By Robert Menta- 12/14/01
(Link to a review of this unit has been added below --editor Oct, 12
But wait! There's more. The Jukebox Multimedia Portable has an expansion connector that allows additional modules to be attached to the unit, which includes a FireWire connection and a video module that connects to your TV and turns the player into a digital VCR.
Jack of all trades, master of some? That is what this unit may be, an expansion of the company's fine MP3 portable that adds to it any digital toy that can benefit from both portability and a laptop hard drive for storage. The company already has an excellent start with the MP3 portion of the unit, but how well they execute everything else will have to be seen when the unit is released next month.
The Archos Jukebox Multimedia Portable Entertainment Center has the same dimensions (4.5 x 3.2 x 1.3") and weight (12.3 oz.) as the Archos Jukebox MP3 player, which means it's a little heavy, but will slip into a pocket. The player comes with a 10GB hard drive with a 2 MB internal buffer for anti-skip protection. It has a built-in microphone, runs on AA rechargeable NiMH batteries, and is both Mac and PC compatible.
The Archos has a color 320x240 pixel LCD display to view photos and watch video files. A built-in composite video output allows these images to be shown on a regular television. The camera module included with the unit provides a 1.3-MegaPixel resolution, modest quality when compared to the better stand-alone digital cameras, but good enough for less serious applications.
The unit uses a USB 1.1 connection to transfer files, and can also use an optional USB 2.0, FireWire, or PC Card connection. The FireWire connection alone makes this player interesting as the first digital music portable after the Apple iPod to offer it (it also suggests that the Mac market is a lucrative one for them and FireWire is needed to combat the iPod).
For simple audio listening the Archos plays both MP3 and WMA files. The internal video decoder is capable of playing MPEG4 video files in CIF (equivalent to VHS) format with an MP3 stereo sound track. 10 gigs will hold around 30+ hours of video at this resolution.
Now for the modules. Below are the company's descriptions of each expansion pack, of which there are presently four:
Module 1 - Jukebox MP3 Recorder includes an MP3 encoder to allow real-time recording into MP3 (analog or digital) from any audio source and activates the internal microphone. It comes with stereo headphones and a high-quality external microphone. Module 2 - Jukebox Photo Module is a simple clip-on unit that plugs into the Expansion Port Slot on the Base Unit to accommodate CompactFlash or SmartMedia flash memory cards. When a memory card is inserted in the slot, it automatically begins to download files from the memory cards into the Jukebox hard drive in seconds. The photos can be viewed on the Jukebox LCD, displayed on TV or transferred to a PC. The majority of digital still image cameras have a limited storage capacity. The 10 GB Jukebox Multimedia has virtually unlimited capacity: 5000 high-resolution 3-Mpel pictures; 25,000 mid- resolution 1.3-Mpel photos; or 300,000 low- resolution VGA pictures in JPEG format. Module 3 - Jukebox Camera Module provides a 1.3-MegaPixel camera that snaps into the Expansion Port to convert the Jukebox Multimedia into a digital still camera and MPEG4 camcorder. The lens hooks on the back of the Jukebox and the color LCD becomes the image and video viewer. It offers three resolutions that can give 4, 8 or16 shots per second. The camcorder records video in CIF resolution (VHS quality) at 30 frames/sec and a high quality stereo MP3 sound track. The Jukebox Multimedia with its 10 GB hard drive capacity can hold from 25,000 to 300,000 photos or 30 to 50 hours of video. Module 4 - Jukebox Video Recorder is similar to a VCR recorder. It can record MPEG4 videos from an external video source (such as a TV) and can store 30-50 hours of video in CIF format on the 10 GB hard drive.
The company stated in its release that additional add-ons will be developed as options. The base unit plus the MP3 Recorder, Photo and Camera Modules are scheduled to ship in January 2002. Additional modules including the Jukebox Video Recorder are expected to be released during the first and second quarter of 2002.
So how much will this interesting hybrid cost? The company won't say choosing to hold back that information until the players official release next month. They also haven't confirmed which, if any, of the modules will be packaged with the base unit as standard.
The Archos Jukebox Multimedia Portable Entertainment Center is definitely going to receive considerable attention when it is released. Will it sell? That is a matter of price, and convenience, and probably marketing. We certainly can't wait to get our hands on one, but then we are overly toy-obsessed. Still, we can come up with one very strong argument for such a portable. As someone who has commuted over an hour each way on the train, I can attest that such a unit can find itself quite heavily used by mass transit commuters who could use the time to catch up with the previous nights shows. When you do two hours round trip, such a player goes from overly obsessed to practical if the cost is reasonable.
Below are the technical specifications:
The Archos Jukebox Studio 20 - is a 20GB jukebox MP3 portable and can be ordered from Amazon
The Archos Jukebox Multimedia - (Oct 2002)