The 4-inch PMP market is getting awfully crowded these days, with plenty of offerings from Cowon, Archos, Maxian and others. RCA Thomson may not be the first name that comes to mind when it comes to meeting your mobile entertainment needs, but they’re certainly bringing a lot to the table with the Lyra X3030. After all, just look at all the “free” accessories they bundle in with this personal media player.
When you open up the box, you’ll find not only the Lyra device itself, but also a car adapter, USB cable, a pair of AV cables, a wireless remote, headphones, protective cover, AC/DC adapter, “IR blaster”, and — most notably — a home theatre dock. This last bit is particularly interesting, because it transforms what would otherwise be an everyday PMP into a full-fledged PVR (personal video recorder). Just plant the base in between your satellite receiver (or cable box, DVD player, etc.) and your television, and you can start recording right out of the box. They’re really emphasizing this added capability, as there is a dedicated “record” button on the top of the Lyra X3030.
Controls and Menu
The device itself feels very solid in your hands. I can appreciate the physical design of it, with the groovy textured front, chrome edging, and fingerprint-attracting, glossy black rear. Over the battery cover is a rubbery piece that makes the X3030 a little more grip-friendly. They’ve kept the buttons to a minimum: On the top are buttons for stand release (the stand is very handy, by the way, for when you watch video or listen to audio for an extended period of time), record, on/off, and back. There are no additional keys on the sides, but there is a switch on the back that allows you to choose from normal operation, “controls hold” and “TV out”.
Your primary navigation will come from the simple circle on the front, just to the right of the 3.6-inch QVGA display. They’ve borrowed the “click wheel” concept from Apple, allowing you to scroll through the menus or adjust the volume by simply sliding your thumb around in a circle. This wheel is also a five-way navigating joystick. Generally speaking, you click to the left to go back, to the right to go forward, and the center key to bring up options. The menu, while quite attractive, can be a little confusing at times, and I think this largely because of the lack of dedicated keys. I would have liked a basic suite of buttons for pause/play, rewind, fast forward, and so forth. To advance through a portion of the video, you click on the right side of the click wheel and it shoots forward in 30 second jumps. It would have been nice to use the scroll wheel to advance to a particular section of the video of your choosing. It is also known to lag upon occasion.
Video quality is fairly decent with an adequate frame rate. The colors are reasonably lush, and overall, I think it does a perfectly fine job at doing what it does. You can even adjust the LCD brightness according to the ambient lighting conditions. What was unfortunate, however, was when I tried to pause the video. The pausing works, yes, but oftentimes when I resumed the movie, the video and audio streams would be out of synch.
Of course, the primary appeal of this device is its video playing ability, and while the 3.6-inch screen is a touch smaller than some of its primary competitors (the Archos 604 has 4.3-inches of color, for example), it’s reasonably large and colorful enough for the average user. There’s plenty of file support here, including PlaysForSure. In the video department, it will accept MPEG-1/2/4, DivX, and WMV-9. Audio support is as thus: MP3, WMA, WMA DRM, WAV, Audible, and Janus (no lossless or Ogg Vorbis love, unfortunately). An additional function is using the Lyra X3030 as a digital photo frame, displaying JPEG, bitmap, TIF, GIF, and PNG images.
You’ll probably want to enjoy the Lyra X3030 somewhere quiet on your own or use a decent pair of headphones (they include a pair, if you don’t have a couple dozen already kicking around). The reason I say this is that the single speaker underneath the navigation wheel is awfully weak. Without cranking to near its highest level, the sound is barely audible, both when listening to music and when watching a video. It’s not too big a deal that there aren’t stereo speakers here, considering how close they would be to one another anyways.
While it was a little messy yanking out my satellite receiver to get at the jacks in the back, RCA has done a good job in making personal video recording so easy. The included home theater dock is a one-stop shop, with jacks for the DC adapter, AV-in, AV-out, mini-USB, and IR. This last bit is to allow you to connect the “IR blaster” so you can control your other home theater components (e.g., your television) using the provided RCA “universal” remote. Simply place the Lyra in the dock, boot ‘er up, press the “record” button and you’re good to go… well, almost. There’s a couple of extra steps (setting recording length, etc.), but it’s very straightforward. You can even set timers.
The Final Word
With an MSRP set at $400, the RCA Lyra X3030 is finding itself in an awfully crowded segment of the market. There are possibly better values out there, though all those “included” accessories make up for the potential difference in price. The video quality won’t floor you, and the speaker is incredibly weak, but that chrome kickstand is kinda pretty.
– LOTS of free accessories, including a home theater dock
– Straight-forward PVR abilities right out of the box
– Sliding cover is infinitely useful
– Brilliant menu presentation
– Intuitive click wheel-like navigation
– Easy SD Expansion
– Menu can be confusing at times
– Only 30 gigabytes of storage
– Video and audio get out of synch
– Very weak mono speaker
– Kind of heavy
Check out Beyond the Rhetoric for more videos, including a closer look at the photo function, home theater docking station, and wireless remote.