I am using a Windows Media Center HTPC in living-room, where my main home theater system resides, but I wanted to be able to access Netflix/home network content in the bedroom as well, and, due to obvious reasons a full featured PC didn’t quite cut it (noise, form factor, etc). I just wanted something simple, low power and fast to boot, something that my wife will also enjoy. I was familiar with Western Digital’s line of media streamers, but they only supported Netflix via DLNA, when combined with something like PlayOn. Not user friendly enough. Then, the big day has come and WD released their WD TV Live Plus media streamer finally including Netflix. (Netflix is now what mp3 used to be a while ago, a must have for everything that connects to the TV – Blu-ray players, media streamers, etc)
I bought it the first day it was available for pre-order and Amazonshipped it fast enough. Several days later, the box was waiting at my door, ready to be unpacked.
2. WD TV Live Plus Unpacking
The box is very small and it contains audio/video cables (component but no HDMI), the main unit, a tiny remote control and the power adapter. I was surprised how small the WD TV Live Plus is and my wife really liked it. The installation was very simple, just connect the network cable, the HDMI cable and of course, the power and you are good to go.
3. Tech Specs
Video Codecs – AVI (Xvid, AVC, MPEG1/2/4), MPG/MPEG, VOB, MKV (h.264, x.264, AVC, MPEG1/2/4, VC-1), TS/TP/M2T (MPEG1/2/4, AVC, VC-1), MP4/MOV (MPEG4, h.264), M2TS, WMV9
Subtitles - SRT, ASS, SSA, SUB, SMI
Audio Codecs – MP3, WAV/PCM/LPCM, WMA, AAC, FLAC, MKA, AIF/AIFF, OGG, Dolby Digital, DTS
Photo – JPEG, GIF, TIF/TIFF, BMP, PNG
Playlist - PLS, M3U, WPL
– MPEG2 MP@HL up to 1920x1080p24, 1920x1080i30 or 1280x720p60 resolution.
– MPEG4.2 ASP@L5 up to 1280x720p30 resolution and no support for global motion compensation.
– WMV9/VC-1 MP@HL up to 1280x720p60 or 1920x1080p24 resolution. VC-1 AP@L3 up to 1920x1080i30, 1920x1080p24 or 1280x720p60 resolution.
– H.264 BP@L3 up to 720x480p30 or 720x576p25 resolution.
– H.264 MP@L4.1 and HP@4.1 up to 1920x1080p24, 1920x1080i30, or 1280x720p60 resolution.
– Compressed RGB JPEG formats only and progressive JPEG up to 2048×2048.
– Single layer TIFF files only.
– Uncompressed BMP only.
Network: 10/100Mbs using this chip-set.
4. Details and Screenshots
I want to state in the beginning that I always stream video via a wired network connection as even 802.11n in certain conditions is not fast enough for 1080p/60 movies. So, if you are using a wireless connection, your experience might differ (in negative way ).
The WD TV Live Plus unit plays literally every file I had, from one Blu-ray rip I created just for test (without menu navigation though), to DVD iso (with menu navigation), mp4 AVCHD files straight from my Sanyo VPC-FH1A camcorder, MKV with subtitles and multiple soundtracks, DIVX/XVID all versions and even the infamous .mov format some digital cameras are using for video recording. High bit-rates, low bit-rates, everything worked fine. I tried to stream from a network share, an attached USB drive and both PlayOn and PS3 Media Server via DLNA.
Subtitles are well supported and you can turn them ON/OFF by default, as well as setting font size and border.
DVD covers – My main system uses Windows Media Center / Media Browser solution so I have all the metadata for the DVD rips stored in the DVD folders. WD TV Live Plus is capable to display the first jpg file in the folder when you browse from folder to folder. I just wish the image would be displayed larger.
DVD Menu Navigation – WD TV Live Plus supports DVD menu navigation. I was able to jump to chapters, enable/disable the subtitles, change audio tracks, etc.
Nothing much to say here, mp3 support, FLAC, AC3, AAC, via network shares, USB and, DLNA, DTS decoding supported as well, optical and HDMI out. It plays everything I have, if you want to test specifics, send me a file and I’ll test it.
Same as with audio, nothing too fancy but a solid format support (JPEG, GIF, TIF/TIFF, BMP, PNG). You can set display mode, slideshow sequence, scaling, transition effects and interval time. You can also set whether a picture is scaled to fit the screen or not (affects Flickr as well).
5. Web Clients
The main improvement over the previous WD TV Live non Plus version is the addition of Netflix client. There is a certain degree of unhappiness among the users of previous WD TV Live version for the lack of software updates to add Netflix in the older WD TV Live edition. I can only say this: Last year, I paid $2000 for a new LG connected TV, model 60PS80. In a year since I purchased it, LG has not released even one software update, the Yahoo TV Widgets are the same since the TV was released, even if the main idea of the Yahoo TV Widget platform was extensibility…so if you think you WD is unfair, what can I say about a $2000 TV and LG?
The real reason however, to not embed Netflix in older boxes is because the Sigma processor from older boxes is not fast enough to perform copy protection is software (or so WD says). The new one performs it in hardware, a feature Netflix mandates.
WD TV live uses the so called Netflix 2.0 interface, that not only allows you to access your Netflix Instant Queue, but also to browse the top categories, New Arrivals, Dramas, Comedy, etc. – better than expected, but the Netflix client start-up is rather slow, as is the navigation. Still, a good experience and a solid implementation. Netflix HD streaming is of course supported.
The YouTube client is simple but well designed offering all the standard features (Best Of, Categories, Most Viewed, etc). You can also sign in with your account and watch your favorites, and search using the on-screen keyboard. The unit will not play many commercial clips that the owner restricted for the TV-connected devices, but this is an issue out of WD’s control.
A nice addition is Pandora client. You can sign in with your Pandora account to listen to your channels. As a side note, if you mistype the password, it will give you a weird message that your Pandora account is no longer active, which can be misleading.
With MediaFly you can watch podcasts, news, sports, comedy, pop-culture, technology, and more. Among other content, it includes CNET, CNN, NBC, MTV, ESPN® and other online content providers. A step toward our freedom from the cable company, and the best thing is that you can install your own plug-ins to expand the streaming sources.
Live365 is a service that offers over 6000 radio stations streamed by people, not broadcast companies. You can register on Live365’s website and add your presets that can be accessed on WD TV Live Plus.
Flickr works fairly well, you can display the most interesting pictures in the last 7, most recent uploads, hot tags, etc. You can add your own albums (under My Contacts section) and you can also use the on-screen keyboard to search. I cannot see myself wasting time to search for pictures on TV by using the remote, but I won’t complain about an included feature. By default, the pictures are not scaled, so they’ll show in the middle of your screen at low resolution. You’ll need to go to Settings and change how the pictures are displayed, including fitting to screen.
Note: You cannot sign in to your account so you will only be able to see public photos.
DLNA client is a very important feature that is starting to appear in more and more modern streamers. If you have a home server running PlayOn, PS3 Media Server, TVersity (or any other DLNA server) you will be able to access the content via your WD TV Live Plus. For example, I can access HULU programming via PlayOn (see photos). The DLNA implementation is solid, I didn’t experienced any hiccups. An interesting feature is the automatic start of the preview mode which allows you to immediately watch clips without going into full screen.
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The included remote is OK, but nothing to write home about. I immediately configured my trusty Logitech Harmony 880 and I never used the included one again. Setting a Harmony remote to control WD TV Live is not immediately obvious. Logitech hid the codes under:
Device: Media Center PC
Manufacturer: Western Digital
Model: WD TV HD Media Player
By default, your TV is not included into the activity, if you set the volume via your receiver, so be sure to add it.
WD TV Live Plus is a worthy successor of WD TV Live. Netflix is a must have feature for a media streamer and with its inclusion, WD becomes a powerhouse in media streaming. Very small, easy to hide, large codec support and also support for USB, network shares and DLNA streaming sources covers everything you will need. I also hope that WD will continue to update its web client list and add VUDU, HULU, Amazon VOD in the future.
For a list of supported wireless cards, check here.
7.1 Pros: Small, cheap, large codec support, Netflix, Pandora, network shares support
7.2 Cons: Ugly interface