Where's the DVR? RCA
The first time I saw it, this product just knocked me right out of my argyles: Leveraging advances in LCDs, hard-drive miniaturization, and battery life, the Lyra audio/video jukebox provides the power to take music and movies anywhere. In addition to playing WMA and MP3 music—with a free software upgrade to MP3Pro available at www.rca.com, along with firmware upgrades—this Lyra also displays JPEG photos, plays MPEG-4 video, and carries just about any computer file that will fit. The 20-GB drive can hold up to 80 hours of video, about 5,000 songs, or 100,000 JPEG photos, and the CompactFlash card reader/writer slot offers additional, removable storage.
Your PC will automatically recognize the RD2780 as a pair of removable storage drives, with its own management software bundle that includes the free version of MusicMatch. It's Mac-compatible, but with only a drag-and-drop interface. The onboard decoding plays MPEG-4 files that have been recorded in the Audio-Video Interleaved (AVI) format, Microsoft's specification for the integration of digital motion video using miniature hard drives under Windows. This can be set as the default recording format in computer DVR applications for the PC, such as the ATI Multimedia Center. A good DVD backup utility like Nero 6 Ultra can also create movie files from DVD if copy protection allows it, recoding MPEG-2 to MPEG-4 and then converting to AVI, although anamorphic content will be displayed skinny on the Lyra's nonanamorphic screen. (You'll notice from the photo that the screen has unused black space to the left and right. Might a 16:9 version be in our future? A TV tuner would be welcome, too.)
A 1-GB movie file uploads to the Lyra from the PC via USB 2.0 in about a minute, or roughly 20 minutes via USB 1.1. The other source for to-go video content is the on-the-fly digital encoding of analog video via the unit's line-in (composite video) input—from a VCR's composite output, for example. Video resolution for Lyra-encoded content is 320 by 240, and the more-critical video bit rates can be set at long play (768 kilobits per second), standard (1 megabit per second), or high (1.5 Mbps), with the usual trade-off between image quality and file size. Said quality will vary on computer-created content.
All of the necessary cables, including a composite RCA set to patch into a TV, are here, along with an audiocassette adapter and a car charger. The lithium ion rechargeable battery will realistically last for maybe six hours of music or two-and-a-half hours of movie watching. The unit needs extra juice for movie playback to keep the 3.5-inch TFT LCD screen active, with assurances that coming software upgrades will extend those times.
At less than 5.5 inches wide, a little over 3 inches deep, and an inch thick, this Lyra falls into a nether-region of size, much bigger than current audio jukeboxes and much smaller than any portable DVD player. It weighs in at 10.5 ounces. No speakers are incorporated into the unit, so a pair of stereo earbud headphones is also included.
The sophisticated user menus benefit greatly from the availability of the color video screen, although the two joystick-type buttons can be difficult to manipulate. Audio folders are organized by artist, album, song title, genre, and year, while photos, video, and other files can be collected in whatever folders you create on the PC.
Once the wow factor wears off, you're left with the unfortunate one-two punch of high compression and a relatively small screen, for a viewing experience that's less than immersive, with visible artifacts and choppy scanning. Keep a paper clip handy, too—as I found myself forced to reset the frozen player on several occasions. The portable video jukebox is a wonderful new category, and this Lyra is a bold innovation. Still, I'm waiting for future refinements before I take the plunge.
• On-the-fly MPEG-4 video encoding
• Can store multiple movies but has limited battery life and occasionally crashes
Lyra RD2780 Audio/Video Jukebox $449