Western Digital WD TV Live Plus 1080p Media Player/Streamer Review

1. Introduction

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

3.1 Codecs

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
Codec limitations:

Video:
– 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.
Photo:
– 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

4.1 Settings

4.2 Video

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.

4.3 Audio

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.

4.4 Photo

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.

5.1 Netflix

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.

5.2 YouTube

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.

5.3 Pandora

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.

5.4 MediaFly

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.

5.5 Live365

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.

5.6 Flickr

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.

5.7 DLNA

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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6. Remote

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.

7. Conclusion

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

8. Internals

9. Gallery

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  • Danny

    Does anyone know if WD plans to support the new HULU Plus?

  • Adam

    I returned this item for one very lacking feature which to me was essential. While this decodes DTS and plays back every kind of media from any Mac or PC drive I used, it only decodes to 2-channel stereo DTS. I have a 5.1 system and I can’t see why they can’t decode to 5.1.

  • berc39

    My receiver decodes DTS fine so I don’t need decoding in the streamer. I thought by now every receiver available does DTS…

  • John

    So why no mention of User Shares for the Live+? This where the Live+ fell apart for me. I use cover art for my movies (ie: movie.jpg and movie.mpg or movie.mkv) and it would show all of the cover art as image files (500+ files) before listing any of the movie files.

    Also uPnp servers don’t support external subtitle files (like movie.srt files), so you need to use user shares for this functionality.

  • Sorin

    John,

    I am using cover art for my movies as well, together with metadata and subtitles. This is why I organize all my movies in individual su bfolders, as seem to be the norm. Do you store all your movies/covers in one folder?

  • John

    I have them both in one folder, but when I was testing I did try to use sub folders for each movie. I did not have any luck with it working on the Live+.

    I tried:

    movie/movie.jpg
    movie/movie.mpg
    -> No thumbnail on “movie” folder. Press play on movie folder, played the file movie.jpg

    movie/movie.jpg
    movie/movie.mpg
    movie/folder.jpg
    -> Correct thumbnail on “movie” folder. Press play on movie folder played the file folder.jpg

    Either way, browsing into the movie directory showed multiple files all of which had the movie thumbnail, and you have to be careful to select the actual movie file.

    Pretty horrible navigation, considering I have already selected “Videos” to even get this far down into the shared directory.

  • http://www.reviewhorizon.com Sorin

    I would imagine the reason it doesn’t automatically play the video folder content is due to some movies being split in several pieces. I am also using Windows Media Center / Media Browser combination and they do indeed provide a better navigation but not without errors. To be honest, just going in a sub folder and chose the correct movie file is not a major nuisance for me. Did you try to rename your movie files so they start with “_” (underscore) ? I wonder how would this affect how the folder is played?

  • John

    That won’t work for me because I have other devices (Stream Baby Stream for Tivo) that require normal thumbnail rules (file, file.jpg), so they would not be able to associate _file with file.jpg as the thumbnail.

    This would require a completely separate folder structure on my media server just for the WDTV Live+ just to get around the thumbnail implementation they have for shared folders. That I why I have since returned it. Too bad, since it did play all of my media, even my high bitrate HD Tivo files.

  • kw

    What about deleting files you’ve just watched without having to navigating clear across the UI to file management, dig down to find the file, delete it, and navigate all the way back to view more… bad bad bad

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_6XOPJKS7QKNWO4LEM6TEGLMTJU Ali

    Does it work with old TV?

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_6XOPJKS7QKNWO4LEM6TEGLMTJU Ali

    Does it work with old TV?

  • http://www.reviewhorizon.com/ soricon

    You need to have HDMI input.

  • Arman John

    Great article . For those who live outside US like me, you can access Netflix, Hulu and similar media stations on your WD TV by using UnoTelly or similar tools.