Well, I saw the demo of tjhe Rio Central at the CES show in January, ordered one, and have been using it now for about 3 months or so. One of the first things I did was upgrade the internal 40 GB drive with a 120 GB Maxtor drive for more space (that was a very easy thing to do, by the way, with their startup CD).
I currently have it about 25% full and have copied a boatload of CDs. I think I'm set for space for awhile, although it takes a considerable amount of time to rip all of your music from scratch onto the Central. At some point, I have a plan to copy the MP3's to another drive on my LAN to keep them safe and secure...
Anyways, I like the Central a lot. I'll try to do a brain dump to give you some ideas about the unit...
* The display is east to read, but you have to be within a few feet away from it. There is no video connection to the TV.
* The unit has an internal CDDB or Gracenote database (about 400MB) that was able to recognize a great deal (95%) of my CDs that I ripped. You're probably familiar with CDDB, but if not, that is how the player gets titles and genre of the CDs and songs. For those songs not in the internal database, the unit goes out to an on-line version of the database that it gets the information from. New CDs released on Tuesdays are frequently in the database right away or within a day...
* I like the fact that it is quiet, sits in my A/V rack, and looks like any other stereo component. A PC would have been cheaper, no question, but I don't have the space to house one in or near my HT system and I wasn't crazy about setting up a music server PC in another location.
* It runs Linux and the source is available on the SonicBlue website.
* It has a USB port on the front to download music to portables, but I haven't used that yet. It will also accept a USB keyboard. I just got one of those and haven't hooked it up yet, but you are supposed to be able to get a shell prompt if you're so inclined.
* It can stream music to as many as 8 Rio Receivers like your PC setup. That works well...
* They provide Emplode software so that you can edit the database on the Central from your PC and fix any errors in the CDDB entries with your songs, etc. That works well also.
* There is a digital output on the back of the unit (contrary to the Sound&Vision review last month).
* Of course, you can choose the bit rate for ripping, I decided to standardize on 256K. When playing back the Central through my audio system, I have not been able to tell the difference between original cDs and the Central. I will admit, however, that I haven't sat down and done real critical A/B testing. It serves my purpose.
* The unit has the ability to go out on the Internet and update it's software. Since I'e owned mine, there hasn't been any software to download, but they say that an update is coming that will make it easier to hook up the Rio Riot player and download songs that way.
* When you insert a CD, it reads the directory and songs, displays the CDDB data and lets you either Record, Play, or Record & Play the CD. If you choose Record and Play, the CD drive still rips faster than real-time and it seems that the player then begins playing the ripped songs from the hard drive as it rips to the back end at the same time. So you can remove the CD after a few minutes when it finishes and the playing will continue. It doesn't seem to rip any faster if you use the "Record only" function.
* The sound quality is excellent and the unit doesn't make a lot of physical noise at all. Even after upgrading the hard drive to a larger unit, it still runs pretty quiet.
* Because you have to relatively close to see the display, I don't seem to use the remote very much. I know they were trying to keep the cost down, and a TV interface would have added to it....But I would have used it since my TV is right next to the Central.
* There aren't that many controls on the front panel, most of the functions are controlled by software and they have 4 position selection switch on the front that has different functions depending on where you are. You rock the switch in any of 4 directions to make a choice such as Play, Select, Forward, Backward, etc.
* You have to use a very specific USB to Ethernet connector if you want to hook the unit to your LAN. They only support 3 or 4 different brands. I bought one from Linksys and it worked right out of the gate.
* Let's see, what else...I really enjoy using the unit, the cost is a little high but they were throwing in a free receiver and a $100 or $200 discount (depending on when you ordered). I'm glad I bought it and find that I use it every day (either in person or streaming to another room)...That say it all to me...If you love music, then this machine will be something that you'll get a lot of use out of...
If you have any other questions, please let me know and I'll get back to you....Thanks, Randy