Western Digital‘s WD TV line of streaming media players includes two current models: the basic WD TV Live and the step-up WD TV Live Hub. Both models allow you to stream content from most of the popular Web-based providers, such as Netflix, Hulu Plus, Vudu, YouTube, Pandora, Spotify, and Facebook. Both models support streaming of personal media files, but the more expensive WD TV Live Hub includes a 1TB hard drive to store your content directly.
The WD TV Live can output a 1080p resolution and includes built-in WiFi for a wireless network connection (the older Hub only offers a wired connection). The connection panel includes one HDMI output, one optical digital audio output, two USB ports (one on the front, one on the back), one composite jack, and an RJ-45 port for wired Ethernet. The box’s appearance is similar to but slightly larger than that of the Apple TV, sporting a black finish and measuring 4.9 inches wide x 3.9 deep x 1.2 high. The WD TV Live comes with an IR remote that’s larger than we saw with previous WD players and has more buttons, including a number pad, full transport controls, directional buttons, and customizable shortcuts. The buttons are laid out in an intuitive manner, and the remote is designed to sit comfortably in your hand. It does not offer a full keyboard, but you do have the option to connect a USB keyboard for easier text entry. Western Digital offers an iOS/Android control app with a virtual keyboard, and a Web control interface is also available.
Western Digital’s list of supported Web services is fairly extensive. In addition to the majors I listed above, the box offers CinemaNow, Flixster, AOL HD, MLB.TV, Vimeo, SnagFilms, Launchpad by Flingo, assorted games, and much more. You can get the full list of online services here. Western Digital doesn’t offer a “store” where you can browse and add apps, and the most notable omission at this stage is Amazon Instant Video. An interesting recent addition is the SlingPlayer app. If you’ve got a Slingbox connected in your home, you can launch the SlingPlayer service on your WD TV Live to access your live and recorded TV content. That basically turns the WD TV Live into a TV Everywhere device that you can take with you on trips. (The SlingPlayer mobile app is available for many tablets and smartphones, and SlingPlayer is also available on the Boxee Box and Logitech Revue.)
For personal media playback, you can connect USB devices directly to the box, or you can stream content over your network to this DLNA-certified receiver (it’s also compatible with Windows/Linux Shares). The box supports a thorough assortment of file formats, including AVI, MPEG4, MKV, MOV, XVID, WMV9, JPEG, TIF, GIF, PNG, BMP, MP3, WAV, LPCM, WMA, AAC, FLAC, AIFF, and OGC.
Setting up the WD TV Live is a fairly easy, intuitive process; however, because this device has a lot more functionality than other streaming media players, there are a lot more potential setup steps, depending on the functions you plan to use. The Home menu has a simple, colorful design, with your local time/temperature displayed at the top right, a background image of your choosing, and a list of menu options that scroll along the bottom: Video, Music, Photos, Files, Setup, Services, Live TV, Games, RSS, and New Firmware. Live TV takes you to the new SlingPlayer service I discussed earlier. You’ll find the Web-based content in the Services menu, with sub-menus for categories like Featured, My Favorites, All, Movies & TV, Web Video, Music, Sports, Photos, Social, and News and Weather. The WD TV Live owner’s manual actually takes the time to explain how to sign in and use each service. Again, because the WD TV Live can do so much, its interface has more layers and options than your basic streaming-only product, and it uses some small icons that may take getting used to, but navigation is quick.
Read about the High Points, Low Points, Competition and Comparison, and the Conclusion on Page 2 . . .
• The WD TV Live offers a great assortment of Web services, including Netflix, Hulu Plus, Vudu, Pandora, Spotify, CinemaNow, Facebook, and more.
• Wired and wireless network connections are available.
• The box supports a 1080p resolution. In addition to HDMI output, you get an optical digital audio output and an A/V jack (with supplied breakout cable) for compatibility with older TVs.
• The WD TV Live supports a wide range of file formats for playback of personal media files, via either USB or DLNA streaming.
• iOS/Android control apps are available, with a keyboard option for easier text entry. You can also connect a USB keyboard.
• The interface is clean and generally easy to navigate.
• The SlingPlayer app lets you stream live/recorded TV content from your Slingbox.
• The IR remote lacks a full keyboard for easier text input.
• Western Digital does not offer an apps store to expand and customize the list of Web services.
• The service does not currently include Amazon Instant Video.
The WD TV Live sells for about $100, pitting it directly against the Apple TV and top-of-the-line Roku 2 XS. The WD TV Live has more functionality than either of those boxes, in its combination of Web services and outstanding file support. Its features compare with the more expensive Boxee Box, including the new Live TV service that’s a major selling point for anyone who owns or is thinking about buying a Slingbox. Quite simply, you can’t beat the WD TV Live’s features for a sub-$100 player. That said, if your focus is primarily on Web services and you don’t plan to access personal media files or purchase a Slingbox, then Roku and Netgear offer lower-priced players with comparable Web services.
Some reports indicate that Western Digital will soon release a new media streamer, dubbed the WD TV Play, that will have fewer connections but more gaming options. You can get early details here.
• Read more media server reviews from HomeTheaterReview.com’s staff
• Compare the WD TV Live to the Roku 3 at HomeTheaterReview.com
• Find out which streaming player is right for you