Unless Apple decides to make Apple TV as irresistible as it's made the iPod and iPhone, it's still anybody's game when it comes to the streaming media device that could capture the living rooms (and the HDTVs installed within) of the masses. There are cheap streamers, slightly less cheap streamers with wireless connections, Blu-ray players with streaming capabilities, and hard drive-based solutions. Lost in the madness of Black Friday was news of the latest contender: an upgraded version of LaCie's LaCinema HD unit.
The latest version, the LaCinema Classic HD, has a lot going for it, ranging from a sleek, monolithic design consisting of glossy black to an internal hard drive that can currently top out at 1TB. It has the usual connectivity, including an Ethernet port and HDMI v1.3 output. While LaCie recommends dumping movies and other media files from your PC to the LaCinema drive before connecting it to your HDTV, the unit can also server as a DLNA server. That not only means it can play back files streamed from your networked PCs, but also from game consoles like Xbox 360 or PlayStation 3. At $249, the price is competitive as well.
But...there are always a few "buts". The biggest is that LaCie wimps out on making built-in Wi-Fi a standard feature; instead, the Classic HD needs an optional USB wireless adapter. If you want a unit with built-in 802.11n, you can choose the LaCinema Black Play for $349.95, though that device only displays 1080i HD, while the Classic can handle 1080p. In addition to that compromise, LaCie has chosen not to give the Classic HD any DVR functionality, again saving that option for the much pricier ($489.95) LaCinema Black Record. Finally, LaCie seems to be the only player in this space that hasn't made deals for streaming services like Pandora, Netflix, or Amazon Video on Demand. Of course, these could be added at any time via a firmware upgrade, but if the company is serious about competing with other device makers in this particular market, it shouldn't keep ignoring what's fast becoming a standard feature for streaming media players across the board.
Ultimately, it may be the cable companies who profit the most from streaming media, if they can figure out a way to integrate wireless networking into their set top boxes. They already have the DVR and on-demand functionality, and merely adding a 802.11n chip and server functionality can handle streaming files from people's PCs. Without a device that combines the 1TB storage, DVR options, built-in Wi-Fi and streaming online services for around $200, that scenario becomes more and more likely.