The RTD750's main unit is a decent-looking, silver box that measures 16.9 inches wide by 4.8 inches high by 17.7 inches deep. It houses all the system's electronics: the amplifier, the A/V switching, the single-tray DVD player, and the hard disk. The front panel has 16 buttons and an oversize volume wheel.
RCA includes a worthwhile universal remote that can operate other home-theater components. Its numerous buttons initially seem overwhelming, but most important features are readily accessible: you press Movies for DVDs, Music for CDs and the hard disk, and Radio for AM/FM and Internet streaming. And there are assorted A/V input-selection keys.
The four satellites and the center speaker are essentially small, plastic boxes measuring 7 inches high by 4.5 inches wide by 5 inches deep. Back-panel keyholes enable wall-mounting. The matching passive subwoofer is also quite lightweight, lacking the brawn of self-powered models. These insubstantial designs don't inspire much confidence; many computer multimedia speakers feel more robust.
To enable operation, we stepped through a few simple screens. The only setup hassle we encountered was with the included 5-foot Ethernet cable, which wasn't nearly long enough to reach our router; we attached a 40-foot replacement. For those wary of festooning their homes with cables, there are third-party networking peripherals, such as wireless/Ethernet bridges and power-line networking adapters, that will work just fine with this unit.
The RTD750's TV-based interface is also straightforward, especially considering the device's breadth of functionality. Content types are intelligently organized into selectable tabs. You navigate track and station lists by using the remote's four-way pad in conjunction with its OK button. Impressively, the RTD750 appears to be built on the same media-library software that Escient employs in its $1,500 E-40 digital media receiver.
The biggest stories here are the built-in 20GB hard disk and the Ethernet port. While the latter looks promising, its only apparent uses are Internet-radio streaming and access to CDDB information. RCA was more successful with the drive, which can hold approximately 4,000 128Kbps tracks. The RTD750 can rip songs from a CD, convert them to the MP3 format at selectable bit rates from 96Kbps to 320Kbps, and store the new files on the disk. You can also connect external audio sources, such as tape decks, and record their output to the hard drive in MP3. The RTD750 does not store video.
The system comes preconfigured to receive the Sirius and Radio Free Virgin Internet radio services, and the station database is expandable. Through OpenGlobe, you can order CDs and DVDs but not download content. Unlike some digital media jukeboxes we've tested, such as TDK's DA-9000, the RTD750 doesn't include a CD burner.
As for standard HTIB features, the RCA supports the Dolby Digital, Dolby Pro Logic II, and DTS surround-sound formats. It can play DVD+R/RW, DVD-R/RW, CD-R/RW, and MP3 discs. The amplifiers deliver 32 watts apiece to the satellites and the center, 40 watts to the subwoofer. That's enough juice for only small home theaters. Each sat employs a single 2.5-inch driver; the sub makes do with a little 5-incher.
The RTD750's connectivity options are a mixed bag. The Ethernet port is a plus, as is the standard telephone jack for the built-in dial-up modem. We welcome the three optical digital-audio connections (two inputs and one output), but we would've liked a coaxial in, as well. You get several analog-audio hookups: a pair of dedicated inputs and a master set of outs. The suite offers a dedicated A/V output for a VCR, too. And finishing off the A/V complement are three ins; two (one each for the front and back panels) have S-Video. The unit's face is also home to a 1/4-inch headphone jack and a USB port, which transmits MP3 files to certain RCA Lyra portable players.
On the downside, the system's DVD component outputs offer interlaced but not progressive-scan video, and the speaker connections are standard spring clips. Unlike many recent digital media receivers, the RTD750 doesn't offer built-in wireless network connectivity.
Our biggest gripe is that the RTD750 can't stream songs from networked computers. Moreover, the only way to transfer tracks from your PC to the RCA is to burn them to CD, then rip them to the hard drive. The process is time-consuming, especially with large music collections, and it significantly detracts from the RTD750's appeal.
As we'd expected, the unit's maximum CD-ripping speed, rated at 5X, couldn't compare to that of computer drives. For instance, the machine took approximately 18 minutes to rip Scott Fisher's 57-minute Fleeing toward Creation to the hard disk. But the resulting tracks played back smoothly. The RTD750 also easily captured the contents of an MP3 data CD.
Unfortunately, the system's low power and tiny speakers made for an uninspiring sonic experience. When we played the Requiem for a Dream DVD, the soundstage lacked the convincing three-dimensional quality required to fully envelop an audience. The center speaker delivered adequate dialogue, but it wasn't as crisp as we've heard it on other kits.
When we fired up Outkast's precisely mixed and mastered CD, The Love Below, the anemic passive subwoofer made the punchy kick drum in "Happy Valentine's Day" sound too round, and the low electronic-bass frequencies in "Love Hater" struck us as especially weak. The RTD750 fared better on more-organic, less bass-intensive music, such as the Scott Fisher album, because that didn't strain the satellites and the sub.