I like the idea of viewing my PC-based content on my TV, but hate the idea of the complex set-up that’s so often required by the devices aimed at letting me embrace my inner couch potato. Which is why I like LaCie’s LaCinema Rugged HD, a portable hard drive that l can load up with my favorite content, then plug into my TV for easy viewing.
LaCie calls the LaCinema Rugged HD a “multimedia hard drive” — and, honestly, that’s the best way to describe it. It’s part storage device, as it’s a 500GB USB-powered hard drive that I can connect to my computer to back up my content. But it’s also part set-top box, as it connects to any HDTV (via HDMI or composite A/V) to play back audio and video files and display photos. In fact, the LaCinema Rugged HD is a lot like Iogear’s Portable Media Player, which I reviewed — and liked — earlier this year. But LaCie’s product features two very important upgrades: It supports HD content up to 1080p (the Iogear topped out at 720p), and it includes 500GB of storage (the Iogear drive was limited to 120GB).
Setting up the Rugged HD is easy, largely because there’s really nothing to set up. You attach the drive to your computer via the included USB cable, and drag your content into the movies, music and photos folders, as appropriate. Then simply walk your drive over to your TV, connect it via the include HDMI or composite A/V cables, and turn it on.
LaCie’s menu system is simple, which makes it easy to use. But this simplicity also is reflected in an on-screen menu system that could stand to be livened up; though if you like big white icons on a black screen, you’ll be quite pleased.
The boring interface can also be surprisingly hard to navigate, but that’s because of the LaCinema Rugged HD’s weakest link: the terrible remote. The Rugged HD drive itself has no buttons, so all of your interaction with it is done through the remote, which I despise. Why? Let’s start with the large, circular navigation button. It toggles left and right, and up and down, but feels loose, which makes it hard to press in one direction without sliding it toward another. It also seems like it should have a center button (for “enter” or “OK”), but that’s lacking. In fact, the remote is entirely lacking an “OK” button, despite the fact that an on-screen message repeatedly told me to hit “OK” on the remote. I often found myself tapping aimlessly at buttons in an effort to find my way out of or back into the folders I was browsing.
Once I was able to get my video playing, though, content looked very good. HD videos looked sharp and clear, and the audio was of good quality (if a little low). File compatibility was good, too, as the player handled every video file I threw at it — something I haven’t seen with any set-top box I’ve tested.
LaCie lists the LaCinema Rugged HD at $299.99. That’s a little bit steep, but it does get you a full-featured multimedia player that doubles as a backup hard drive. If only they’d offer it with a remote control worthy of the product itself.