WD TV Live Review

The WD TV Live: Western Digital’s Play on a Streaming Media Player

When someone thinks of Western Digital products, hard drives most likely come to mind. Nowadays, WD is making noise in the Media Center department as well. The well known hard drive manufacturer has developed a home entertainment device that should be receiving a bit more attention than its getting. The medium sized boxed named WD TV Live is able to play movies, music, photos, and take advantage of your internet connection.

The WD TV Live had an initial release back in November 2008. The device is larger than both its major competitors, Apple TV and Roku. However, when compared feature by feature, the WD TV Live is able to hang with the big boys. For example, all generations of the device come with full 1080p playback, with the exception of the WD TV Mini. Lets make note, that at this time Apple has yet to release an ATV able to handle that level of video quality. One the other hand, Roku has released a device with 1080p playback. .

Before we continue, let’s take a look at how much this device has evolved over the years.

WD TV Live – Six Versions

WD TV (1st Generation)
Released in November 2008, Western Digital introduced to the world a multimedia player with full 1080p HD playback.

WD TV (2nd Generation)
When compared to the 1st Gen, this device supported 2-channel DTS. No other major changes.

WD TV Mini
The Mini hit store shelves in the Fall of 09. It only support up to 1080i and lacked H.264 video play back. But what you got was a smaller device.

WD TV Live (1st Generation)
The first device in the family to feature an Ethernet port. This allowed you to stream content from a home network and connect with internet sites like YouTube, Pandora, and Facebook. Additional hardware changes allowed you to handle higher quality content with no problem.

WD TV Live Plus
For the most part, this device had the same features at the WD TV Live 1st Gen, with a few minor exceptions, most notably, Netflix support.

WD TV Live Hub
What differentiates this device from its predecessors is the internal 1 TB storage disk.

WD TV Live Streaming Media Player
This is the 6th and most recent version to be shown off by WD. At a quick glance, the device is able to do everything you want in a media player. Stream multimedia, 1080p playback, and support most file formats. But we’re missing one thing. One thing that all other generation weren’t able to do. But something this device can do. And that’s Built-in Wi-Fi support. Finally! The WD TV Live now has a built-in wireless adapter. That one change bring the device up to speed with its competitors. On top of that, it is regularly priced at $99.99 USD, just like the Apple TV or Roku 2 XS.

Design

The box comes in at 3.9 x 4.9 inches just like its siblings, the WD TV Live 1st Gen and WD TV Live Plus. Cosmetically, the edges are no long rounded but shaped like a brick or block and it weighs in at a slimmer 0.43 pounds.

There’s also a remote included. The indented programmable remote sits well in your hand. Yes, we said programmable.

You really shouldn’t experience any problems here since it’s well designed and easy to use. However, we have heard complaints of the buttons being too tall and hard to press quickly. Usually, we wouldn’t pay much attention to a complaint of this nature, but when you have to use the on-board keyboard, the buttons can hinder the experience.

Features

Aside from your regular features like multimedia playback or compact design, the streaming media center has a number of unique features that separate it from the rest of the pack.

The biggest thing that stands out here is the addition of Wi-Fi, something the device lacked up until this point. Setting the Wi-Fi up is a breeze. Plug in the device, choose your language, and then selected the desired wireless network.

We can’t brag about the on-screen keyboard. It flat out stinks. The character aren’t even arrange like a QWERTY keyboard. But the WD TV Live does have USB support so a wired or wireless keyboard can be plugged in for quick text input. Perfect for when using the web.

The WD TV Live supports a ton of file types, like MKV, MP4, AVI, MOV, XVID, and even ISOs for those of you too impatient to wait for them to unpack.

Another reason to buy this over other devices is the ability to pull media from external hard drives, like USB drives or external enclosures.  Plug in a thumb drive into the built-in USB port and you now have access to whatever is on the stick.

With an internet connection you can get access to number of services, more than double the amount that was seen with the Live Hub. The long list includes names like Netflix, Spotify, Hulu Plus, YouTube, Blockbusters, TuneIn Internet Radio, Shoutcast, and others. Only downfall here is that you need to pay additional fees for some of the services monthly.

Weaknesses

Like we just mentioned, a major drawback is the additional monthly fees for services like Netflix and Hulu Plus. Cordcutters aren’t the type of people looking to dish out cash for services that provide limited content.

It was a big disappoint to learn that as of right now no Plex or XBMC build exists. We really can’t blame Western Digital for this one because that’s something the HTPC community needs to come up with. If the device gains some traction a Plex or XBMC release is inevitable.

Conclusion

Western Digital has developed a great product that has vastly improved over the years. It offers a ton of services, supports a number of file formats, and has comparable features when compared to the other major players. This media center does have a few flaws, but we feel the unique features should keep it on the radar of anyone that’s researching streaming media consoles.

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