With its casing designed by Neil Poulton and top-of-the-range decoder chip, the LaCie LaCinema Classic HD should have all it takes to impress. On paper it looks promising, but let's see whether this sleek media centre can live up to expectations.
Hardware: basic but well designed
It turns out the 'Design by Neil Poulton' is basically a super-shiny black plastic brick. It's simple and minimalist, but the casing quickly gets covered in fingerprints and dust. Plus, as there's no control screen, you won't be able to use this media centre with the TV switched off.
We're no stranger to the Classic HD's internal interface, as it's exactly the same as the one used in the Western Digital WD TV rev2/Live and the BeWan iMedia HD100. It's actually a generic interface supplied by the manufacturer of the internal chip (effectively the product's 'brain'), to which LaCie has just added its own colours and activated or deactivated certain options.
The remote control is minimalist in design and doesn't feature any separate volume controls. It is, however, possible to adjust the volume using the up and down arrows.
In video mode, you can display all your films as DVD-cover thumbnails on one screen. To do this, however, you first of all need to put each film into a folder (one film per folder) and then manually add each film poster or DVD cover, taking care to rename each image with the name of the folder (folder.jpg). It'll be a pretty painstaking process if you've got a huge collection of films, but you can speed things up using an application such as Tvixie which will go find film art online automatically.
There are plenty of functions in the photo and video modes, and both photos and album covers can be displayed as thumbnails. Plus, it's good to see that both integrated and external album covers are supported (MP3 or M4A). You can also browse files by album, artist, year, style and more, but only if you've carefully filled in all the relevant information for each track.
Compatibility: pretty good
The LaCie Classic HD has the same decoder chip as the Western Digital WD TV rev2/Live. Its basic performances are excellent (HD x264/MKV video playback up to 90 Mbps) and it's compatible with all the main video and music file formats.
DTS (SD and HD) and Dolby Digital (except TrueHD) are supported and can be converted to stereo. Similarly, the device can bitstream sound to an external amp for decoding if you prefer.
MKV videos with chapters aren't played at all, but subtitles are very well-handled with both integrated and external files supported.
There are 24p and 23.976 modes that can play high-street films smoothly and seamlessly. Switching between modes isn't automatic, and you'll have to select them manually depending on what you're watching.
Ripped Blu-rays and DVDs pose no problem at all. The various soundtracks and subtitles are all available but you do lose menus in both DVD and Blu-ray copies.
It's a shame to see that moving from one photo to another takes almost 5 seconds, compared with the average 3 seconds for certain competitors' models. However, in the audio section, album covers and tags are read with no problems at all, even with M4A files from iTunes.
Connections: network and USB front panel
Connections are standard stuff with all the current essentials. There's an HDMI output, plus composite and optical connections. There are two USB Host ports with one at the front and one at the rear of the device. Copying to a from a USB peripheral, accessible via a specific internal menu, is just about average at 11.5 MBps. Some of the best models on the market can reach 15 MBps
There's a 100 Mbps Ethernet connection for networking. The connection is very fast, and allows you to transfer files from a computer to the device's hard drive at speeds of 10.1 MBps. This excellent score places the Classic HD among the fastest media centres out there ... in this field at least.
Streaming over the network works well, and only 1080p MVK videos encoded with a bitrate greater than 42 Mbps are really prone to glitches. Thankfully, this type of video is quite rare so it shouldn't be too much of a problem.
- Fast networking
- Well-designed menus
- Plenty of features in photo and music modes
- Video jukebox - creates a screen of film posters
- Setting up the video jukebox can be painstaking
- Browsing photos can be slow
- No menus in ripped DVDs or Blu-rays
- No support for MVK videos in chapters
With a well-designed interface, good compatibility and dedicated manufacturer follow-up, the LaCie LaCinema Classic HD is a good media centre. It's not perfect, but it's a good choice for anyone who's just looking to play multimedia files without loads of added extras.