RCA releases first mp3PRO Portable

By Richard Menta- 01/08/02

"As the co-developer of mp3 and mp3PRO, Thomson multimedia is uniquely positioned to be a strong competitor in the fast growing audio jukebox category," said Mark Redmond, Vice President, Worldwide Audio Products, Thomson multimedia. With those words RCA used the Computer electronics Show (CES) to unveil their latest MP3 portable, a jukebox player that has the special distinction of being the first mp3PRO player to hit the market.

Called the RCA LYRA Personal Jukebox, the unit is actually mp3PRO-ready, shipping now while it waits for a free firmware upgrade that will make it mp3PRO-capable sometime in early spring. Selling for $299, the player also serves as an external hard drive and is compatible with Windows 98 machines and above as well as Mac OS X systems.

RCA LYRA Personal Jukebox is available on Amazon

While millions have downloaded the mp3PRO encoder, users have not yet embraced it as an active trading format on the Net. RCA hopes that the eventual addition of mp3PRO to its entire digital music lineup from MP3 portables to DVD and CD players will stimulate usage of the updated codec. The LYRA Personal Jukebox handles MP3 and mp3PRO, but not Microsoft's WMA format, which is the number two codec used on the Net. Like mp3PRO, the WMA codec is more modern than the standard MP3 codec and thus can halve song file sizes without lowering the comparable sound quality.

Jukebox MP3 portables have grown into a healthy segment of the MP3 player market. The fact that there are only a few of manufacturers who actually serve this market has made it very compelling for other manufacturers to enter. Apple sold over 125,000 iPods since it began shipping the beginning of November, making it among the best selling MP3 portables of all time. What makes that number even more impressive is the fact it only works on Macs limiting its audience to around 5% of PCs installed (though new software products like Xpod makes it work on a PC). This may be partly a reason why RCA has chosen its first mp3PRO player to be a jukebox style player as there is greater potential for market penetration.

Still, while jukebox portables can hold gigabytes of song files, they have an Achilles heel - weight. Blame it on the laptop drives used to give these players their healthy capacity. The LYRA Personal Jukebox weighs 11oz (310 grams), less than the Nomad Jukebox which weighs in at a hefty 14oz (397 grams), but slightly more than the Archos Jukebox at 10.2oz (290 grams).

The Apple iPod weighs significantly less coming in at 6.5oz (185 grams). It also uses FireWire for transfers, a connection that can load song files 45 times faster than the USB connection used by the LYRA Personal Jukebox. Even though the LYRA Personal Jukebox is Mac compatible, it may have a tough time selling to the Mac faithful. It is a hundred dollars cheaper, though, and has a 10GB capacity, double the capacity of the 5GB iPod, so it's not without its advantages. Fill the LYRA Personal Jukebox with nothing but mp3PRO files and the unit can store four times more music.

Rounding out the features, the LYRA Personal Jukebox runs on rechargeable batteries the company claims provides 12 hours of playback time and an 8MB memory buffer to prevent skipping (another disadvantage of jukebox portables is that they have moving parts). Another feature is Automatic Sync, which updates both the desktop computer and the LYRA Personal Jukebox so that they have identical content.

MusicMatch's music management software is used to upload song files to the player. A car adapter kit is also included for those who want to use the player for the road.

Now here's the question, will consumers jump from MP3 to mp3PRO like they jump to the next version of Windows, or are they perceiving it not as an upgrade, but as a whole different codec like WMA or AAC? The fact that mp3PRO is backwards compatible will probably mean the former, but not until more MP3 rippers add the ability to rip to mp3PRO. If RCA makes all their future digital products mp3PRO capable - and keep licensing fees reasonable - it gives the software makers reason to do just that.


Creative's NOMAD Jukebox can be ordered from Amazon. Available in
Blue and Silver.

The Apple iPod holds 5GB of memory and is available on Amazon

The Archos Jukebox 6000 - is a 6GB jukebox MP3 portable and can be ordered from Amazon

The 20GB Rio Riot Jukebox can be ordered from Amazon


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