Wednesday, May 24, 2006

New Toy

A couple of weeks ago, I bought a Thompson/RCA Lyra 2780 audio/video Jukebox off eBay. It arrived about a week ago and I haven't stopped playing with it yet.

Here's a quick feature list --
Storage: Hard Drive
Capacity: 20 GB
Formats supported: JPG, MPEG-4, MP3, WMA
Input/Output: USB 2.0, Compact Flash Type I, composite video in/out
Screen size: 3.5"
Battery: Rechargeable
Supplied accessories: Carrying case, AC adapter, DC car adapter, cassette car adapter, audio/video in/out cable, headphones

Some of you may remember the MP3 player that doesn't play MP3's that I received as a gift a year or so ago. Two of its limitations that bothered me were the lack of song information display and lack of playlist support. You pretty much play back in the order the songs were transferred to the player or you set it on random. I have been keeping my eye open for a player with playlist support at a reasonable price. No, I'm not paying $300 for an iPod although it is the benchmark I used for features I was looking for.

Enter the 2780. I had stumbled across these gems about a year ago as I was looking for a digital photo bank. Basically, a digital photo bank is a portable hard drive that allows you to plug in a memory card from your digital camera and transfer the contents from your card to the hard drive, thus allowing you to reuse your card for taking more pictures. You then later transfer the contents of the photo bank to your laptop or desktop PC. It essentially gives you high capacity storage in the field. The problem is the decent ones are $300-$500. I considered the 2780, and similar devices, because it can serve as a photo bank as well as an MP3 player. Might as well get double-duty out of it for that price. Unfortunately, at the time, the 2780 was selling for over $200 on ebay with an MSRP of $400 and even $100 was out of my price range. I was just window shopping and wishing.

Fast forward to my birthday this year. I received $150 in gift money and it was burning a hole in my pocket. I considered several purchases and even considered saving to buy a flash unit for my camera (they're $250!). We were in Staples one evening and came across a 512MB Sansa MP3 player for something around $70, I think. I checked with the salesman and decided against it because a) it didn't have real playlist support (it supported folders) and b) it wasn't expandable. The very next Sunday, my wife noticed that the 20GB iRiver H10 was on sale at Staples for $150-ish and the research began.

I checked reviews and internet pricing and it seemed like a good deal. I hit eBay to see what they were going for there and it was still a bargain to get a new one from Staples... then I came across the 2780 again. It looked familiar, then I remembered I had considered buying one about a year ago. My research switched to the 2780 and its direct competitors. The 2780 is an older unit and several companies, including RCA, have "improved" on the design with wider format support, better screens, more capacity, etc. etc. etc. Several reviewers said the Archos was a superior product. Two things led me back to the 2780. 1) None of the competition, including the newer units from RCA, have the CF slot - they can't be used as a photo bank. 2) The Archos, and others, are in that $300-$500 range. If I'm going to spend that kind of scratch, I'm getting a new laptop.

I paid $165.50 for my used RCA Lyra 2780 by the time I got done with shipping. It functions as an MP3 player, a video player (I quickly figured out how to transfer DVD video and video from my DVR to it), a video recorder (via cables connected to a VCR or other device), a photo player, a photo bank, a portable storage device, a CF card reader, and an player device.

There are a few things I would change:
Make the buttons more robust - they feel flimsy
Make the volume buttons bigger
Improve navigation - including the ability to browse songs during playback
Have a "pick up where you left off" function after powering off (you always start at the main menu)
Make the battery easily replaceable
Have the ability to charge via the USB cable
Include software for video conversion (free software is easily available so this is not a big deal)
Bigger "Favorites" list (it's a 20GB hard drive and you only allow me to mark 20 favorites!?)
Larger capacity options (It uses a standard laptop hard drive and I've already found instructions for upgrading it)
A remote control or iPod-like remote capabilities would be nice

Other than that (and a couple of things I couldn't readily recall), I am EXTREMELY happy with it. I've already filled up half of the hard drive with music and some converted video files (from my own collection, not stolen) and went out and purchased an FM modulator for playback in the car. The shiny hasn't worn off yet and I'm looking forward to giving the photo bank a good workout at Trek Expo this year.

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