Lower price, better software
So what else is different about the new WD TV Play? The most obvious feature is its price. The WD TV Play will hit the US market at just $69.99, which is a drop of $30 from the line’s previous incarnation, the WD TV Live. When we previewed the device last month at CES, WD told us that the Play would be cheaper because it wasn’t going to offer quite as many features as its WD TV Live and Live Hub media players – despite that, it’s been difficult for us to find something that we truly miss from the Live models.
Additionally, the user interface has been completely revamped, making it much more efficient to find what you’re looking for without having to hit the arrow keys a bunch of times. Western Digital still has a thing or two to learn about UI design, but the Play is far and away their best effort to date. If you bought one of the Live or Live Hub series of media players, don’t fret ‘ chances are pretty high that the new design will be coming along in a firmware update.
That’s one thing that has set Western Digital apart from just about everyone except Apple and Roku: support and updates. The company has updated the firmware of already-released products multiple times, adding features and fixing bugs with every release. Additionally, they’ve been very conscientious with respect to actually listening to the community, taking that feedback, and incorporating it into future firmware and hardware iterations.
Possibly the best new feature in the updated interface is the concept of dynamic application icons. Western Digital lets you make icons big or small – there are 24 spots on a screen; small icons take up one square, while larger ones take up four – and if the software permits it, the larger icon can serve up real-time information updates a la Windows 8 live tiles.
The best indicator of this is the included AccuWeather weather widget, which swaps between a current conditions view, and a 5-day forecast (you can actually enter the app to get more in-depth information, too). We found a number of included applications supported this feature, including Picasa, which swapped between photos, and the Facebook app, which showed a few notifications. I don’t expect that many people will be Facebooking, Tweeting, or reading RSS feeds on their television – but it’s still nice to have the ability.
What’s so fun about the dynamic widgets is their possibility – there’s a real potential here to use the WD TV Play to turn your TV into a smart display. One quick look at your home screen, and you’re caught up on news, pictures, weather, Facebook updates, you get the idea. It would be nice to see WD add the ability for normal people to easily install new software, themes (there is a thriving community around WD TV hacks, which WD wholeheartedly endorses), widgets.
Like many other WD devices, if you get frustrated at typing content into the box using the simple remote control, you can plug in any USB wired or wireless (as long as it has its own dongle) keyboard into the side USB port and enter all your information that way.