by Jerry Jackson
Do you download high-definition movies and TV shows online and play them on your notebook? Do you ever wish you could watch those videos on your big screen HDTV without connecting your laptop to your home entertainment center? Well, Western Digital has the perfect product for you ... and it's priced low enough to make the perfect Christmas gift. The WD TV HD Media Player is a pint-sized device that lets you watch 1080p movies and more on your HDTV. Let's take a closer look.
Combined with a Western Digital My Passport portable drive (sold separately), the WD TV ($129.99 MSRP) is an extremely convenient way to play HD movies or home videos, listen to digital music and show high-resolution slideshows of your family photos on your HDTV. The WD TV is essentially a tiny Home Theater PC with an easy-to-use interface. Even if you don't have a My Passport drive, the WD TV works with any USB flash drive or USB external drive. Not only that, but you can connect the WD TV with any digital camera, camcorder, or portable media player that can be recognized as a mass storage device with a USB cable.
Build and Design
The WD TV HD Media Player is an extremely compact device measuring just 1.57" x 3.94" x 4.94" and weighing just 0.67 pounds. To give you some idea of how small the WD TV is the photo below shows the WD TV next to a standard DVD for scale.
The WD TV itself is made of black glossy plastic so it looks great next to most home entertainment center devices. Unlike most media center PCs or Home Theater PCs the WD TV offers hassle-free playback of HD movies, home videos, digital music, and photos on your HDTV. There's no clumsy Windows interface here, just plug-and-play simpliciy.
Setup and Use
Setting up the WD TV is as simple as plugging in the power cord and connecting the WD TV to your HDTV either via RCA composite video cables (included) or an HDMI cable (sold separately). Next, all you have to do is put your digital photos, music, and video on a USB storage device (such as a USB flash drive or hard drive) and connect the drive to the USB port on the WD TV. Now you're ready to start watching your digital content on your huge HDTV.
The WD TV has two USB ports located on the back and left side of the device that allow you to access two USB drives simultaneously. The "Our Media Library" feature automatically scans both drives and combines the content from both drives into one directory that is sorted by media type.
Once you plug in a USB device to the WD TV you can use the included remote control to browse your content using either thumbnail or list views. This is great for selecting the file you want either by filename or by the thumbnail image. You can also search by genre, title, artist, filename or partial filename. There's no limit to the size of your media collection; just replace or add more USB drives for more space.
The Photo viewer lets you create custom slide shows with background music, or manually zoom or pan your images while viewing them on your HDTV. The Video/Movie viewer allows you to fast forward, rewind, pause, zoom, and pan your movies. You can even view subtitles if the video file supports them. The music player features basic controls like fast forward, rewind, pause, shuffle, and repeat.
For those of you who don't already have a massive library of digital movies and music, the WD TV includes free media conversion software (ArcSoft MediaConverter 2.5) that helps you quickly and easily convert photos, videos, and music files into formats optimized for use on the WD TV HD Media Player.
Although it's nice that Western Digital includes the ArcSoft MediaConverter software, I can't help but wish Western Digital would work with movie studios to make 1080p movies available for purchase and download online. That way consumers would have an easy (and 100 percent legal) way to put digital copies of movies and music on the WD TV.
In terms of file formats, I tested every video file format I personally use with the WD TV, including MPEG1/2/4, WMV, WMA, AVI (MPEG4, Xvid, AVC), H.264, MKV, MOV, VOB, and AVCHD. Most of the time the files played perfectly and the only times I experienced trouble were when a file was encoded incorrectly and the audio didn't playback correctly. The only obvious omission in terms of file format support is VC1. No matter what I did I couldn't get the WD TV to to play VC1 files.
First, the biggest issue you might encounter when using the WD TV is that this media player does not support protected content such as movies or music from the iTunes Store, Cinema Now, Movielink, Amazon Unbox, or Vongo. Although this might be frustratiing to some people, it shouldn't be a surprise. Any downloaded video or audio files that have digital rights management (DRM) usually cannot be played in other devices or software-based players.
Just look at this as additional proof that DRM stinks.
Next, the thumbnail display for the video browser doesn't work as easily as it should. Thumbnails have to be embedded into the file and this doesn't work on MKV files. This means you end up with generic icons for your movie files rather than pretty pictures.
Another minor headache is the video player's lack of skip back or skip forward. Sure, you can rewind or fast forward the movie that you're watching but if you restart a movie and want to jump forward to the part you were at you have to sit there and slowly fast forward until you get to the scene you want. Considering how great the WD TV is the lack of a quick skip button is something of a disappointment. UPDATE: Western Digital just released a firmware update to the WD TV HD Media Player and the WD TV now has a 10-minute skip forward or skip back feature! Just download and install the firmware update to get this feature.
If you have a ton of movies, TV shows, music, and photos on your notebook and want to put them on your HDTV then the WD TV HD Media Player is probably the best value and easiest overall solution currently on the market.
For last-minute Christmas shoppers, my recommendation is to run (do not walk) to your nearest electronics store and purchase the WD TV HD Media Player. It makes a great gift for loved ones ... or a great gift for yourself if you're in need of some self-love around the holidays.
Despite a few minor omissions in terms of file format support, the WD TV is quite simply the best low-cost, compact media player we have reviewed.
Price and Availability
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