LaCie hasn’t been quite as influential as rivals such as NetGear, Archos and D-Link in the media streamer market, so it may come as a surprise to hear that it has quite a wide range of devices in its collection.
The most recent addition comes in the form of the LaCinema Black MAX, a streamer that combines a built-in digital tuner to allow it to double as a PVR in a similar mold to Sky+. A 500GB hard drive comes as standard for storing copied media and recorded programmes, though the range of connectivity at the back also includes twin USB ports for attaching storage and you can, of course, stream over both a wired and wireless network with the latter supporting the latest 802.11n standards.
We were surprised to note that all of these features are actually very easy to set-up, with the digital tuner in particular quick and easy to populate and use, offering a full EPG with manual and scheduled recording, a channel list, favourites and programme information available at the touch of a button.
Like Sky’s boxes, it’s possible to instantly record by hitting the appropriate button or pause and time-shift in the usual way with up to 3 hours stored automatically on the internal drive. Each of these key features work very well for the most part, and though it’s not quite as responsive as Sky and is generally far more basic, the key functionality is present and correct.
Attached, copied or streamed media is all accessible through what is unfortunately a rather dark and unfriendly looking interface with what is unfortunately a rather simplistic and overly basic remote control. This certainly doesn’t scream "quality" and it’s disappointing not to see more care taken here, but in truth neither of these problems detract too much from the end-product.
File support is impressive enough here and streaming high-definition video, even over a wireless connection, is very smooth and rarely struggled up to 1080i resolutions. There’s a decent amount of control over playback and one neat feature is the ability to "tick" files to populate a quicklist for queuing up multiple videos. This carries through to audio and complements full playlist controls, shuffle, repeat and all the common functions you’d need.
In terms of photos, transitions and slideshows are available but we were disappointed by the lack of thumbnail previews and the fact that for some reason, images take quite a long time to load.
Generally media management and performance is very good, with our biggest problem being that due to the relatively small amount of space available on screen for viewing a list of files and the lack of a keypad or similar quicksearch functions on the remote, large collections can be difficult to browse.
As it is, the quickest way to access files is simply to trawl painstakingly through a list and though artist/album categories make this less of a problem for audio, those with large collections of video clips or photos may find the process rather frustrating.
These issues aside, we were pleasantly surprised by the capabilities of the Black MAX and its ability to effectively double as a PVR and handle the latest media standards through a range of connections. Unfortunately it’s extremely expensive and we’d like to have seen a few more bells and whistles, such as a more approachable interface and a better remote control, to fully recommend it at this price.
LaCie’s LaCinema Black MAX is a tidy and versatile media centre that performs very well, and if you’re in the market for a PVR as well as more standard media access it’s definitely worth a look.
Despite these benefits it’s still very expensive, and while there’s plenty to like about the unit we’re struggling to find a way to justify the price when you consider how much a PVR and streamer would cost if bought separately.