For several years now I've had a dream - a dream I'd like to call 'Shed Cinema'. You know how it is: you spend years building your dream home cinema system, buying a big-screen TV or projector with surround sound speakers and DVD/Blu-ray player to match, and do you ever get to watch a movie on it? Nope. Instead, it gets wasted on kid's films, home improvement programmes and sports you haven't the vaguest interest in, while you slowly develop a backlog of must-watch films that you never get around to actually watching.
One day it dawns on you that what you need isn't a living room system, but something portable that you can sneak out to the shed with and enjoy your feature presentation in blissful peace and quiet. Such a device would need a big, high-quality screen so that you can enjoy your films as they were meant to be enjoyed. It would need high-quality sound through headphones and - if possible - speakers, a capacious hard drive and Wi-Fi connectivity so that you could stream content direct from your PC. It also needs a battery that can last out a viewing of Return of the King: Extended Edition if need be. Some warm clothes and some smart excuses, and you'd be away.
Archos has just made this dream a reality.
Of course, Archos doesn't market it as 'the complete shed cinema solution' (though maybe it should). Instead, the Archos 7 is described as an Internet Media Tablet. Those of you without goldfish memories might also realise that it's the larger cousin of the Archos 5, which we reviewed back in October. In essence, the Archos 7 is nothing more than the Archos 5 with a bigger screen, but that one change makes such a difference that such a description doesn't really do it justice.
You see, the move from a 4.8in 800 x 480 screen to a 7in screen with the same resolution has two major consequences. The negative one is that it's a struggle to describe the Archos 7 as truly portable. With the same elegant, shiny, gunmetal casing as the 5 it's still a hugely desirable PMP, but it's as large as a paperback book and, at 640g, over twice as heavy as its smaller sibling. It's light enough and solid enough for you to take on a trip or use on the plane or train, but it's not the sort of thing you'd want to carry around all day, every day. In fact, you'd have to be mad to use it as your main MP3 or mobile video player. I'm not so sure, however, that that's really an issue; there are plenty of small, cheap PMPs that fill that need. The Archos 7 is all about two things, browsing the Web and watching movies, and in both cases that screen has serious benefits.