WD TV Play review: A Roku alternative for media hoarders

What you can watch
While the WD TV Live had only 19 streaming services at launch, the WD TV family now boasts over 30. To my mind the most important are Netflix and Spotify, and they are joined by Vudu, Hulu Plus, YouTube, Blockbuster, CinemaNow, DailyMotion, Pandora, TuneIn Internet radio, and Shoutcast. The WD's apps include Facebook, Twitter(!), Picasa, Flickr, and AccuWeather. While there is a games app on the WD -- which perhaps gives the device its "Play" name -- the games are less diverting than most smartphone apps.

While the competing Netgear NeoTV NTV300 doesn't seem to have learned anything in its nine years in the streaming set-top box market, the WD TV Play has. It boasts a "tabletlike user interface" that actually is both configurable and easy to use. Apps such as Spotify and Weather still use the old Mochi interface with its large tabs, while the Netflix interface is the same as used by most other set-top boxes.

The WD TV Play Home page. Sarah Tew/CNET

The interface is very configurable, with a My Favorites page that lets you choose which of the 30 apps you want shortcuts to. Even the three remote shortcut buttons -- Netflix, Vudu, and Hulu Plus -- can be easily changed to whichever app you please.

Pressing Option lets you move apps around on the Home page. Sarah Tew/CNET

Like the NeoTV NTV300, the WD features a Slingbox app that can be used to connect to a remote Slingbox for cord-cutting when traveling during holidays or just in the next room.

The reason you'd buy this over the Roku, though, would be if you have a large library of digital files. Though some things are missing -- iTunes video and ISO playback, for example -- it still includes FLAC, AAC, MKV, DIVX, and Windows media.

Performance
Unlike the occasionally problematic NeoTV, the WD TV proved to be a fairly solid performer. If you have a collection of downloaded media it will play most videos, with some exceptions, and proves an excellent audio player.

Where the NeoTV suffered intermittent stuttering during Netflix playback, the WD TV remained solid and without "buffering" interruptions. Video quality, while at the mercy of its respective sources, was every bit as good as I could expect. You may find, as I did, that format playback involves a little trial and error; while the specs list included MKV support, this didn't always translate to anything but an error message.

Playback of music from a NAS (network-attached storage) drive was excellent with a clean playback screen, though the cover art would sometimes get mixed up.

We had some difficulties with the Slingbox app on the Netgear NeoTV NTV300, and after using the same app on the WD TV it seems the issue is with the software. While the connection was much stabler on the WD TV than the Netgear, it still took up to 15 seconds for commands to be recognized by the Slingbox. Compare this with a 2-second lag for the desktop app.

Conclusion
The best WD TV yet, the Play adds a better interface while keeping the mix of streaming and DLNA playback that made the WD TV Live a worthwhile Roku competitor. The WD TV remains the enthusiast's budget choice for media playback on any TV.

Editors' note: The earlier version of this review incorrectly stated that the WD TV does not support Pandora. It does, and the review has been corrected accordingly.

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Where to Buy See all prices

Western Digital TV Play

Part Number: WDBMBA0000NBK-HESN Released: Feb. 12, 2013
MSRP: $69.99 Low Price: $79.99 See all prices

Quick Specifications See All

  • Release date Feb. 12, 2013
  • Functions digital player
  • Sound Output Mode stereo
  • Type digital multimedia receiver