RCA Lyra A/V Jukebox RD2780 review: RCA Lyra A/V Jukebox RD2780

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The Good Clear, sharp video; records video and audio from some analog sources; slick interface; TV and stereo output; internal CompactFlash slot; slide shows with audio; timed recording.

The Bad Can't record copyrighted VHS and DVD content; many features disabled in current firmware; lacks remote.

The Bottom Line Television recordings play back fine, but viewing purchased and downloaded video is tougher.

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7.3 Overall
  • Design 8
  • Features 7
  • Performance 7

Review summary

RCA has finally released the personal video player (PVP) that it announced almost a year ago: the 20GB Lyra A/V Jukebox RD2780. While it lets you enjoy music and movies wherever you go and has a slicker design than the competing Archos AV320, the RD2780 offers fewer extra features and won't load as many types of video. We also would like this device more if all its functionality were active, but RCA had to put it out early to catch the holiday shopping season.

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It's nice to have a padded case for an expensive portable.
Compared with the Archos AV320, the RD2780 has a few design advantages: you can pry a stand from its back panel to angle the screen perfectly for desk and tray-table viewing, and the player is lighter (10.5 ounces) and shorter (3.2 inches). Its other dimensions are 5.3 inches long by 1.1 inches deep.

Like RCA's Lyra Jukebox RD2840, the RD2780 has two soft, depressable joysticks. They're comfortable, and their functions work well except for access to the top menu level. You should be able to get there by holding the navigation joystick to the left, but you have to press the Menu button on the side of the device.

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This included car kit makes the RD2780 good for long road trips. Here's how the player looks with its stand extended.

One-handed operation is difficult; the volume, Menu, Stop, and Record buttons are a bit hard to press and scattered along the player's sides. But we appreciate being able to adjust the volume without halting playback--a feature missing from the AV320. Another very welcome design point is the internal CompactFlash slot; the AV320 houses media cards in a separate module.

One advantage a PVP has over an MP3 player is a large, color screen, which greatly eases menu navigation. The RD2780 really comes through in this department, displaying brilliant graphics on a 65,000-color, 3.5-inch LCD. Additionally, intuitive menus integrate well with the two joysticks.

Unlike the AV320, the RD2780 has no remote, so if you're watching its content on your television, you'll have to get up from the couch and walk across the room to control playback. This isn't an issue, however, if you plan to do most of your viewing on the go, and RCA does include other accessories. You get a padded case with a clip and a strap for belt attachment, adapters for a car's cassette deck and cigarette lighter, earbud headphones, and two cables with dual RCA jacks for connecting the unit to TVs and stereos. The case affords access to all controls but limits full joystick use. The transparent plastic that covers the LCD occasionally adds glare, but we'll gladly sacrifice some viewability for screen protection.
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Television recording and playback require only one connection.
The RD2780's 20GB hard drive can store 40 hours of video. You can record directly, add ripped tracks to the video directory, or transfer downloaded content to the device.

The first method is easy: you simply connect the player (as if it were a VCR) to the source's composite-video output. Upon detecting the incoming signal, the RD2780 records at one of three settings: the 1,500Kbps HQ is for television viewing, the 1,000Kbps SP is for playback on the device's LCD, and the 768Kbps LP maximizes your recording time.

The second option is quicker and renders better quality. The RD2780 supports AVI MPEG-4, so you rip DVDs to that format and transfer the resulting files to the player's hard drive. Your only problem is that under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA), such recording constitutes a felony.

In the third approach, you download content from the Internet. If you plan on going this route, you'd better know how to convert between various video codecs using, say, VirtualDub; unlike Archos, RCA doesn't include video-conversion software. The manual claims that the RD2780 supports movies encoded with DivX 4.x and 5.x, but the unit sometimes froze while playing ours, which we'd downloaded from the DivX site.

Unfortunately, the RD2780 adheres to the rules of Macrovision and other DRM technologies, so it won't record most DVDs and VHS tapes. The Archos AV320 ignores such copyright protection.

Unless companies start offering videos preconfigured for the RD2780, loading it with movies will continue to be a hassle. But once you've managed it, you can view the player's content on its LCD or any television with a composite-video input.

As for audio playback, the RD2780 serves up the regular selection of shuffle and repeat modes, and you can browse by artist, album, song, genre, year, or filename. The screen displays loads of information, including any album art in your audio files' tags. You can transfer tracks onto the device using Windows Explorer, but you'll then have to profile the hard drive so that it can recognize the new songs. That process will require a computer until RCA posts more-comprehensive firmware on its &siteid=7&edid=&lop=txt&destcat=ex&destUrl=http%3A%2F%2Fwww%2Erca%2Ecom%2Flyra%2Davdownloads">Web site. The current firmware also cripples other features: the equalizer; on-the-fly and standard playlists; song ratings; programmed playback; bookmarks; and brightness, color, and contrast adjustment.

On the same line-in jack that receives A/V signals, the RD2780 captures audio to the MP3 format at constant bit rates of 96Kbps, 128Kbps, or 192Kbps. The unit does not record to WAV, and since there's no recording-volume control, it's not ideal for live or semipro applications. The lack of a built-in mike means that you don't get voice-memo capability, either.

Finally, the RD2780 can accept your digital camera's memory cards. You can view the photos on the player's LCD or any television individually or in a slide show, for which you can choose accompanying music. If your camera uses media other than CompactFlash, you'll need to transfer shots from your computer to take advantage of the slide-show function.
An HQ file looks slightly sharper on the RD2780's LCD than on the AV320's, but the difference is negligible. The "Preparing hard disk drive for saving settings" message occasionally appears during screen transitions and stays for up to 30 seconds; it's annoying, but at least it pops up only once per session.

The RD2780's HQ video looks like high-grade TiVo on a television, and SP approximates slightly pixelated VCR output. Even LP isn't that bad; it shows less pixelation than the AV320's equivalent setting. In fact, in terms of quality per kilobyte of disk space, this RCA's video compares favorably with the Archos's. But MP3 soundtracks rang tinnily in our ears.

We first listened to the RD2780 with its included earbuds. Audio files sounded clean, with a passable signal-to-noise ratio of 85dB. The volume was just loud enough, although in some environments, we had to use headphones with passive noise-canceling technology to hear properly. During video playback, we caught encoding artifacts, which became more noticeable when we switched to our reference headset, the Shure E3c.

When powering video playback, the AV320's battery lasts more than an hour longer than the RD2780's, but the Lyra does give you 2.3 hours, enough for one lengthy movie. On a single charge, you can listen to audio files for just past 4 hours--the same amount of time required to charge the cell. This relatively poor battery life is due in part to the fact that the LCD lights up as each song starts. There's no charging indicator light.

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