without needing the manual.
That's not so say the Archos
interface is perfect. It does retain some puzzling
characteristics such as clicking the 'OK' button to pause the
playing of a track. There's nothing onscreen to tell you
this is how to pause the playback, you just have to get lucky
and find it by chance.
Loading Music onto the Archos
You can load music onto the
player two different ways. You can set it to automatically
synchronize with Windows Media Player on your PC, or you can
manually copy your music files from your PC to the player.
Synchronizing with Windows
Media Player is brilliantly simple. Connect the player to
your PC, set it to the Windows Media Player synching option,
and answer 'Yes' to the question about synching, and it will
then proceed to do exactly that, copying over the music you
already have on your computer, together with all the related
information about artists, genres, album art, etc.
Alternatively, if - like me
- you have your music carefully indexed by folders to extend on
the built in indexing offered by Windows Media Player, you can
simply copy over the folders from your computer to the Archos.
You sacrifice nothing by doing this - all the other information
about artists, genres, album art, etc is also copied too,
exactly as if you synched through Windows Media Player.
The Archos gives you the
best of both worlds. You get the sophisticated automatic
indexing that other players also offer, and you can also create
your own indexing method at the same time. As I've
commented in other reviews, the automatic indexing completely
fails if you have a large collection of classical music, and so
for classical music lovers, the Archos and its flexible music
management system is a major plus. It remains a puzzle why
Apple and Microsoft don't allow a similar flexibility with their
players, and until they do, classical music lovers in
particular, and any other music aficionados who wish more
flexibility in general, will be forced away from the iPod and
Zune and towards other units such as the Archos family of
Loading Video onto the Archos
Video can be copied to the
player the same way audio is copied. The tools for sorting
and navigating through video files aren't as sophisticated as
for audio files, but chances are you won't have as many
thousands of videos on your 504 as you may have music tunes.
Copying video from DVDs,
If you want to copy or make
your own videos, you'll need some sort of video
editing/conversion program. We've used the
Movavi Video Suite and found it easy to use. You might
like to try their free demonstration version and possibly choose
to buy their software too.
The 80GB Archos 504 that was
tested showed a net of 75.6 GB free and 550MB of
used space (sample video and audio files) as supplied.
The amount of space a music
or video file takes up, per minute, depends on how compressed
the file is. The higher the compression (and/or the lower
the sampling rate), the smaller the file and the more minutes of
material you can squeeze into the same amount of space.
Most people will choose to
have their audio files sampled at somewhere between a low of
128kb/sec up to a high of perhaps 256kb/sec. We generally
recommend either 160kb or 192kb. At 192kb, you will get
about 11 hours of music per GB of disk space. The amount
you get at other speeds is directly (but inversely) proportional
- ie, at 96kb, you'd get twice as many hours.
Video settings are a bit
more subjective, and you get to choose both the quality of the
audio stream and the video stream. To put this in context,
whereas with audio, you're thinking about perhaps 160kb or 192kb
data streams, when you add a video overlay to the audio, you're
now talking about perhaps 1500kb or more per second. At a
setting of 1500kb/sec, you can get about 1.5 hours of video per
GB. A typical movie lasts maybe 105 - 110 minutes, so the
complete 80GB Archos 504 would hold about 63 movies.
Note that if you're planning
to play your movies back on a television rather than through the
Archos screen, you should increase the video sampling rate way
Most people seem to have
anywhere from 5GB to 15GB of music (15GB would represent 165
hours at high quality 192kb sampling - about the same as 3000 -
3500 songs of about 3.5 minutes each). On the 80GB unit,
this would leave you 65GB for video, or enough for about 50
If this isn't enough
capacity, then your choice is clear - get the 160GB unit
instead. Only $200 more gives you another 120 hours of
video or 900 hours of music storage.
Which Capacity Archos 504
Player Should You Get?
The main reasons for
choosing an Archos 504 player are for the freedom from copyright
management and automatic indexing of your music, and for the
ability to watch video on an acceptably sized screen.
If you're looking only at
music storage, the chances are the 40GB unit will be sufficient
for you, but because the 80GB unit is only $50 more, you may as
well 'keep your options open' and get the 80GB unit. That
will allow you to record as much music as you want, and at a
very high quality bit rate giving you best quality sound without
any fear of running out of disk space.
If you're wanting to have
video as well, forget about the 40GB unit. You'll fill it
way too quickly with video. Instead, you need to choose
between the two larger units, with a substantial price
differential - $340 for the 80 GB or $540 for the 160GB unit.
If you're wanting to store
high quality video to play back on a television screen, go
straight to the 160GB unit. But if your main requirement
is to watch video on the 504's screen, then both units are worth
considering. Depending on the quality level you set the
video recording at, you'll find that the 80GB unit can store
anywhere from perhaps 80 hours of video (at higher quality
settings) up to 160 hours at lower quality settings. The
160GB unit will hold twice this much.
Update Your Firmware
When I first turned my 504
on, it reported firmware version1.5.55. I checked on the
website, and the current firmware version was 1.6.10.
Was it necessary to upgrade
the firmware? Fortunately, there was a helpful log of
changes, and I counted 16 feature improvements and 47 bug fixes
between the version in the unit and the current version.
Plainly Archos are continuing to support the unit and both
resolve bugs and add new features.
Fortunately, updating the
firmware was quick and easy. The new firmware was a 17MB
download, but once it was downloaded to my PC, it was simple to
transfer it over to the Archos player and quickly update it to
the new version.
So which is the best player
for you? Use this table to compare the three leading
iPod 5.5 gen
Zune 1 gen
5.1 x 3.0 x 0.8
4.1 x 2.4 x 0.5
4.4 x 2.5 x 0.6
$350, $400, $600
$290, $340, $540
3.8" x 2.2"
2.0" x 1.5"
2.4" x 1.8"
8.4 sq ins
3.0 sq ins
4.3 sq ins
480 x 272 =
320 x 240 =
320 x 240 =
< 17 hrs
< 20 hrs
< 13 hrs
< 5.5 hrs
< 6.5 hrs
< 4 hrs
Yes - 3.1 oz,
No - mailin, $65
No - mailin,
iPod 5.5 gen
Zune 1 gen
Where to Buy
It is not easy to find a
full range of Archos players in regular retail stores. I
bought my unit - at a very competitively discounted price - from
Amazon, and would recommend you consider doing this too.
The Archos series of
MP3/audio/video players are not as nicely designed and
constructed as the Apple iPod series. But they offer
better functionality in all respects, for similar price.
If you just want to play
music, the greater range of accessories available with an iPod
might make it a better choice. But if the iPod's
ridiculously inconvenient copy protection system is a hassle,
and if you'd prefer the flexibility of sorting/filing your music
any way you wish, rather than the way iPod mandates, the Archos
504 and other units become better choices.
If you want to watch video,
then the Archos 504 is clearly the best (if not only) choice.
Overall, a great unit and
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23 Feb 2007, last update
28 May 2011
You may freely reproduce or distribute this article for noncommercial purposes as long as you give credit to me as original writer.