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LaCie LaCinema Black Record review: LaCie LaCinema Black Record

The LaCinema Black Record media streamer with built-in Freeview PVR and a 500GB or 1TB hard drive is a slick-looking piece of kit, with an attractive user interface to match. LaCie may need to iron out a few flaws with firmware updates, but this device makes recording TV a simple process

Ian Morris
5 min read

LaCie has a long-established reputation for producing some lovely-looking and quite desirable kit. From monitors to hard drives, its offerings always look as cool as a cucumber. The LaCie LaCinema Black Record is no exception. It's a glossy black piece of tech that will look great in even the trendiest lounge.


LaCie LaCinema Black Record

The Good

Attractive design.

The Bad

Won't play 1080p; won't tune in all available TV channels; keeps selecting the wrong audio channel on Freeview; fan is far too loud; remote control is useless; too expensive.

The Bottom Line

The LaCie LaCinema Black Record looks like a slick package but lets itself down with a useless remote, loud fan and inability to play 1080p files. We wanted to like this machine, but it's just one failure after the next. It's possible LaCie will address our concerns with firmware updates, but we'd suggest you avoid this product, unless, for some reason, you just want a stylish black box with a blue light for your front room. For media streaming, get a Popcorn Hour and, for Freeview recording, get a proper PVR

It also makes some impressive promises. There's a Freeview-capable receiver that can record TV shows onto the built-in hard drive (the 500GB version costs around £365, and the 1TB version costs about £420), and it can also play a variety of media formats, as well as your photos and music. Can this attractive package win over our hearts, as well as our eyes?

Remote control
We don't relish starting on a negative note, but the LaCinema's remote is one of the first things we took out of the box, and, from the moment we set eyes on it, we realised it was going to be like a thorn in the bottom.

It is, you see, made out of plastic, with some thoroughly ghastly rubberised buttons -- the most prominent of which is the multi-directional control. The rubberised buttons really don't work especially well, and we found that button presses weren't at all positive. To make matters worse, the labelling of the keys isn't entirely logical.

On the plus side, the LaCinema does tell you on-screen what button does what. That's a really good feature, and it makes the lack of sensible labelling on the remote much less of an issue. After a while, we began to grow used to the remote, but it's still far from a desirable device.

Body beautiful
There are two delightful things about the LaCinema. The first is the external styling, which is really very cool indeed. The second is the attractive user interface, which matches the awesome external design and makes us very happy indeed. The LaCinema certainly gives Apple's products a run for their money in this regard.

A USB socket is conveniently located on the front of the machine -- ideal if you want to plug in a memory stick and watch some video or look at photos quickly

At the back of the machine, you'll find the usual connections: a pair of USB inputs, HDMI out, digital audio out and component/composite connections. As you would expect, you'll see aerial connections for the built-in TV tuner, too.

The front of the machine is broken up only by a single USB input, designed to offer a convenient way for you to plug in USB memory cards and enjoy the contents quickly on your TV.

Recording from TV or other sources
We were looking forward to seeing how the LaCinema handles Freeview recording. After stabbing at the remote control for a while, we found ourselves getting cross. Not only was the remote making our experience thoroughly miserable, the device was also not finding a full complement of channels. We repeated the scan, but didn't manage to improve the situation.

We were able to record quite easily from the tuned channels though. It's a simple matter of pressing the red record button. Sadly, the LaCinema is a single-tuner device, so you can't record one channel and watch another at the same time. That's a great shame. Adding a second tuner wouldn't really increase the cost of the hardware by very much.

We like the fact that TV recordings can be copied from the device onto a memory stick with very little hassle. This makes watching shows on a laptop or portable media player very simple. You can also copy files from a USB stick to the device's hard drive. That can improve performance if you're dealing with a large file.

Audio glitch
Another one of the many things that made us want to sling the LaCinema out of the nearest window was a problem it had with the audio on broadcast TV channels. Whenever we turned to one of the 11 Freeview channels that the LaCinema did manage to tune in, it switched itself over to a supplementary audio track. This meant the audio was mute, and we had to poke and prod the idiotic remote to get into a menu to switch to the other audio channel.

Seriously, you'd have to be a bona fide saint not to want to smash this machine into pieces upon discovering that. We're sure this could be easily corrected by a firmware update, but that's really not the point. This machine costs a fair amount of cash -- it should be able to select the correct audio track.

Louder than Heathrow
If you've ever been to a major international airport, you'll probably be aware that they're noisy places. The hustle and bustle of people, the sound of aircraft taking off -- it all makes for plenty of background noise.

The remote control is terrible. There really is no excuse for the vile rubber buttons

Sadly, it doesn't make for as much background noise as the LaCinema's fan. During all modes of operation, it spins what sounds like the world's most powerful jet engine to keep itself cool.

Video streaming and playback
Using the supplied TwonkyMedia software, we were easily able to share all of the media on our PC with the LaCinema. Playing all kinds of video files was a simple matter of searching through a list to find the one we wanted to play.

Standard-definition Xvid video played well, as did high-definition video up to 720p. But, when we tried to play a 1080p video, we didn't have any luck, even when it was stored on the machine's internal hard drive. This particular clip -- a THX ident -- plays perfectly on the Popcorn Hour A-110 and the Wyplay Wyplayer, so we're somewhat at a loss as to why the LaCinema has such a problem handling it.

The LaCie LaCinema Black Record is a really great example of how it's possible to louse a piece of kit up with just a few bad decisions. The remote control on this device is unforgivably awful in every way. The hardware behind this system is very capable, and quite powerful, but the interface, though attractive, is a hindrance.

The Freeview reception problems are inexplicable, because no other hardware has a problem with the same antenna we used here. We don't know why the device wouldn't find many of the available channels, but its inability to do so ruined one of its best selling points. Without Freeview recording, this is just a more expensive and less likeable version of the Popcorn Hour A-110.

Edited by Charles Kloet