LaCie makes some very good-looking products, of which the LaCie LaCinema Max is a fine example.
The LaCie LaCinema Max is one of the few media centre you'd probably be happy to find sitting next to your flatscreen TV or DVD recorder. Though large, at 234x225mm, the LaCie LaCinema Max is finished in shiny black and has no immediately visible buttons or connections, just a glowing blue light that gives it a mysterious aura.
Its connectors are hidden at the back. There's a single USB port at the front of the LaCie LaCinema Max to which we connected an external hard drive.
Compared to many similar products we've seen, the LaCie LaCinema Max is an object of beauty. The polished black exterior conceals a range of connectors on its rear: Component on three RCA, Composite and HDMI, along with component video out.
Next, you need to set up the box, for which LaCie supplies a matching small remote control that fits comfortably in the palm of the hand and has scant few buttons, though there's a useful Channels buttons to bring up a vertical list of what you can view and tag as favourites. Program details appear at the bottom of the screen. You can scan for both free and paid-for TV channels; should the LaCie LaCinema Max subsequently detect new channels, if will flash up a discreet message and add it to the channels list.
As with a PC media player or the menu screen for the PlayTV on the Sony PlayStation 3, you are given a choice of viewing options, arranged in a row. These are the music, photo and explorer (file management) ‘spaces' plus a Setup Universe. For the TV tuner there's a TV Space for viewing live and recording programmes; and Movie Space for playing DVDs and programmes you have already recorded. You must switch between these options, so you can't watch one programme while recording another.
Unfortunately, we initially found the LaCie LaCinema Max didn't produce any sound - an issue LaCie says it will fix with its first firmware update. Instead, we had to prompt it via the Settings menu whenever we switched channel.
We weren't able to enjoy a wide selection of TV channels, either, with the main terrestrial channels a notable absence. When we found a channel we wanted to watch, however, we were very pleased with the results. Even on our so-so HD-ready TV, images were noticeably brighter and smoother than our usual settop box, so the LaCie LaCinema Max must have an effective 1,080i upscaling codec. The remote control is somewhat spongy and ineffectual though.
Where the LaCie LaCinema Max comes into its own is in its ability to play video from a range of sources. We got it to play a range of DivX and Mpeg4 content from an external USB hard drive we'd attached to it. Even though the Iomega drive we used for this wasn't announced by the LaCie; nevertheless, when we called up the Video option, programmes stored on it were available.
Similarly, we found the LaCie LaCinema Max worked flawlessly with devices on our home wireless network - entering the necessary passkey using the fiddly onscreen alphanumeric menu and the remote control was a bit of a trial, but you need only do this the once. LaCie also ships a Twonky media server should you want to be able to control media access from your PC.
We wanted to like the LaCie LaCinema Max very much. It has a superb look and feel and for playing streamed video or anything attached via a USB port, it’s a great option that demonstrably improves the original source. Unfortunately, it’s let down by unintuitive TV setup, its inclusion of a single TV tuner and the over-the-top price tag.