On the outside, RCA's RTD750 looks like just about any other home theater in a box. But closer examination reveals two unique features: an Ethernet port and a built-in 20GB hard drive. This HTIB streams Internet radio, can store thousands of MP3 files, and provides easy access to the music through a TV-based interface. Unfortunately, although the RTD750 is listed at $800, it sounds more like a sub-$400 system, and since it can't stream audio from networked PCs, its geek appeal is pretty limited. RCA deserves credit for creating the first HTIB that can act as a digital media receiver. Nonetheless, we're holding out for a device that sounds better and can interface with a home network.
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 $1,500digital 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, 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.