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RCA Lyra X3000 review: RCA Lyra X3000

The all-inclusive RCA Lyra X3030 is a solid video playback and recording device, despite its poorly designed menu interface. Yet there are still PVPs on the market that perform better.

Eliot Van Buskirk
Evolver.fm Editor Eliot Van Buskirk has covered and occasionally anticipated music and technology intersections for 15 years for CNET, Wired.com, McGraw-Hill, and The Echo Nest. He is not currently an employee of CNET.
James Kim
Account in memoriam for the editor.
Eliot Van Buskirk
James Kim
9 min read
RCA continues its portable video player parade with the Lyra X3030, the upgrade to the company's short-lived X3000. (In fact, the X3030 was announced just as we finished our review of the X3000 in April.) In addition to a much-needed boost in capacity (particularly for $400), the X3030 adds protected Windows Media Video support and DivX certification. Otherwise, the two units are virtually the same--feature-packed playback and recording devices that could be a little easier to use.

However, the X3030 does a few things quite well. The device can easily record from DVD, cable, satellite, or broadcast television, and also manages photo libraries ably. We were impressed with the X3030's long list of supported formats, including music purchased or rented from Windows Media Audio services. Plus, the X3030 is the first device we've encountered with a scrollwheel that is (almost) as easy to use as the Apple iPod's scrollwheel, although the navigation menus aren't nearly as well-designed. The $400 price tag may seem high, especially since the X3030 is not a wide-screen device. (The Creative wide-screen Zen Vision:W is priced under $300, for example.) Yet for the price you do get plenty of extras, including a dock and remote control.


RCA Lyra X3000

The Good

Thoughtful physical design; useful photo features; supports music and video from Windows Media services and Audible; useful built-in kickstand; removable battery; line-in A/V recording out of the box; lots of bundled extras.

The Bad

Limited to 30GB; no radio; non-intuitive menus; pricey; battery life for MP3 playback is weak.

The Bottom Line

The all-inclusive RCA Lyra X3030 is a solid video playback and recording device, despite its poorly designed menu interface. Yet there are still PVPs on the market that perform better.

Same look and feel as predecessor
The X3030 can fit into a blazer side-pocket, at 5.0 by 3.1 by 0.8 inches. While it's not as sleek as many MP3 players, it is definitely portable, weighing just 8 ounces. Its 3.6-inch, 262,000-color LCD is large enough for portable viewing, but not as ideal, for instance, as the 4-inch wide-screen found on the similarly sized Archos 604, which retails for $350.

The X3030 compared to the older Cowon A2. While the Cowon A2 features a larger wide-screen, the X3030 can play back DRM-protected content.

The X3030's scrollwheel is a bit smaller than the one found on the iPod Nano, although the X3030's has raised edges. Like the iPod's scrollwheel, the X3030's can scroll via touch or rocking motion in four directions, to move left, right, up, or down. The scrollwheel isn't firmly attached to the device, however, like the iPod Nano scrollwheel; instead, it floats around a bit, which we found annoying. Overall, the sensitivity is good, though a bigger wheel would have been better, as a thumb doesn't quite fit completely on the sensitive part of the wheel.

While colorful and seemingly well-designed, the X3030's interface can be tricky to use. We were baffled that every time we tried to open a folder, we were presented with these four options: open, play tagged files, tag all files or delete the folder. This proved tiresome until we figured out that double-clicking a folder (to simply open it or play a song) bypassed this step. Another quibble: You'd think clicking the scrollwheel to the left would take you back a screen while navigating, but unfortunately, that's not the case with the X3030. This action starts a song over, instead--to jump back a screen, you have to press the dedicated Back button on the top of the device. The double-paned navigation windows confused us as well. And considering the price, the X3030's music playback screen looks a bit low-budget (when compared to Archos' sophisticated interface, for example).

The X3030 includes a healthy set of accessories, including an IR blaster that allows the device to communicate with a cable box, satellite receiver, or VCR to enable timed recording from specific channels. It supports most major brands of television, satellite, and cable boxes, with the required codes included in its electronic manual. You can record up to 10 programs by time and channel, without intervention.

The X3030 comes with a number of accessories (the docking cradle is shown).

The X3030 also comes with a full-size remote control, to control the device while it's docked and connected to your entertainment system. The device uses the same port for A/V input and output, but the X3030 cradle includes dedicated connections for both and to the bundled power supply. Once you set up the cradle, you can drop the X3030 into your entertainment system for instant playback and recording of audio and video without wrestling with any wires. Users may find that despite the benefits of video-download stores such as Amazon Unbox and Google Video, being able to record directly to the device is an easy way to get exactly the content you want--and for free (though you record in real time).

The back of the X3030 dock. Note line input and output (composite only for video), power, USB, IR blaster, TV out/hold switch.

The X3030 battery, which sits in the back of the device, is removable and replaceable. A switch near the battery lets you toggle between Hold, Normal, and TV Out; the last option allows you to use the remote to control menus and view content on your TV screen. On the bottom of the X3030, you'll find a standard mini-USB port, behind a protective rubber flap that can be challenging to open. The X3030 also includes a sturdy slide-on cover to protect the screen from scratches--a welcome addition, since a scratched screen is a major liability on a portable video player.

The bottom of the X3030. Note the proprietary dock connector and the mini-USB port underneath the rubber cover.

On the right side of the device you'll find a SD/MMC card reader. Any card you insert in the X3030 shows up as a removable drive in Windows when the device is connected to a PC. A recessed kickstand pops out to hold the X3030 at one of two portable-viewing angles, but it tends to fall over if plugged in. When the device is lying flat, four small rubber dots on its back keep it from sliding around.

So many features
The X3030 plays MP3, WMA, and Audible tracks, and supports standard M3U playlists, whether they're transferred from Windows Media Player or Yahoo Music Engine (included), or even copied manually into the X3030's music folder using Windows. The device defaults to connecting to your computer as a media transfer-protocol (MTP) device, which helps it sync music--including subscriptions--and playlists with Windows Media Player and other Microsoft-backed jukebox programs. If you want to transfer files and create playlists manually, you can do so by switching the X3030 to its mass storage-class (MSC) setting. This hybrid solution should please both those who prefer to sync using applications, and those who choose to do so directly from Windows, as well as Mac in MSC mode.

In MTP mode, syncing using both Windows Media Player, Yahoo Music Engine, and Rhapsody 4 was flawless and required no profiling. After you transfer new content to the X3030 using the MSC setting or load photos from a digital camera, for example, you'll need to run the on-board Profile application so the device will recognize the new files. In terms of protected music, the device can handle download and subscription files in the WMA format from providers such as Yahoo Music Unlimited.

The X3030 lets you navigate your music collection by artist, album, genre, or year, as well as shuffle within a single artist or album. Regarding video, the device plays 320x240 AVIs encoded in MPEG-4 with MP3 audio soundtracks, as well as MPEG-SP videos created by the DivX 4/5 or XviD codecs. The X3030 also adds protected WMV content to its fairly wide format list, so it will work with portable services such as Amazon Unbox and ZVUE (with whom RCA has a partnership).

With any portable video player, the software included for converting video--so video can be played back on the device--is critical. The X3030 installer disc gives you the option to install a three-week trial version of DivX Create. Having had issues with that version, instead we'd recommend downloading the installer directly. Converting video for a portable device is tricky, but the DivX Converter application simplifies the process; you just drag videos on to the application to queue them up, then hit Convert. It takes a while to process many long videos, so you may wish to save these for converting overnight.

If you're not the type to play around with video codecs and conversion tools, just connect the X3030 to any analog video output (TV, DVD, or VCR) to encode video straight to the device. Recording in real time is easy, thanks to a dedicated Record button and clear recording options. We also appreciated the Timer feature, which uses the IR blaster attachment to tell your television, cable box, or satellite receiver to change the channel at a specific time-- and then start recording. You can record audio from any line-level analog source, encoding audio at either 64Kbps or 128Kbps MP3.

The X3030 also comes bundled with the Audible Manager (for downloading Audible's spoken word recordings; two free book downloads are included), the Yahoo Music Engine, and a plug-in for Musicmatch. You can add multiple bookmarks to Audible files, although you first have to turn on Audible bookmarking in the Settings menu. The X3030 also includes an application called Lyra DJ, which should generate playlists on the device when it's connected via USB in MSC mode. Yet during our tests the application never recognize our X3030, so we couldn't create the lists.

In terms of sound control, the X3030 includes an excellent five-band graphic equalizer with 21 presets. Making adjustments to each band is easy with the touch-sensitive scrollwheel. With another unique feature you can tag just about any file on the X3030 while away from your computer, then afterwards play or move/copy all the tagged items to a specific folder. An on-screen virtual keyboard allows you to name slide shows or playlists, and rename files. We liked this little extra, because it means you can start organizing your files before dumping them on a PC, thus avoiding losing track of files. Another thoughtful addition is the ability to set multiple bookmarks in any video.

The RCA Lyra X3030's robust photo-display feature lets you view JPEGs, GIFs, BMPs, and TIFFs. After selecting any picture, you can rename it, add it to a slide show, delete/tag it, or even add a voice label using the built-in microphone. On-board image editing includes settings for contrast, saturation, brightness, rotation, and up to 8X zoom. You can set any song or playlist to play during a slide show. You can view photos and slide shows on your television using one of the two included A/V adapters.

Handy extra features on the X3030 include an alarm clock that cues a song of your choice, hard-drive functionality, a sleep timer, an on-board microphone, and an auto-resume feature that starts playback from where you left off and at the same volume level.

When the X3000 came out in April, RCA had planned to make it compatible with DirecTV's DirecTV2Go, which would have make the X3000 a perfect portable DVR counterpart. This feature, expected to have been available through a firmware update, has not been seen to date.

The X3030 sounds excellent through headphones and stereo, but the device's lower-right speaker seems tinny (as can be expected with a portable device's on-board speaker.) Audio recording quality is excellent, although the X3030 can't record to uncompressed WAV files; as we mentioned earlier, line-in MP3 recording tops at 128Kbps, while microphone recording tops at 64Kbps. We would have preferred a higher-quality record option for line-in audio.

Video playback quality is decent--the screen is bright and colorful, though we did notice that blacks were not as black as we've seen on devices such as the Archos 604. Using the default video-record mode (medium), a 30-minute TV episode took up around 250MB, meaning you can fit nearly 60 hours of video on to the X3030 in this setting. We found this video quality to be adequate for portable viewing, although if you plan on outputting to a television, you'll want to use the High Quality setting instead.

Adjusting volume with the scrollwheel lets you choose between 33 different volume settings, good for precision settings. As for menu performance, the processor is fast enough to make transitions between the graphics-heavy menu system relatively quickly, aside from a slight lag when accessing the main menu screen.

On a single charge, the X3030's rechargeable battery lasts 4.2 hours for video and 7 hours for audio. While the video battery life is good, allowing you to watch a few movies per charge, the audio battery performance is poor. This should be noted by anyone interested in using the X3030 primarily as an MP3 player.


RCA Lyra X3000

Score Breakdown

Design 6Features 9Performance 6