posted by Eugenia Loli on Thu 4th Aug 2005 16:26 UTC
IconThere have been many rumors lately about a potential video iPod that's around the corner... However, what about the existing mobile A/V solutions? We took the RCA Lyra RD2780 for a spin, the audio/video recorder/playback jukebox that's currently selling for only $219 at Geeks.com.

Introduction

size comparison The box the RD2780 came with includes a black plastic case for the device that can mount on your belt, a cassette adaptor for your car's stereo, a car cigar lighter power adaptor, a usb cable, a US power adaptor, a composite A/V cable, a pair of headphones that mount around your ear, a CD and a quick starter guide. The device includes two multi-function joystick buttons, an on/off button, a record button, +/- volume buttons, a reset pinhole, a hold/tv-out/normal mode switch, a menu button, a headphone jack, a line in jack, a line out jack, a power jack, a mini-usb port, a compact flash slot and a metallic stand (so you can place the device on a table and still have it stay up vertically to watch video). The device features a 20 GB 4200 RPM hard drive, a 3.5" TFT screen and a rechargeable battery (not user-replacable).

The Lyra can play mp3 (up to 360kpbs), mp3 Pro (up to 96kbps), WMA (up to 160kbps) and mpeg/mpeg4 video (asf, mpg, divx & xvid but without B Frames). Regarding photos, it supports jpegs, while it can also playback Audible audio books. The device can also be used as a mobile file storage solution as it identifies as a usb 2.0 mass storage device even before you install the actual drivers and additional DJ/mp3 software that comes with it. When you use the usb cable to connect it to your PC/Mac it creates two drives on your desktop, one for the hard drive and one for the compact flash slot. On the FAT32 hard drive you will find easy-to-understand named folders, like video, audio, pictures, files etc. Then, you just drag-and-drop your files in their respective folders and then Lyra will be able to use them accordingly. Only in the audio files case you have to run a "profile" script in the device to re-index the music according to their mp3 tags and sort them out for the next usage.

Usage

the gear The audio/video/picture interface is very similar. You are navigating through a list of files (sometimes sorted by artist/song etc in the case of audio) and when you want to watch/hear a specific file you press the "Select" button on the second joystick. You can create a playlist, you can move the file to another folder or the CF card, rename it, delete it, bookmark it as favorite, and of course, play it.

When playing a video you can resume from a previously-paused position or start from the beginning of the file. Pressing the menu button will open a new icon-based menu that allows you to bookmark the video, move to the next clip or to the next 20 seconds of the same clip, or change the LCD's brightness. The device played mpeg and divx files without a hitch, it warned me about the Matrix trailer that had B Frames in it that are not supported by Lyra (the device would skip these frames and so the video was not smooth), while the device crashed when I purposely tried to play a .wmv with it.

When playing an audio file the initial options are similar, but the actual playing screen is different: Up and Down in the second joystick will change the equalizer setting, and you can also change the repeat/shuffle/normal status. The rest of the screen shows the artist/song/album/year/filename/track/bitrate. I found the default volume more than adequate (max is 32 notches, I found that setting volume to 25 was best) and the quality very good too. The device was able to play all my mp3 files I threw at it.

Regarding pictures, the on-screen menu allows for rotating, zooming 2x/4x, LCD brightness, contrast, brightness of the pic and color changes. Nearly all the jpegs worked perfectly, even big jpeg files, but there was one jpeg picture (a picture of Saint Eugenia ;) that the device wouldn't display and it would show up an error message instead.

The Setup section allows you to change the video record quality, the audio record quality, the sleep timer, the backlight timer, power saver timer and more. The Files section allows you for easy manipulation of your existing files, you can move, delete, rename etc. I haven't tested the device with Audible books and mp3 PRO files because I have none of these formats available on my computer (send me a sample of such files if you are interested in me testing them).

Of course, the coolest function of such an A/V jukebox is the recording capabilities: I was able to TV-out the video and pictures to my 55" Sharp TV without a problem. And using the TV cable box's composite-out jacks I was able to record .asf video from the TV using Lyra's software (using high-quality settings, download my 8 MB recording sample). The recording capability allows you to record audio (in mp3) or video (in .asf) "now", in "30 minutes" or up to 3 hours from now. However, it does not allow for pre-defined recording: you can't tell the device to "turn on in 5 days from now, at 8 AM and record for 2 hours on".

The problems

playback interface The battery meter does not seem to be very precise. Usually when you move to a different screen the battery shows a different percentage (usually fluctuates within 25%). Also, battery life is not extraordinarily good, it's about 3 hours for video (which is about right for such a device) but only 7-8 hours for music, mainly because the laptop hard drive used *never* spins down (it doesn't do intelligent caching like iPods do).

Then, there are a few bugs here and there. Although it's nothing really important, they pop up from time to time (usually a restart fixes the device's status and then the bug disappears). Hopefully a new ROM version would fix those bugs (I did use the latest ROM for my review). One funky part is that the hard drive must be formatted in FAT32, but the Compact Flash card used *must* be formatted in FAT16.

Another problem is the lack of an external speaker, which I found very odd. This multimedia device feels so "mute" sometimes to me, because I don't always want or need to use headphones. Additionally, the device is bulky for the LCD size used (my guess is that it's big because they used a laptop drive and not a 1.8" one, as these are more expensive).

Conclusion

For $219 (currently out of stock, check back soon), this device is a steal. It surely has some annoyances and most of its playback features can be reproduced by a PDA equally well, but the excellent audio/video recording capabilities, TV-out and the 20 GB of hard drive make it worthwhile. Its biggest competitors are the Windows Media devices, the iRiver ones and of course, the Archos devices which are currently the kings in this specific mobile A/V/REC market category. However, none of these sell for a similar price and so if you are on a budget but you dream an A/V jukebox with recording capabilities, the RCA Lyra RD2780 is the one to get.

Pros: Records audio/video reliably. Compact flash support. Car gear. Mp3pro/audible support. Good sound quality.
Cons: Bulky. No external speaker. Some small annoyances and bugs. No FM radio or integrated voice recorder.

Overall: 7.5/10

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