Introduction

A month or so back I reviewed my new Samsung PN50B860 50" Plasma 1080p HDTV and during the review I mentioned this awesome little HD media player from Western Digital.   I promised to get back to you with a review and after using it now for a few months I feel I can contribute some meaningful comments on this little gem.

 

`Samsung leads other manufacturers with built in internet and web based features that allow access to YouTube, Flickr, web radio, web TV, functional widgets from Yahoo or Google, and of course the computers and storage on your home network.  Unfortunately the best wasn't good enough.  Not yet.  It might be several generations from now, but not today.  Today it's slow and cumbersome, very selective on what types of storage devices it's compatible with, and what web based services it offers.  Each service must be directly supported.  Disappointed with the execution of these features I looked for an alternative.

 

Samsung leads other manufacturers with built in internet and web based features that allow access to YouTube, Flickr, web radio, web TV, functional widgets from Yahoo or Google, and of course the computers and storage on your home network.  Unfortunately the best wasn't good enough.  Not yet.  It might be several generations from now, but not today.  Today it's slow and cumbersome, very selective on what types of storage devices it's compatible with, and what web based services it offers.  Each service must be directly supported.  Disappointed with the execution of these features I looked for an alternative.

 

I sat down with a pencil and paper and made a list of the available features I wanted.  Most modern televisions have a USB port where you can plug-in a USB thumb drive or even a USB powered hard drive and play files from there.  For many this is all they'll need, at least until they realize many of their favorite files from the internet aren't supported by the televisions firmware.  Do you want network support?  Wi-fi? YouTube access or other internet based widgets?  The ability to plug your digital camera into it?  My most important features was the ability to play ANY file I might have acquired from any source, and the ability to tap into my home network and find these files on any computer or network attached storage (NAS) device.

 

Selection

I sat down with a pencil and paper and made a list of the available features I wanted.  Most modern televisions have a USB port where you can plug-in a USB thumb drive or even a USB powered hard drive and play files from there.  For many this is all they'll need, at least until they realize many of their favorite files from the internet aren't supported by the televisions firmware.  Do you want network support?  Wi-fi? YouTube access or other internet based widgets?  The ability to plug your digital camera into it?  My most important features was the ability to play ANY file I might have acquired from any source, and the ability to tap into my home network and find these files on any computer or network attached storage (NAS) device.

 

It didn't take me long to find 4-5 popular devices on the web so I started going through the specifications keeping my priorities in mind.  Several were ruled out because they didn't have HDMI output, two more ruled out because they didn't support as many file types as two others, and one of the remaining was ruled out because it didn't offer network support.  That left two.

 

It didn't take me long to find 4-5 popular devices on the web so I started going through the specifications keeping my priorities in mind.  Several were ruled out because they didn't have HDMI output, two more ruled out because they didn't support as many file types as two others, and one of the remaining was ruled out because it didn't offer network support.  That left two.  One was a Chinese off-brand that a friend is using with great success, and the other was the WD TV Live media player I'm reviewing.  Going to the Western Digital website, support, I noticed they'd been updating the firmware to accommodate newer features and more file types every few months.  The Chinese version didn't have any updates.  A quick trip to Pantip Plaza and 4900 baht later I had the Western Digital media player.

 

  One was a Chinese off-brand that a friend is using with great success, and the other was the WD TV Live media player I'm reviewing.  Going to the Western Digital website, support, I noticed they'd been updating the firmware to accommodate newer features and more file types every few months.  The Chinese version didn't have any updates.  A quick trip to Pantip Plaza and 4900 baht later I had the Western Digital media player.

 

 

Installation

Setup was easy.  I plugged in the power cord, ran a HDMI cable to the television, and plugged in a LAN cable.  The LAN cable is only necessary if you want access to your home network, the computers which are part of that network, and any network attached storage (NAS) devices.  While I was there I ran an optical TOSLINK (fiber optic) cable to my home theater system so I could have 7.1 channels when watching movies.  Any input connectors are supported from composite to component to HDMI to SPDIF opticals.

 

Choosing the settings took a bit more thought.  This is where I checked the WD's firmware and updated it to the latest version, all automatic and via the units remote control.  I also selected the type of sound I wanted and the higher quality video.  Then I navigated to my NAS devices and entered their usernames and passwords and I was set to go.

 

Choosing the settings took a bit more thought.  This is where I checked the WD's firmware and updated it to the latest version, all automatic and via the units remote control.  I also selected the type of sound I wanted and the higher quality video.  Then I navigated to my NAS devices and entered their usernames and passwords and I was set to go.

I should mention that everything so far was done via the small remote control.  The remote control is small, but powerful and you don't need to precisely aim it.  Just point it in the general direction and you'll be good.

 

The size of this unit might surprise you.  It's about 3.5 inches wide, 1.5 inches high, and 4 inches deep.  Very small.  I set it on my HDTV's stand behind the screen so only the remote eye was visible and things worked and looked great.

 

The size of this unit might surprise you.  It's about 3.5 inches wide, 1.5 inches high, and 4 inches deep.  Very small.  I set it on my HDTV's stand behind the screen so only the remote eye was visible and things worked and looked great.

 

s5

 

 

Operation

 

Network

The big foolproof test.  I handed the remote to my wife and asked her to play a movie on the NAS device.  Without any experience or instructions she was able to find it in less than two minutes after only asking the name of the NAS device.  She wasn't familiar with it.  So, its very easy to operate and with it's nice remote very smooth.

The WD TV Live easily navigated to all the shared folders of every PC on my network, all my network storage devices, and it did it with no hassles or set up.  It read the network and allowed me to navigate through it.

As you navigate through the contents of your storage device, and pause on a file, you'll get a video preview of that file in addition to its filename and other detailed information.

 

The WD TV Live easily navigated to all the shared folders of every PC on my network, all my network storage devices, and it did it with no hassles or set up.  It read the network and allowed me to navigate through it.

 

File Types

I had a collection of movies, specials, and music obtained over the years from AVI's to MPEG4's and much more.  10-12 video file types, 7-8 music file types, and lots of picture file types.  Everything played fine with the exception of raw image files from my DSLRs.  It's built in codecs accommodated more file types and played them better than my computer could ever hope to.  And it did it quick and easily with no computer required.

 

I had a collection of movies, specials, and music obtained over the years from AVI's to MPEG4's and much more.  10-12 video file types, 7-8 music file types, and lots of picture file types.  Everything played fine with the exception of raw image files from my DSLRs.  It's built in codecs accommodated more file types and played them better than my computer could ever hope to.  And it did it quick and easily with no computer required.

 

USB Devices

I've plugged m DSLRs, USB hard drives, and thumb drives into the units USB port and was given instant access to the files on these devices.  I'd guess this is the way most people will use it, only to access their storage drives.

 

I've plugged m DSLRs, USB hard drives, and thumb drives into the units USB port and was given instant access to the files on these devices.  I'd guess this is the way most people will use it, only to access their storage drives.

 

 

Web Based Services

Using the remote I visited YouTube, Flickr, Pandora, Live365.com, and all these services were easy to access and enjoy.  If you already had accounts with these sites you'll be prompted to enter your account information and then you're using these services easier than if from your computer.

 

Wi-Fi Setup

The one feature missing from the WD TV Live Media Player was a wi-fi module.  The list below shows the inexpensive USB wi-fi modules certified to use with this player.

 

The one feature missing from the WD TV Live Media Player was a wi-fi module.  The list below shows the inexpensive USB wi-fi modules certified to use with this player.

 

I had one of these devices in a drawer so I hooked it up and there was no difference using the network between wi-fi and the LAN cable.

 

Summary

I've been using the Western Digital TV Live Media Player daily for over two months.  My experience has been very positive and I've not found a file type that won't play.

 

This is the type of device you install and then forgot about.  You'll never have to think about file types, if it works or not, or anything at all.  You can even set up the firmware upgrade to let you know when a new upgrade becomes available.

 

This is the type of device you install and then forgot about.  You'll never have to think about file types, if it works or not, or anything at all.  You can even set up the firmware upgrade to let you know when a new upgrade becomes available.

 

If I have any complaint it would be that the remote keys are a bit sticky.  I suspect if I clean the remote this won't be an issue any longer.  Video quality is perfect and the sound is very good.  I've watched many 1080p Blue-Ray movies using the WD TV Live while outputting the 7.1 DTS or Digital Dolby Pro to the home theater system.  So far everything has operated perfectly.

 

If I have any complaint it would be that the remote keys are a bit sticky.  I suspect if I clean the remote this won't be an issue any longer.  Video quality is perfect and the sound is very good.  I've watched many 1080p Blue-Ray movies using the WD TV Live while outputting the 7.1 DTS or Digital Dolby Pro to the home theater system.  So far everything has operated perfectly.

 

I love this device, and more I love not having to connect or use a computer with my television ever again.  My computers are now separate from the television.  Its also a lot of fun to surf YouTube or Flickr with just the remote and the television.

 

I love this device, and more I love not having to connect or use a computer with my television ever again.  My computers are now separate from the television.  Its also a lot of fun to surf YouTube or Flickr with just the remote and the television.

Are you looking for this type of device?  My guess is you'd be very pleased in every way with the Western Digital TV Live Media Player.  I am..