Cirago’s device fills plenty of media roles, but it doesn’t excel at any

The Cirago TV Platinum CMC3000 is a small, network-connected box with HDMI output and an internal hard drive. This box can play back all manner of content, record TV from your set-top box, and provide 1TB of network-attached storage. You get all this for a street price less of than $200. What’s not to like? As it turns out, the Cirago is a classic jack-of-all-trades and master of none.

The box connects to your TV or A/V receiver via HDMI, and it has three USB ports on its side. Two of these are device ports and one is a host port (enabling you to connect the device to your PC for file transfers). There’s also a five-in-one flash memory card reader (Compact Flash cards aren’t supported, but SD and SDHC cards work fine.)

The CMC3000 ships with a full-size remote that’s laid out much like any DVR remote. The controls offer modest tactile feedback and button presses feel solid.

Setting up the Cirago is a straightforward process. According to the manual, you connect the Cirago via USB to your PC and transfer your multimedia files. You then unplug it and move it to your home theater or HDTV setup. This is probably a good idea, since the unit only supports 100Mb/s Fast Ethernet; USB 2.0 will be quite faster if you’re copying a lot of digital media. In this day and age of huge files and gigabit wired networks, it’s silly to ship a networked storage device with a slow network connection. Cirago also offers an optional USB Wi-Fi adapter that supports 802.11n. Depending on the performance of your home network, this could deliver higher data-transfer speeds than a wired connection.

The CMC3000 has an HDMI 1.3 output and an optical digital-audio output, but its audio and video inputs are strictly analog (and its video input and output are limited to composite).

In our case, we connected to our wired gigabit network. The CMC3000 had no problems obtaining an IP address via DHCP. We then moved a variety of digital media files, which took some time given the slow connection, but was reliable. Once you connect the CMC3000, you’ll likely be moving data via a LAN connection anyway, unless you want to be running back and forth with a USB key or flash memory card.

When you connect the CMC3000, you’ll notice an HDMI 1.3 port and an obsolete composite video connection; there’s nothing in between, no S-video and no component video. What’s worse is that the only video input is via composite video, so you won’t be able to record high-definition video from that spiffy HD set-top box.

We connected the CMC3000 to our A/V system to the HDMI input on our Onkyo TX-NR3000 receiver, which is in turn connected to a Sony HDTV. Audio pass-through worked like a charm, so we could get audio either direct to the TV or through the receiver to our surround-sound speaker setup.
We experienced HDMI handshake problems, however, if we powered up the Onkyo receiver first and then fired up Cirago’s device. If we turned the CMC3000 on first, the system would sync without problems.

Once you turn the CMC3000 on, you’re presented with this rather obtuse interface.

One of the CMC300’s promised benefits is its ability to record live TV via a timer, much like using a DVR. Unfortunately, this feature is limited. First, you have only a composite video input to work with. Secondly, you can only set up timers that trigger the device to begin recording whatever signal is coming into that composite video port—there’s no on-screen program guide that would let you schedule recordings of shows on cable or satellite TV. Even if you could add external device control via something like an IR blaster, you’d first have to program the source to power up and tune to the right channel at whatever time you want the recording to happen. That means you need to set up two timers on two devices every time you wish to schedule a recording.

The rest of the user interface isn’t quite as minimalist. The built-in browser works pretty well, and it allowed us to browse our network and to find media on our Windows Home Server. We also had content copied directly to the CMC300’s internal hard drive. That’s when we ran into playback issues. We have a number of AVI and Quicktime .MOV files encoded using the DVC (digital video) codec used in some camcorders, but the Cirago couldn’t play these back. It also couldn’t handle digital music encoded in WMV Lossless format. If you want support for Netflix, Hulu, YouTube, and other online streaming services, you’ll need to install a copy of PlayOn (subscriptions to this service cost $40 for the first year and $20 each subsequent year, or you can purchase a license for the lifetime of the hardware—not your lifetime—for $80).

The bottom line: if you have bog-standard encoded media, the Cirago will probably play it back. It will also play back H.264 files, which are becoming increasingly common in online web video. We were also able to play back 1080p WMV-HD clips, which looked good and played back smoothly. The Cirago’s web interface for video is also a limited affair, but we didn’t encounter any issues with playing back supported web video. In the end, the Cirago is a strange mix of obsolete and cutting-edge technology coupled with relatively narrow codec support. Not a lot to get excited about here.

Cirago TV Platinum CMC3000

High Def

Relatively low cost; easy to set up.

Standard Def

HDMI sync issues; limited codec support; obtuse UI; Slow Ethernet; no built-in Wi-Fi.

score:6