Two years ago I got an Archos 605 multimedia player, to stream music and movies to via my WiFi from the server. At least that was the idea. It turned out that streaming was never very reliable; plus the model I got first, the 4GB one with SDcard support, was plagued with problems, so I exchanged it for the 80GB model. That did mean I had to keep synchronizing my music library, but thanks to the free SyncToy software, that's not that hard.
Recently, I've been using the Archos during my exercise runs to watch movies, instead of reading books on the Kindle, just to get through a list of movies I felt I should have seen. I've also been using it with my noise-cancelling headphones on airplane flights. I still have about a half-dozen movies on that list, but in the last few days, the Archos has simply died. When I boot it up, it says the hard drive is screwed (it uses the more euphemistic "error code 102" way of saying it) and offering to repair or format the disk, neither of which work. This error can mean a lot of things and there are a lot of fixes for some of them, but if it never comes out, and it never becomes visible to the PC when plugged in via USB, what it seems to mean is that the hard drive failed. Some people have saved Archos units in this situation by reseating the hard drive, but that didn't work for me. One person reported recovering it by hooking the hard drive directly to a PC, but even then, it only delayed the inevitable by a little while.
Replacing the hard drive doesn't seem sensible, when a new unit would cost about the same as finding a drive of just the right size and capacity to work in this unit, and then having to fight with installing it. And while the Archos is a nice unit, modern ones are lighter and have better software and screens.
In fact, I have that cheap Android pad that would be pretty good for this, except that it runs an old version of Android, somewhat hacked together, and I have had little luck getting any video at all to play on it. I have one more thing to try: maybe I can get a better video player through the SlideMe marketplace that'll handle the various AVI and MP4 files I have (without me having to transcode the heck out of everything and waste hours thinking about codecs only to end up with a file that still won't play, or is only audio or only video).
I've tried the same with my cell phone, though its size and form factor are really not that great for watching movies (it's smaller than the Archos). On the other hand, its support for Bluetooth wireless stereo headphones is nice, but on the other other hand, that means it won't work with noise-cancelling headphones. Ultimately, though, it falls into the same trap: no video file I have just works. Maybe if I fiddle with alternate viewers and transcoding and stuff, I can find a solution, but it'd still be a hell of a lot of work.
But it's certainly tempting to simply buy something new. Archos has a very nice 7" Android tablet that is like what my cheap aPad is, only with modern software, some actual support, better capabilities, and a real company behind it, and it's not too expensive (about $150 right now). This would be a good way to explore a tablet for roleplaying as well as a better multimedia player than the Archos dedicated one was. I'm having to hold off the gadget-lust right now and try to make that cheapie pad do the job before I go buying the shiny pretty clever little gadget that keeps telling me "buy me!". I will be strong!
At least until tomorrow. When the aPad fails me, I will probably cave. Oh well!