Portable video is looking more like something the average person might actually want to experience, thanks to smoother-operating PVPs such as the 20GB RCA X3000 ($399 list price). The multitalented device makes it simple to record from DVD, cable, satellite, or broadcast television; plays nicely with your photo library; and supports music purchased or rented from WMA services. Plus, it's the first device we've seen with a scrollwheel that approaches the iPod's on the usability scale, though the menus it navigates aren't quite as user-friendly as Apple's. While we like this budget portable video recorder, we'd like to see more than 20GB of storage. As it turns out, RCA will be replacing the X3000 with the 30GB X3030 beginning in mid-April. If interested, you should wait to buy--the X3030 is similar in look and feel and will be the same price. The 8.3-ounce RCA Lyra X3000 would fit into a blazer side pocket, at 5.0 by 3.1 by 0.8 inches. Its 3.6-inch, 262,000-color LCD is large enough for portable viewing but not as big as the 4-inch wide-screen found on the Archos AV500. Before we get to anything else, we must point out that the RCA X3000 is only the second non-iPod portable media player we've seen with a touch-sensitive scrollwheel (the first was the Viliv P1). It's about the same size as the one found on the iPod Nano, although the X3000's has raised edges. Like the iPod's scrollwheel, the X3000's can scroll via touch or rock in four directions in order to move left, right, up, or down. For some reason, the touch-sensitive aspect doesn't work on the main menu screen, but it works well for most everything else, including volume. Side note: Whatever music you're listening to also stops when you navigate up to the main screen, so the only way to view photos and listen to music simultaneously is to activate the slide-show mode.
The RCA Lyra X3000's attractive onscreen interface is well laid out, but it can be tricky to use at first. The constant option to open, play tagged files, tag all files, or delete each folder you open is tiresome until you learn to double-click to open a folder or play a song without reading those options each time. Another quibble: You'd think clicking the scrollwheel to the left would take you back a screen while you're navigating, but counterintuitively, it actually starts a song over; instead, you have to use the dedicated Back button on the top of the device to jump back a screen.
RCA includes a healthy set of accessories, including a car charger and an IR blaster that enables the device to communicate with your cable box, satellite receiver, or VCR for timed recording from specific channels; all major brands of television, satellite, and cable box are supported, with the required codes included in the electronic manual. You can record by time and channel, up to 10 programs without intervening.
You also get a full-size remote control for controlling the RCA Lyra X3000 when it's docked and hooked up to your entertainment system. The device uses the same port for A/V input and output, but the cradle includes dedicated connections for both, as well as to the bundled power supply. Once you set up the cradle, you can drop the X3000 into your entertainment system for instant playback and recording of audio and video, without swapping any wires around. Users will find that despite the benefits of video-download stores such as iTunes, Google Video, and others, being able to record directly to the device is the easiest way to get exactly the content you want--and for free.
The battery, which is on the back of the RCA Lyra X3000, is removable and replaceable, and it should extend the device's longevity over the years. A button near the battery lets you switch between Hold, Normal, and TV Out; the last option allows you to use the remote to control the device's menus and view content on your TV screen. On the bottom of the device, you'll find the USB port, covered behind a rubber flap that can be a bit of a pain to open. RCA includes a sturdy slide-on cover that protects the screen from scratches and other damage--a welcome addition, since a scratched screen is a major liability on a portable video player.
On the right side of the RCA Lyra X3000 is a flush SD/MMC card reader for grabbing images from any camera that uses those cards. Any card you have inserted into the X3000 also shows up as a removable drive in Windows when the device is connected. A recessed kickstand on one side pops out to hold the X3000 at one of two portable viewing angles, but it tends to fall over if plugged in--RCA's correct assumption being that you're going to use the cradle to charge the device at home rather than charging on the go. When the device is lying flat on its back, four little rubber dots on the back keep it from sliding around.
In MTP mode, syncing using both Windows Media Player and Yahoo Music Engine was flawless and required no profiling. After you transfer new content on to the RCA Lyra X3000 using MSC or load photos from a digital camera, you'll need to run the onboard Profile application in order for the new files to be recognized by the device. In terms of protected music, the device handles download and subscription files in the WMA format from providers such as Yahoo Music Unlimited; you must be running Windows XP and Windows Media Player 10 in order to transfer subscription content.
The RCA Lyra X3000 lets you navigate your music collection in all of the normal ways (artist, album, genre, or year), as well as shuffle within a single artist or album.