LaCie's LaCinema Rugged HD is a hard drive that attaches to your PC's USB port, and it's a multimedia player that outputs the video, music, and images that you copy onto it to your TV via HDMI or composite/analogue outputs. It's price is above average for a hard drive-based portable digital media adapter, but it's also significantly better than average, with 1080p output and 500GB of capacity, enough for 100 DVDs' worth of video, even at 1080p if compressed properly.

Annoyingly, I ran into a snag with the LaCinema Rugged HD right off the bat. After plugging the unit into an NTSC CRT TV's component jacks I found that it was set for PAL output, rather than for NTSC (the North American standard). The documentation didn't mention (anywhere I could find) that pressing the info key would switch the drive from PAL to NTSC mode, so I wasted the better part of 15 minutes changing to NTSC via the rolling, flickering onscreen setup. (The manual did say that you can switch from HDMI to composite mode by using the Info button.)

Though a few additional sentences in the documentation would fix the LaCinema Rugged HD's incomplete instructions, only a complete redesign will rescue the remote, which unfortunately achieves simplicity at the cost of reducing its ease of use. Pressing the Play button is the only way to drill down the menu tree from the main page, even though a four-way rocker button just beneath it could perform the same function, and does, except when you're in the main menu. Another problem: Because the rocker button steps through menu levels continuously, I repeatedly overshot my intended target. In contrast, the on screen menu, though it lacks the preview function of WD's TV products, is easy to learn and use.

The LaCinema Rugged HD handles significantly more multimedia formats than does the non-HD LaCinema Rugged, including wave audio and WMV video files (such as WMV9 HD). Other supported codecs are MPEG-1, MPEG-2/HD, MPEG-4, XVID, H.264 HD, and VC-1 video, and MP3, MP4, OGG, and WMA audio. No Apple lossless or FLAC, sorry musicians. Regrettably, though the unit rendered a bitmap and .gif image correctly, it refused to play one of my larger .jpg files and locked up trying to display a .png file. The unit also failed to display a standard H.264 version of Assault on Precinct 13 that I had on hand. Playback of other media was excellent, especially video at 1080p via the HDMI port.

The LaCie Rugged HD is an international product. The AC adapter comes with three changeable prongs. The case is handsomely rendered in black plastic with a wraparound rubberised strip. Rubber shock absorbers inside the case provide further resistance to damage from falls, though you should still handle it (and any other hard drive) with care.

OUR VERDICT

It's nice to see that LaCie has beefed up its codec support with the HD version of the LaCinema Rugged. The drive still needs some tweaking, but it's now a roadworthy, handsome device with presentation quality output. Now if LaCie would do something about the pitiful remote.