In the current age of media consumption, movies and television are being utilized in vastly different methods than five years ago. Nothing is more of a testament to the changes in how consumers are viewing their media than Western Digital’s TV Live HD Media Player. Improving on their first player (the WD TV Digital Media Player), the new TV Live builds on the strong file support of the first model and adds a variety of networking improvements.
When unpacking the unit, you will notice the small form factor of the TV Live is fairly identical to the previous model. It also feels a touch lighter than the last one. Different from the previous model, you won’t find composite red/yellow/white RCA jacks to output the audio and video, but you can still output to that format with the mini-jack output.
You will also find a component output, a HDMI 1.3 port, an optical output and two USB ports (one on the back and one on the top). New to this unit, there’s an Ethernet connection for wired access to your home network and the Internet. The small (likely easy to lose) remote is identical to the last version of the player. There’s no back-lit feature to the remote as well.
The setup forward for the WD TV Live has to be the DLNA compatibility. When you hook the device into your home network, you have the ability to stream content off any media server, PC or storage drive. The previous model only allowed you to play content off a USB drive or other storage deivce connected via USB. Due to the expanded network access, you also have the ability to connect a USB WiFi stick to the device and connect to your network that way.
Setting up the WD TV Live is pretty much a breeze. After you have made the appropriate network and audio / video connections, turn the unit on and watch the unit work its magic. It automatically finds shared PCs on the network and directs you into their shared folders. The interface is very similar to a previous version of Windows Media Center before it was graphically enhanced for Windows 7. That being said, it can be slightly intimidating for someone that’s not a tech-savvy user. I watched friends get lost in the menus from time to time.
Similar to the previous model, the file support is off the charts! There were only a handful of times that I had a media file that wasn’t compatible with the WD TV Live (usually a Divx encoded file). In terms of video files, it can handle AVI, xVid, VOB, MKV, h.264, MOV, Matroska, WMV9, MPEG, etc… Music is no slouch either with support for FLAC, PCM, OGG, WMA, AAC, MP3, etc. It also has subtitle support, audio play list support and photo display functionality. One really handy feature that was added to this version of the player is a preview function. On-screen, it shows the file size and type as well as demoing a portion of the file. It’s very useful if you are a habitual mis-labeler of files.
Regarding performance, you will be surprised how quickly the WD TV Live boots up and loads your giant 1080p files. The menu seems much more responsive as well, likely due to the tweaks and improvements in the hardware. There’s no loss of quality when streaming content off your servers via a wired connection. You will find stuttering issues when attempting to stream HD files via a WiFi Wireless G connection, but that’s understandable.
Beyond tossing a variety of media files at the player, I also tried out something new to this version of the media player; Internet Streaming Content. The player offers YouTube connectivity as well as the popular music streaming services Pandora & Live365. There’s also Flickr access for those with picture albums on Flickr. Thankfully, you can stream the HD version of the Youtube video as well.
Searching for Youtube content is painful, only because the on screen navigation for typing in our search terms is very slow. With a couple of these services, Western Digital seems to be simply touching on their functionality. I’m going to venture a guess that future versions will simplify the interface and add a variety of social networking services into the mix. Plus Netflix connectivity and Hulu support would be stellar for round 2!
The WD TV Live HD media player (MSRP $149.99) is one of the more versatile media players on the market and easily the least obtrusive in your home theater setup. Anyone that enjoys ripping their legally purchased DVDs and Blu-rays to home servers is going to love this unit. In addition, the low cost for the player allows for multiple units to be purchased and spread all over the house.
That being said, if you are still using physical media for playback, the Internet connectivity is really the only reason to pick it up and there are several devices on the market that offer more services in that realm. Anyway, similar to the aftermarket modding of the Apple TV, tech savvy users will have no problem finding a use for the WD TV Live HD media player in their home theater.