- Plays most file formats
- Streams many major services
- No native podcast/videocast support
- UI can be slow at times
$99 buys you a box that plays every video, hooks up to your Wi-Fi, and streams Netflix and Hulu.
It was just a couple of years ago that Western Digital started their line of high definition digital media players. Conceived as a means to sell more hard drives, the original WD TV was a petite, unassuming box. It had no wireless or wired network connectivity, it could not stream anything, and it couldn’t play any sort of commercial or DRMed media.
Oh the times, they are a-changin’.
As the WD TV Live Hub showed, Western Digital has really turned these boxes into a platform in their own right. Now, the WD TV Live builds upon the WD TV Live Hub and takes it in a different direction. Where the Live Hub includes a 1TB, 2.5-inch hard drive and wired networking, the new box drops the hard drive for a Wi-Fi chip and a substantially lower price.
More than any of the new features offered, that last one – a lower price tag – is likely the most important. The WD TV Live is going up against savvy smart TV boxes on all sides: the new Roku box, which offers more functionality than ever before, the Google TV-powered Logitech Revue, whose new updates bring Android 3.0 and app compatibility, and the Apple TV, which brings compatibility with the extremely popular iTunes and Apple ecosystem.
Unlike Google and Apple, Western Digital doesn’t really have the partnerships in place to push content to its devices. Apple has the iTunes Media Store, and Google has its own equivalents from which you can rent or buy music, TV shows and movies. As a result, WD is forced to rely largely upon the services of others.
Buy video, rent video, or stream video – it’s your call
In this case, that means compatibility with Blockbuster’s digital streaming and rental service, which is now owned by satellite operator Dish Network. If you’re the kind of person who likes being about to rent or even buy digital movies, then Blockbuster or CinemaNow might be right up your alley.
For those who prefer to stream an all-you-can-watch-buffet, though, there is a responsive Netflix client. From there, you can watch any of the streaming videos that Netflix offers through their website. There’s also a Hulu client, though you’ll also need to subscribe to Hulu Plus if you actually want to watch anything on the service.
Other services accessible on the device include AccuWeather.com, which also powers the temperature widget that sits at the top of the screen, Flickr, Fling, LIVE365, Facebook. Deezer, Pandora, SHOUTcast, and more.
There’s also Spotify support, which WD is claiming as an exclusive for a device like this. WD gave us a one month premium Spotify account in order to try the service out, and it’s…manageable, but not perfect. More on that later.
Like the previous versions of the WD TV family, the new WD TV Live can play just about any kind of video or audio file you might have…provided that it remains unencumbered of DRM, of course. Since this model comes without the handy hard drive buried within, you’ll need to provide your own storage.