Cowon's A3 and the new Archos 5 are quite different devices in terms of overall feature sets, but in our opinion video playback is the key selling point of both. Each received 'Excellent' scores from us, and they hold positions one and two on our list of the best screens we've ever seen on a PMP.
But which is right for you?
Ignoring screen quality, as they truly blow us away almost equally on that score, we'll firstly look at video format support. Out of the box, the Archos supports MPEG-4 SP, WMV, DivX, Xvid and Flash 9 FLV files up to DVD resolution.
That's good in the grand scheme of things, but compare it to the A3, which supports DivX (HD and SD), Xvid (HD and SD), H.264, WMV, MPEG-4, MPEG-2, VOB, ASF, DAT and MTV. It'll also record video content in real time from SD and HD sources and will output to SD and HDTVs via the included component cable.
This is where the Archos disappoints us. To get support for some of the features Cowon comes with as standard, you need to cough up some extra cash. €30 (£24) to be precise, which will get you HD video, H.264, AAC audio, MPEG-2, VOB and surround-sound support.
Then to output HD and SD video content to a TV, you'll need an £80 DVR dock. So far this has brought the price of the Archos to around £380 (Archos), compared to the Cowon A3's base price of £240 (Advanced MP3 Players).
So for sheer value and out-of-the-box features, the Cowon A3's a clear winner. Except Archos has a few big bonuses Cowon can only dream of, let alone hardcore video fans: a maximum 250GB capacity (Cowon's is 80GB), full DVR/PVR functionality, HDMI output, 5.1 surround sound and support for BBC iPlayer. And of course there's streaming content over your home network and full support for Flash video on the Web.
With maxed-out capacity, a full roster of optional software plugins and a DVR dock, the tricked-out Archos 5 will cost you somewhere in the region of £460. But you're getting a ludicrously capable and capacious video player not only for travelling, but also for the lounge and bedroom too.
This leads us to believe that if you want out-of-the-box support for great-quality video and no messing around with converting videos, Cowon's A3 (or even the new O2) is the best affordable choice.
But if you're prepared to spend almost double that for a 250GB home and travel media monster, consider the Archos 5 and its add-ons. It could be a videophile's best investment.