Many companies are cottoning on to the fact that the increasing range of set top boxes that might typically sit under an HDTV puts portability at a premium, something that is reflected quite nicely by Lacie’s new addition to its LaCinema range - the Mini HD. If anything it’s even smaller than rivals such as the WDTV Live HD, and can also boast built-in wireless and a 500GB hard drive - an impressive achievement considering it’s one of the smallest streamers on the market.
This isn’t a half-arsed effort either. The Mini HD sports the latest standards in HDMI 1.3 and 802.11 b/g/n wireless, and complements this with standard Composite connections, an Ethernet port for wired networking and digital optical out.
Two USB ports allow you to connect additional storage and a USB host means copying files to the internal drive is as simple as drag and drop. Settings up a network is also very straightforward due to the intuitive wizard that fires up on first operation, and users will find a choice of UPnP or SAMBA folder sharing for easy access to networked content.
We gave the device a typical workout with a range of different file formats, codecs and resolutions and were very pleased to see that support here is excellent. HD content at 1080p resolution streamed admirably over a wireless connection and it’s very responsive in terms of playback, file searches and pause/resume.
Despite packing a commendable array of technology into such a small enclosure, the Mini HD isn’t without its faults. Large collections of files, particularly video, can be difficult to browse due to the fact that the "folder" view is simply an amalgamation of all folders that are shared over a network. This isn’t really an issue with audio as the presence of artist/album/genre categories is far more straightforward to manage, but digital photos are similarly tricky to browse when collections reach into the hundreds.
The presence of a text search option does make this more manageable, though the supplied remote control is rather basic and omits a numeric keypad, making navigating the on-screen keyboard a laborious task. Also conspicuous by its absence is the ability to view online media and only the Flickr photo service is supported here.
These faults aside we were very pleased with the performance of the Mini HD, and since issues of this nature can (and have been, with rivals devices in the past) be fixed with firmware updates, we’d hope that Lacie takes advantage of this opportunity in the future. As it stands, £250 is quite a lot to pay for the LaCinema Mini, especially considering the aforementioned WDTV Live is available for less than half this price, albeit forgoing built-in wireless and an internal drive.
Lacie’s LaCinema Mini is a commendable entry into the streamer market and is extremely well specced for a device of this size. It’s quite pricey though, and there’s certainly room for improvement in the departments listed above.