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Sunday, August 3, 2008

An occasional look at products the tech industry insists we need.

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WHAT: Dish Network's new digital video recorder service, which allows you to transfer TV shows and movies to a media player, plus the Archos 705 portable video player.

AIMED AT: Travelers who want to watch their TV shows and movies when they're away from home.

HOW MUCH: Dish Network satellite TV service starts at $48 per month with DVR, plus the cost of the Archos, $350-$500.

BUT DOES IT WORK? How can travelers keep up with their favorite TV programming? Online TV shows are scattered across a bewildering array of Web sites and vary significantly in cost, quality, completeness and copy-protection burdens. And why should we pay to see a program online if we already paid for it once in a cable or satellite TV bill?

Why can't we simply take our recorded TV shows with us in one travel-friendly package?

Satellite TV company Dish Network ( http://www.dishnetwork.com) makes it possible to transfer perfect digital copies of TV shows from a DVR to a hand-held video player.

We tested the process with the Archos 705 ( http://www.archos.com), a $500 portable media player with a spacious seven-inch touch screen and a 160 GB hard drive. Other models start at $350, with smaller screens and less hard-drive space (though even the smallest can hold about 80 hours of video).

It took less than five minutes to copy an hour of TV shows from the Dish Network DVR to the Archos. Multiple shows can be copied at once.

Video playback was smooth, sharp and glitch-free, and audio was clear over the built-in speakers or ear buds. The battery runs about five hours, which will keep you entertained coast to coast. It even has a kickstand to prop it at the correct angle on an airplane tray table.

Like an iPod, it can be filled with videos, music and digital images from your PC or Mac, and you can connect it to a TV for playback on a larger screen at full original resolution.

The Archos is packed with such features as Wi-Fi for Web browsing ($30 extra one-time charge). That includes the ability to display e-mail, YouTube videos, Internet radio, PDF files and Flash games. It comes with a remote control that has a small but full keyboard; that makes it useful as a laptop replacement for travelers who don't need to run business software.

On the downside, the unit locked up once while surfing the Web, and it won't transfer high-definition programming or shows from HBO's channels, though movies from such premium channels as Showtime worked fine.

The system is not perfect, but it's an effective laptop replacement. Copying most TV programming to a portable device is a solution that even the best laptop can't match.

-- Daniel Greenberg

For information about Dish Network's service, visit http://www.dishnetwork.com. The Archos 705 is available in retail stores and online.


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