Network connected player


IF YOU don’t want a dedicated computer for streaming media, you can still watch HD movies on your big screen with a media player.

While standalone media players are practically flooding the market these days, Western Digital’s WD TV media players have been a personal favourite of mine simply because the players generally have the widest codec support compared with other media players on the market.

For example, the original WD TV was one of the first players to support Matroska (.MKV) HD video files along with the more common DivX and MP4 files.

Well, now that most media players on the market support .MKV and HD files in general, Western Digital has upped the ante once more with the WD TV Live player.

What the WD TV Live brings to the table is network connectivity — specifically an Ethernet port and support for streaming video files from shared folders on your home network.

Tiny package

Anybody who’s seen the original WD TV will be familiar with the design of the WD TV Live — apart from the colour, the WD TV Live could very well be a facsimile of the WD TV.

Look at the back, however, and the one major difference will present itself — the WD TV Live has a built-in Ethernet port for connecting to your home network.

You’d think this is a small change but this one addition brings with it a slew of advantages which we’ll get into in the following paragpraphs.

Inside the box is a remote control (batteries included), the AC power adaptor, component cable and composite cable.

Unfortunately, although the WD TV Live is a HD player and comes with a HDMI port, a HDMI cable is not included in the package, so if you want to take full advantage of this media player when connected to your HDTV, you’ll have to shell out extra for a cable so that you can watch HD videos in full HD.

It’s not a big deal since HDMI cables retail in stores for about RM20 but it still would have been nice to have a cable included in the package.

Going Live

Before I go on, being able to take full advantage of the WD TV Live is conditional on having a broadband connection and router in your home — if you don’t have that, then you might as well buy the cheaper non-networked WD TV.

If you have a home network already set up, however, then it’s a simple matter of connecting the power adapter, video cables and then attaching a LAN cable from the router to the WD TV Live’s Ethernet port.

If your router is set up right, the WD TV Live will automatically be part of your home network.

The WD TV Live does not have WiFi built in so unless you have a wireless client that connects to the Ethernet port, you’ll have to live with the physical cables.

So why would you want a networked media player?

The first advantage presented itself when I switched the WD TV Live on — as soon as I did, the media player contacted its own update server and prompted me to update to the latest firmware. Once I agreed to it, the player automatically downloaded and installed the latest firmware update. Nifty!

The other cool thing about this Internet connectivity is that the WD TV Live supports YouTube video-streaming, Flickr photo-viewing and Live365 online radio right out of the box.

Finally, if you have shared video and audio on other PCs in your home network, the WD TV Live can access these shared files and play them back directly.

In practice, video and audio streaming worked flawlessly on the WD TV Live if you’ve set your network up properly.

Apart from these differences, the WD TV Live retains most of the features of the WD TV, which means extensive codec support for all the latest video formats — I played MKV, MP4, WMV, H.264, MOV and various audio and photo formats as well.

I also tried the WD TV Live on a number of video files with embedded subtitles and they all displayed them fine, which should really please anime fans.

It does not however, support Real Media video — that’s a feature that seems to be unique to the WD TV Mini, it seems.

Just like the WD TV, the WD TV Live has no internal storage of its own. Instead it comes with two USB ports which can accept USB hard drives or thumbdrives.

In the time I used it, the WD TV Live performed flawlessly — it was fast and played back 1080p video files with no problems at all even when streaming large video files across my wireless network.

Conclusion

With the WD TV Live, Western Digital has taken what was great about the original WD TV (extensive codec support, tiny size, simple controls) and cranked it up to eleven.

If you look back at our earlier review of the WD TV, the one thing that I suggested should have been put into the WD TV was an Ethernet port and with the WD TV Live, Western Digital has done just that, making the device a more useful player than before.

You no longer have to copy video files out to a portable hard disk to play it back on the WD TV Live.

So, yes, I love the WD TV Live — I don’t often give an enthusiastic review of a product, but with this media player, there’s honestly nothing bad I can say about it.

Related Stories: Media everywhere A server for the home

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