Introduction : While everybody's getting excited about iPod and other hard disk MP3 players, the Lyra gives a few more options for a similar price. It may not have the initial street cred of a shiny white iPod, but when you sit on the train and start watching a movie, suddenly the tables are turned. The Lyra, by Thomson (marketed by RCA in the USA) has a 20Gb hard drive and a 3.5" colour screen, which displays at a prefectly respectable 360 x 240 resolution. Not only does it play MP3s and videos, it also records video (subject to copyright restrictions of course) and stores still colour photos. It's a 'pocket' photo album, video recorder and mp3 player. Size and Weight : The Lyra isn't as small as some of the audio only hard disk units on the market, (about 7" x 2" x 0.75"). It fits in a jacket pocket rather than a shirt pocket, but then you do get a 3" colour screen and the landscape format is comfortable for viewing on a journey, there's even a nifty little easel style leg which allows the unit to stand on a desk or british rail train table. Battery Life : Realistically, battery life when watching video is about 3.5hours which is enough for a movie, audio is a little better at 4.5 hours, but this is compromised because the video screen wakes up at the start of each track. I have read that battery life of up to ten hours is possible when connected to an external TV screen. Formats supported : MPEG-4 (DIVX Video) / MPEG-1 / JPEG / mp3 / mp3PRO/ WMA Playback In theory, DIVX means that the hard disk has something like 80 hours video capacity, but you either have to record directly in real time into the machine, or do some very nifty translation to get from DVD into the necessary DIVX format. Controls: The Lyra's controls are not exactly intuitive, with a variety of buttons and 'joysticks' ne
eded to navigate the menus, but once you get the hang of it, it works pretty well. Something more windows look and feel would have been better. The audio player supports playlists and has a number of preconfigured graphic equalisers. Expandability : If the Lyra's impressive 20Gig hard drive still leaves you wanting more, then there is a Compact Flash (Type 1) Slot. This is, I understand, useful for downloading pictures from digital cameras, but I haven't tried. I've also read about geeks in the US who have already upgraded their hard drives! Accessories : To be fair, the Lyra comes equipped with all the accessories you could resonably expect, which is more than can be said for some more 'trendy' competitors. You get : - reasonably comfortable 'bud' type headphones - a cassette audio output device for connecting to car stereos - a car 'cigar lighter' power lead - Video input and ouput leads - play through a TV or record from Video or DVD (subject to copyright). - USB 2.0 lead - leather effect wallet with a clear window to watch the screen Software : The Lyra comes with all the software needed to interface with PCs, including 100 free downloads from eTunes, and a branded copy of MusicMatch Jukebox. The model I bought had out of date firmware which was easily upgraded by downloading from the appropriate site. Summary - Is it any good? Yes... it is good, but maybe not great. That it does so much is probably the reason it doesn't to too much partcularly well, the technology is on the leading edge and the lyra is likely to be overtaken in terms of functionality by the Archos products. This means the Lyra could well come down in price and so become more desirable.