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Written by Olin Coles   
Monday, 09 July 2012
Table of Contents: Page Index
WD TV Live Digital MultiMedia Player
Closer Look: WD TV Live
WD TV Live Test Results
WD TV Live Games and Services
WD TV Live Conclusion

WD TV Live Test Results

Like most discerning home theater enthusiasts, I'm critical of digital media player devices. Benchmark Reviews has tested several products designed for the Home Theater segment, from fancy HTPC enclosures to efficient compact computer systems. But of them all, very few have ever offered the level of multimedia performance found on desktop computer systems. My criteria for the "perfect" digital media player has never been terribly strict, but a man's home theater is a trophy onto itself. The ideal system needs to offer wireless Internet access, comfortable web browsing, fast file transfers, and display multimedia content over HDMI without frame loss or stutter. This section discusses how well the WD TV Live digital media player performs, and the various features it offers.

From the first moment you power on the WD TV Live, the device begins to impress. Within a few seconds I was greeted with a beautifully colorful background, and then prompted to confirm my language preference. Immediately afterward, WD TV Live searched for available networks and was easily joined to my wireless connection. A few seconds later the system date and time were automatically updated, and an update notification appeared prompting me to download the latest firmware. A few minutes later WD TV Live restarted to install the new firmware, then after a few more minutes the updated device greeted me with a large navigation menu.

WD-TV-Live-Media-Player-Menu-New-Firmware.jpg

The setup screen is easy to understand and straight-forward. I'm the type of person who has to check every option to ensure I've tweaked the system to its fullest potential, but with the WD TV Live I was pleasantly surprised that nearly every configuration had been optimized for my connected hardware. The only item that really needed any attention was the Day Light Savings option for the date and time, both of which were automatically detected and set when the device first connected to the Internet. Optionally, I chose to display my local temperature beside the time by adding my city to AccuWeather (Services → News and Weather).

Users can customize the theme and background image on WD TV Live, similar to any Microsoft Windows PC. At the time of this writing there were several different background images to choose from, all part of professionally taken photo sets, along with a few different (and truly unique) themes. Additionally, users may utilize their own images for the background. Some aftermarket themes are more ergonomic than others, but because I had become so used to the default theme it remained my favorite.

WD-TV-Live-Media-Player-Menu-Setup.jpg

Each Video, Music, and Photo library has the option to configure their visual layout to suit your tastes. For example, I like to see as many gallery icons as possible in my multimedia library, but other people might prefer large thumbnails with extra detail visible. All of this is available in the Setup menu, and from within each menu itself by using one of the color-coded shortcut keys on the remote. Whenever these icons are present in the upper-right corner (on the default theme), users can alter the layout of the screen.

The WD TV Live automatically recognizes connected storage devices formatted with FAT, FAT32, NTFS, and HFS+ file systems; however exFAT drive partitions were not detected. Personal electronic devices such as smartphones and tablets can also be connected through the media player's USB interface, which then mounts any available storage partitions. Alternatively, network storage devices and multimedia servers can be mapped and configured as additional media sources.

WD TV Live will actively search and index media files as new storage devices are attached to the system, which populates the library menu inside Video, Music, and Photo catagories. However, if a large-capacity storage device filled with many files (such as an external hard drive) is attached, background indexing could take a while.

WD-TV-Live-Media-Player-Menu-Photos.jpg

WD TV Live will automatically attempt to locate media information for all indexed files, if configured to do so in the settings. This works well overall, but occasionally a folder is given an incorrect icon that doesn't match the contents. Alternatively, users can replace folder icons simply by adding an image into the directory.

Multimedia items are represented as thumbnails icons, with the complete file name (and file extension) displayed below. WD TV Live also offers a preview function for highlighted files as one of the layout styles, including sound with the item being previewed that can also be expended into full-screen view.

WD-TV-Live-Media-Player-Menu-Video-Library.jpg

WD TV Live delivered lossless video playback from digital sources encoded with several popular codecs. I've converted many Blu-ray and DVD movies into MP4 and MKV file formats, in addition to an older library of MPG, AVI, and WMV movies joined by hundreds of FLAC, WAV, and MP3 music. Everything played flawlessly, and I didn't come across a single unsupported audio or video file type (although *.xvid file extensions must be renamed for the file system to discover and play them).

The WD TV Live is more sensitive than other media players, and requires that the file extension correctly match the media codec in order to properly play back digital files. For example, one particular multimedia file obtained over the Internet incorrectly ended with the *.mp4 file extension (MPEG-4 container) despite actually being encoded as *.mkv (Matroska container). Open source applications played the file without issue on the PC, likely because they're designed to inspect the codec container instead of depending on file extension, but the WD TV Live would not. After checking the media info and correcting the extension to *.mkv the file played without issue on WD TV Live device.

Unlike every other digital media player we've tested up to this point, WD TV Live features a working playback timeline that displays overall progression and total run time. Not only does it work, but it works extremely well: WD TV Live has the unique ability to jump playback and begin directly from a specifically entered time. This useful feature suppliments the ability to scan forward and reverse up to 16x, or skip forward and back in ten minute segments. The enhanced playback features are especially useful when resuming from extended-length multimedia files, and Western Digital succeeds in delivering playback tools that have gone overlooked by competing media players.

WD-TV-Live-Media-Player-Menu-Playback-Panel.jpg

Because multimedia files are encoded from a myriad of differing sources using dissimilar software and hardware, it's unreasonable to expect audio level equalization across all media files and types. Although most multimedia files play back with similar audio levels, many times it was necessary to adjust volume. So despite the many great features that WD TV Live offers, one key item is missing: volume control. Most people have a separate remotes for their HTPC or A/V Receiver, but having command of volume levels from the same device that controls playback adds an appreciated level of convenience. Now that we've covered multimedia playback, let's get into the other features available on WD TV Live...



 

Comments 

 
# Will it step through folders?Papoulka 2012-08-20 14:15
One shortcoming I have noticed even in the higher-end "Popcorn" media players is the inability to step through folders. Suppose I have a parent folder of "Rock Music", and beneath that a folder of "Dylan Songs 1" and another of "Dylan Songs 2". I begin playback with the first track in Dylan Songs 1. When the last track in that folder has been played, I want playback to continue with the first track in Dylan Songs 2. And to continue until all folders in "Rock Music" have been played through.

Players that won't do this are less useful than my old CD changer, which would at least play one disk after another.

What does this WD TV Live box do in such cases?

Thx
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# RE: Will it step through folders?Olin Coles 2012-08-20 14:24
It plays from either a single directory in 'Directory Browsing' mode, or it will play from a list of all scanned media.
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# RE: Will it step through folders?Papoulka 2012-08-20 21:17
Is it then correct to say that it will step through folders as I wish, but only if I have allowed it to scan all the media and create a list? Then I can start it where I want in the list?

Can I restrict its scan to one folder and below? I will have music as well as movies, and have a great interest in stepping through the former, and no interest in stepping through or playing lists of the latter.

Thanks for your reply and any further time you can take to clarify this. The cost of such a unit is not as important to me as its ease of use and intelligent interface.
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# RE: RE: Will it step through folders?Olin Coles 2012-08-20 21:28
It actually scans for ALL media when you power on, so your choices are one directory or all media. However, to be clear, I haven't done much with the play list function.
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# RE: WD TV Live Digital MultiMedia PlayerMick P 2012-09-20 00:08
This may sound daft, but where are the files held? On an external HD or computer?
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# RE: RE: WD TV Live Digital MultiMedia PlayerOlin Coles 2012-09-20 07:34
This device has internal memory to store the firmware, but all of your multimedia files reside on some other external storage device you provide. I use USB flash drives and an external USB hard drive, but it can see other network storage folders as well.
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# A questionGustavo 2012-09-22 13:17
What operating system has this unit?
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# RE: A questionOlin Coles 2012-09-22 15:43
This device uses a proprietary Operating System developed by Western Digital.
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# LinuxWombat 2012-10-25 02:10
The OS is based on Linux. So, there's alternative firmware, WDLXTV-Live, which can add a lot of functions including torrents.

I've had my WDTV Live for about 2.5 years now. I rarely have problems playing videos through it. Occasionally I run into something encoded with the wrong aspect ratio; that can be fixed using mkvmerge, or MPEG4 Modifier. Header compression has sometimes been a problem with mkv files, but mkvmerge can be used to fix that. The zoom function is particularly valuable for dealing with letterboxed (non-anamorphic) widescreen DVDs, after ripping them to mkv using Makemkv.
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# NAS access?Harry 2012-10-01 10:00
Will this product be able to access any NAS devices on my home network?
eg: like the Seagate GoFlex Home 3TB Network Attached Storage device.
thnx
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# RE: NAS access?Snoop 2012-10-01 15:46
Yes. I have a D-link 2TB NAS and it picked it up immediately
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# RE: RE: NAS access?Srikanth 2012-10-03 10:38
Does it also index the files on the NAS?
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# RE: RE: RE: NAS access?BobR 2013-05-19 11:00
If you map to the folder and browse it as a folder it just browses it as file explorer would. If you add it to your media library then it creates an index on the NAS and has the option to retrieve content information from the web. IE the filename is Black Swan it will look up the date released, play time, genre, director, actor and synopsis then add that information to your library.
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# Does not play VOB filesHarry 2012-10-09 09:18
Tried the device, am returning it today. It cannot play most of the ripped DVDs movies that I have - WD could not fix the issue. converting the movies to ISO or AVI works, but that's a lot of work.
I got a cheep older laptop with an HDMI connection instead and running VLC - works perfect.
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# RE: Does not play VOB filesBobR 2013-05-19 11:02
It plays my DVD rips flawlessly, just as if I put my disc in the drive. I had everything in folders of MOVIETITLE/Audio_TS and MOVIETITLE/Video_TS. I simply used POWERISO with a single right click and add to ISO it put those two folders into a file called MOVIETITLE.iso and then I deleted the originals.. took me about 2 days to turn 400 movies into ISO's.. small price to pay. WDTV is the best device I've ever owned more media playback.
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# I dont get italex smith 2013-02-05 10:23
Obviously many people like this device, and it gets decent reviews. However, I just dont get it. I was given this device as a gift and upon hooking it up I find that the only streaming it can do are for pay sites. I am not a member of any streaming media site and do not pay for anything. I like Hulu (not plus) and Comedy Central, along with the normal over the air stations (public broadcasing, ABC, NBC, CBS, etc). I dont have cable or an Xbox. In addition, my DSL is only 1MB/S, which means that if this device insists on streaming full HD then it will basically be buffering more than playing. If you want to stream, why not just hook up your laptop to your TV? Infinitely more possibilities.
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# RE: I dont get itTaikomann 2013-02-05 10:25
I just bought the latest generation WD TV Live to replace my 2nd gen device (which had replaced my 1st gen WD TV device 3 years ago) and so can be called a loyal and satisfied user of the product line. When the product first came out, it's main purpose was to serve as a media player for streaming videos(home made or otherwise)/music/photos from a locally attached drive or from a NAS to a centrally located TV. In subsequent reiterations of the product, more and more online/internet sites and services were added and have now become, more or less, a co-feature of the device. The most probable reason you 'don't get it' is because you are not using it for the primary purpose it was made, and, if you don't subscribe to any of the paid online streaming services, the utility of the device is even more reduced. I'd be happy to take the unit off your hands if you'd like!! :)
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# RE: I dont get itBobR 2013-05-19 11:07
Actually, I believe your problem is not understanding that the WDTV isn't supposed to replace a laptop or the functionality of one. Rather, it's purpose is to give you a convenient GUI and simple connectivity that doesn't require you to dedicate a $500 laptop to a job that a $60 device can do. And as Taikomann said, it's real original purpose was to stream locally recorded media to the TV Screen. I have 11tb of movies/tv shows and music on my server and WDTV boxes on each of the TV's in the house. We are now able to watch any show or movie from any room of the house at the simple click on a remote. Then I use my MediaPC to record live TV shows to the drive and watch those. Plus I do pay for Netflix and Hulu and the addition of those two features really make the WDTV the best media box you could ever buy..
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# I dont get it eitherweissert 2013-02-20 08:02
I bought this thing to playback movies and music from external USB HDDs, but I found it almost unoperable. I sold it after two weeks. The keys on the remote have been placed in an unpractical order, and there are not many "shorthand" keys. It's missing several important functions, for instance it has no instant replay, no ralenty (or at least they can't be accessed by a single key like in every other remote). Also, you have not the possibility to control the viewing ratio of movies (e.g., you can't view a 4:3 movie stratched to fill a 16:9 screen), etc. The Firmware was full of bugs (many default setup setting were not "kept" or were ignored), with a very "Windows Style" look-and-feel (pop up windows coming up continuously with the most obvious warnings). The manual I downloaded from the web was very generic, and a lot of functions were just mentioned, but not explained. Also, it was very, very slow, taking forever to connect to the WiFi network, as well as to load an external Drive. To save some time, I had to leave it always on..
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# RE: WD TV Live Digital MultiMedia Playersargeboon 2013-02-22 11:16
Is this player compatible with/does it recognize a WD external USB Hard drive that is 3TB or more?
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# RE: RE: WD TV Live Digital MultiMedia PlayerOlin Coles 2013-02-22 11:23
That is a very good question. Unfortunately, I do not have a 3TB external hard drive to test with. Perhaps you can contact WD to get their answer?
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# RE: WD TV Live Digital MultiMedia PlayerHJ Fischer 2013-03-07 19:24
I have a 1 TB xternal HD and it is recognized but takes a long time to load.
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# questiongeorge 2013-04-01 05:02
does wd tv live recognize and play videos from my PC over WiFi?
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# RE: questionOlin Coles 2013-04-01 06:57
This was discussed in the review.
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# RE: WD TV Live Digital MultiMedia PlayerRon 2013-04-03 16:48
I just installed one this evening. Is very snappy traversing the videos on my DLNA server, though configuring it was initially puzzling. It didn't like my Linux NFS exports, since they are Read Only. Thanks for the tip regarding AccuWeather.

This unit replaces an Iomega 35045 ScreenPlay TV Link media player with a consistently balky remote control. We have another one plugged into a different TV and it plays dlna-served video perfectly. Since it's remote control works great, we're keeping it.

The WD can list 16 videos on screen at once, while the Iomega can only display 8. The Iomega has a large r/c with a qwerty k/b and volume controls.

One other point is that the Iomega has a "fast boot" mode, which is probably in actuality "wake from sleep". Whatever is happening behind the scenes, though, it's ready to work much faster than the WD.
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# RE: WD TV Live Digital MultiMedia Playerbob 2013-06-08 12:22
wd tv live is a piece of crap!!! it jams all the time it's slow to go through the menu and doesn't work well with netflix. don't buy this2012 version it sucks
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# WD TV LiveBarry 2013-06-20 07:30
Is it possible to bring up a browser on the device? So far I have not found this feature. Apparently this exists on other devices like the Boxee Box.
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# RE: WD TV LiveOlin Coles 2013-06-20 07:35
I know you're looking for the easy answer, but I wrote the review with this information in it. Read the article.
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# RE: WD TV Live Digital MultiMedia PlayerBarry 2013-06-20 07:36
Thank you, I did just come across it.
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# Volume controlRemco 2013-07-04 22:01
I own the device for a few days now, very nice device indeed.

The lack of volume control is indeed *very* annoying, i don't understand why they left it out. They could easily remap the up/down arrow keys to control volume.

My use for the device is to play media in the car :)
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# Inputs?John Dow 2014-02-10 18:24
Please indicate all inputs and outputs on devices. "Audio jack" doesn't tell us much.
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# RE: Inputs?Olin Coles 2014-02-11 06:47
You should read beyond the first page before you leave a comment, because all of the details are on page two.
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