- Plays everything
- Digital and analog video out
- Networked file support
- Sometimes simplistic UI
Western Digital recently relaunched their WD TV player, adding a number of features such as component video and DTS decoding, while maintaining its diminutive size and sleek form factor. The players have gotten a rep in the online community for being able to play anything thrown at them. Is that still the case? Read on and find out.
Western Digital originally created the WD TV series of products really more as a means of selling their existing technologies – namely, storage – than as a standalone product on its own. I really hope they realize how strong the WD TV units are on their own, though; these things are, in a word, awesome. The WD TV Live is the newest iteration of the concept and it’s easily the best one yet.
The WD TV Live carries an MSRP of $149.99, but can easily be found all over the internet for justt $119.99.
Build and Design
Just because something’s newer doesn’t always mean it’s better, but in this case it really works out. From the outside, it’s hard to tell the difference between the WD TV player, and the newer WD TV Live player. The only major difference is that the the mirror black finish has been replaced with a matte charcoal grey. It’s an improvement over the previous generation since one of the few issues with the original is how easily the glossy finish would scratch and rough up. The WD logo is also more noticeable in the new revision, going from a different color black to silver, which actually stands out.
I said that the two units are pretty similar from the outside — apart from the color, they’re essentially the same. The big structural change comes in terms of the inputs and outputs on the rear of the device. Both players have two USB ports, to which you can attach flash drives or external hard drives in order to share media. Each has HDMI and optical audio out. The WD TV Live, however, offers both composite and component video out through adapters (the original only had composite). It also adds the single most requested feature over the original: networking.
It actually has an Ethernet port in the rear along with the audio and video ports, and you can hook it directly to a router to take advantage of some of the additional functionality, or you can add one of a limited number of wireless USB adapters. Third party firmwares have actually worked to enable that functionality in the original device, but it’s really nice to see it added as an official feature straight out of the box. The following adapters have officially been proven to work with the WD TV Live unit – just plug one into the rear of the machine.
|Belkin||F5D8051 V3100||Hi Power||GW-USMini2N|
|Belkin||F5D8055 v2||Level 1||WNC-0600USB|
|D-Link||DWA-125 Wireless 150||Trendnet||TEW-664UB V1.0R|
|D-Link||DWA-140 V1.30||Sitecom||WL-329 V1 001|
Software and Performance
So it’s small, sleek, and well-built; the unit feels pretty solid – it should, since it doesn’t really have any moving parts. The real draw, of course, is what it does, not how it looks. That being said, let’s move on to the improvements WD has done to the inside of the unit.
WD has done, actually, a pretty fantastic job of coming up with a sleek, usable interface for the WD TV media players. The remote is small but functional, and doesn’t suffer from what all too many remotes do these days – button creep. One really great thing about the interface is that it’s all done in HD – unlike some units we’ve seen, everything looks crisp and clean, even on 1080p television sets. Navigation is done mostly with the up and down buttons, since the interface is composed almost exclusively of a single vertical column. It’s vaguely reminiscent of Sony’s XMB UI only vertical instead of horizontal. It’s simple to use, and easy enough that even if you aren’t all that technologically savvy, you shouldn’t have any problems figuring out how things work (making it a great gift for parents and families).
The default setting shows off videos (or photos, or audio files) in a series of unremarkable folders. Fortunately, there are other options, including showing everything off in a single list, or a preview mode (seen at the above right). The preview mode vastly improves the usability of the player; whereas before it was difficult to see the difference between files, now you can see all the title and even start watching the beginning of the videos without having to hit any buttons. While the unit has no problems with photos and music, there really seem to be better solutions for pumping sound and the like through your home theater – but the unit absolutely excels at video.
In terms of what the device plays, well, it might be easier to talk about what it doesn’t play. It’s really turning into something of a Swiss army knife of media playback. One of the improvements the Live version has is DTS decoding; previously, that was left to the TV or receiver to handle over HDMI and leaving users with composite connections out in the cold.