The WDTV Live HD is version 2 of the WDTV, Western Digital’s extremely popular media player. For those who are not familiar with the WDTV, it’s a small unit that attaches to your TV via HDMI, component, or composite cables and allows you to play videos, pictures, and music from a connected USB hard drive. It is one of the easiest ways there is to watch a video from the Internet on your TV.
The “Old” Way
The original WDTV did not have built-in network access and since much of what its content was from the Internet, the user had to carry the hard drive back and forth from the unit to a computer to load files. Over time, hacks to the WDTV emerged allowing network access for the WDTV by connecting a USB Ethernet adapter to one of its USB ports. Although it was reliable, installing the hack was not for the faint of heart and only provided basic connectivity. It worked but you had to jump through hoops to get there.
The Issues Get Resolved
The WDTV Live addresses most, if not all of the networking shortcomings of the original. Wired network connectivity is built-in and now actually works both ways. You can stream a video from your computer’s shared hard drives or NAS to the WDTV Live What is interesting is that the WDTV Live can now share any USB drive plugged into it over your network. So basically it can act as a quasi-NAS for any USB drive attached to it. Your home PCs can see whatever drives are connected to the WDTV Live and transfer files to it over a network. Some people have reported network speeds of 9-10mb/s which means it will take quite awhile before a 700 MB video file is completely transferred. I have not tried it but apparently you can start to play a file that isn’t completely transferred much like you can do with Tivo Desktop software.
Where the WDTV shines is that plays pretty much every video format there is with the exception of RMVB. MPG, Divx, MPEG4, MKV, DVR-MS and even ISO files will play although DVD menus won’t work – yet. Apparently a firmware update is in the works that will add that functionality. YouTube HD videos are supported as well as a large number of other Internet services like PlayOn, Netflix, Hulu, CBS, CNN, ESPN and many others. The quality of internet video has been getting rave reviews.
Although it supports DTS, if you don’t own a home theatre system that can decode it, you can set the WDTV to play to 2 channels. That also addresses a major complaint with the original WDTV. In the past, you’d have to run the file through a conversion process in order to hear sound properly.
Technically, the WDTV Live uses a new Sigma Designs SMP-8655 chip clocked at 500mhz. The original WDTV used the 300mhz SMP-8635 chip. It has 512 MB of RAM. The result is that WD TV Live HD boots in about 4 seconds and the overall interface is much quicker than the original WDTV.
Video goes all the way up to 1080P (1080i with component). Streaming video yields a very nice smooth picture with a cable connection. Unless you have a really good signal, an HD picture can get pretty choppy over wireless so stick to wired if you can.
In summary, the WDTV Live HD is highly recommended. If you’re looking for a way to easily get internet sourced materials to your TV, this is one of the best ways to go.