Hands-on: Western Digital's all new WD TV Live

Western Digital unveiled its all-new WD TV Live HD Media Player that now has networking and many other features than the previous model.

The new WD TV Live DH Media player shares the same shape and size with the previous model, the WD TV, but has a lot more to offer. Josh P. Miller/CNET

Awhile ago, Western Digital tackled the home entertainment arena with the WD TV , which turned out to be a success. Nonetheless, a lot of enthusiasts, including me, were turned off by the fact that the WD TV lacks support for networking and doesn't include the capability to decode DTS audio, which is popularly used in compressed high-def video formats.

It seems Western Digital took our complaints to heart as the company announced Tuesday the availability of the next generation of the device, the WD TV Live HD Media Player.

Outside, the WD TV Live has the same shape and size as the WD TV. However, on the back, apart from the USB, HDMI, and composite ports, you'll find the newly added 10/100 Ethernet port. This port opens the device to many possibilities, which, for now, include access to YouTube, Flickr, and Internet radio stations.

On the inside, the device now can decode both DTS and DTS 2.0 audio encoding and sports a faster processor.

Like the previous WD TV, the new WD TV Live supports playing back all kinds of video, audio, and photo formats, including the most popular high-def video formats such as Matroska (MKV) and DivX. In addition, it also has these new and improved features:

  • Full-HD 1080p video playback with support for different sound tracks, subtitles (when available), and the capability to decode DTS audio
  • Capability to play videos, music, photos, and radio from the Internet
  • Ethernet port for wired connection to access digital content from other network devices
  • Supports two USB mass storage devices at the same time, including external hard drives, digital cameras, camcorders, and portable media players

I tried the unit out and it was indeed a much better experience than the WD TV.

The WD TV Live now takes less time to scan for new contents from the external storage. It took just a few seconds to work on a 320GB hard drive. Overall, the interface is also much more responsive than the previous model's, though once in a while there is some lag during the playback of a high-def movie.

The device works very well with Internet content. You can browse YouTube files based on different categories such as top rated, most viewed, favorite, featured video, or you can log in to your account and view your personal picks. Video playback quality is very good and if you have a good connection (such as cable or DSL), the playback starts instantly.

I had similar a experience with Flickr. It was easy to browse for photos and play them as a slideshow. Unfortunately, there's no option to automatically zoom the photo out to fit the TV screen. You can only zoom one photo at a time.

For now, the Internet access is limited to just YouTube, Flickr, and Internet radio including Pandora and Live365. It would be better if the device could check e-mail, support instant messaging, and allow for access to subscription movie services, such as Netflix. Word from Western Digital has it that more Internet-based features will be added with new firmware in the future.

The new WD TV Live can also reach out to other network devices to look for digital content for playback. This makes WD TV Live not just an accessory for external hard drives but also that of NAS servers.

The best experience, however, is with high-def video playback. Now that the device can decode DTS sound, there's no need to use a separate cable for audio for video files that have DTS-encoded sound, which most of Matroska files do. All you need is the HDMI cable for both video and audio. I also find the high-def video quality slightly better than that of the WD TV. This is possibly because the WD TV Live now supports the latest version 1.3 of HDMI standard.

On the downside, the WD TV Live shares the same remote control with the WD TV. While this remote works well for the WD TV, it doesn't for the WD TV Live as there are many more things to do. For example, it's a pain to enter an e-mail address; you have to use the remote control to move around the onscreen keyboard and pick one letter at a time.

Nonetheless, the WD TV Live is a great upgrade to the WD TV. At an estimated $150, the new player costs just $20 more than the previous model. And like the previous model, you can expect the street price to be even lower than that.

If you like the WD TV, I'm pretty sure you will love the WD TV Live. So, go get one now or check back soon for our in-depth review of the product.

About the author

CNET editor Dong Ngo has been involved with technology since 2000, starting with testing gadgets and writing code for CNET Labs' benchmarks. He now manages CNET San Francisco Labs, reviews networking and storage products, and also writes about other topics from online security to new gadgets and how technology impacts the life of people around the world.

 

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