Western Digital’s WD TV is a compact media-streaming box of tricks that will nestle anywhere around your television, providing a relatively cheap point of entry into the world of net TV and streaming media for those without a smart TV. It is, essentially, a new cut-down budget version of Western Digital’s Live Hub, with the money mainly being saved by losing the on-board hard disk.
Of course, it can also stream movies off an external hard drive or flash memory drive, which can be plugged in via the unit’s two USB ports. The unit also has Wi-Fi integrated, allowing you to hook up to your home network and play media off any wirelessly attached computers or devices. Furthermore, the WD TV Live boasts a new interface, and now comes with Spotify on board – more about that later on.
First things first: set up is a breeze. The device connects to your TV via either a composite video connection or an HDMI port. There’s no HDMI lead provided, so you’ll need to supply your own if you want to take full advantage of the 1080p streaming on offer.
Wi-Fi or wired?
Once hooked up and switched on, the WD TV Live unit automatically locates your Wi-Fi network – or you can plug in a wired connection via the unit’s Ethernet port, which is recommended for heavier streaming duties across the network. Updating the firmware takes five minutes, and then you’re done. Subsequent boot-ups take just two seconds from cold.
The full 1080p picture the box delivers is impressive, with movies streamed off your local drive or computer looking pin-sharp, as you’d expect. HD footage drawn off the YouTube player which is incorporated in the device’s software also looks very slick on the big screen, with not a jitter in sight when it comes to playback (although, of course, the quality of your broadband connection is crucial here).
Software and compatibility
Support for video files is excellent, with most bases covered including H.264/MPEG-4 AVC, WMV, AVI, VCD, MOV, Xvid and MKV files. The WD TV Live also offers full 5.1 DTS surround sound, with an optical port to hook up your home cinema amp.
On the software front, the WD TV Live interface is rather smartly put together. Tweaking settings such as the sound or video output is easy, as is hooking up other PCs on your network so that it access media files from them.
The supplied remote control is a decent quality unit, although you’ll soon discover its limitations – and some of the more challenging facets of the interface – when you try the integrated YouTube player.
Surfing the ‘Tube
YouTube offers masses of content, but browsing it using the arrow keys on the remote is rather sluggish – particularly as there’s a very slight delay from pressing the key to it actually registering. This isn’t much of an issue in general navigation, but when it comes to typing in longer terms on the virtual keyboard used in the search function, it’s aggravating.
Having said that, the search function itself works well enough, and the YouTube player does a good job of grouping together highlights, most watched elements and so forth. For those with a wireless keyboard, that can be connected via the USB port, which is an option worth considering for those who’ll be searching and playing YouTube videos a great deal.
The WD TV Live box supports a number of other video streaming platforms and services; fourteen of them in total. These include photo-sharing services Flickr and Picasa, and the nifty video-sharing service Flingo, which along with YouTube makes for a wealth of weird and wonderful clips to explore.
Other video platforms are supported such as Mediafly, and a number of net radio station providers like Shoutcast. A Facebook application is also integrated, giving you access to the social network on your TV with a reasonable interface (if slightly slow in loading big batches of photos). Furthermore, support for RSS feeds is now incorporated.
Sound of Spotify
As we mentioned earlier, a fresh addition on the music front is support for Spotify, the streaming music service which has been gathering considerable momentum this year. It boasts a library of around 15 million songs, but the downside of its implementation here is as with the mobile version of Spotify: you need to be a premium subscriber to get the service on WD TV Live.
Another slight disappointment, this time relating to video content, is the lack of iPlayer support, or any other UK on-demand platforms such as 4oD. Unfortunately, Western Digital haven’t localised the player to that extent. However, we won’t moan too much, as there’s still plenty of mileage in the included services.
And plenty of neat touches are hidden away in this small and unassuming black box. For instance, under the photo media section you can display photos as slideshows, and play a track from the music library as a background theme tune. Videos you’ve stopped halfway can be resumed at that point, even movies on an external device you’ve disconnected and then reconnected.
As far as technical hitches go, we didn’t encounter many at all. There was the very occasional photo or video that wouldn’t display, plus some YouTube videos declared they couldn’t be played on net-connected TV devices. We also experienced one crash, a full lock-up, although we’re inclined to forgive that as a single isolated incident.
Company: Western Digital
Contact: Western Digital on 01372 360055
- Slick 1080p and DTS playback; good range of net services on the whole.
- No localised video services such as iPlayer; interface is occasionally a tad clumsy.
For the £100 asking price, you're getting a pretty impressive media box with can stream 1080p video and 5.1 DTS sound from your USB storage, home network or online. A good range of integrated internet services is provided, including YouTube, Facebook and Spotify - although it's a shame that iPlayer is missing for UK users.
File support is commendably broad - we only found a few bits of media that wouldn't display - and the reworked interface is generally smartly implemented, if a bit clunky inside some apps. On the downside, the virtual keyboard is sluggish to use.