Instead of a firmware update, Western Digital announced on Wednesday a new version of the player called WD TV Live Plus HD. It has exactly the same shape and size as the previous version, and it offers the same support for digital content. However, it adds support for Netflix movie streaming.
We had some hands-on time with the new player, and here's how it works:
If you are not an existing Netflix subscriber, the first time you use the media player to access Netflix it will give you a code to create a trial account. You can enter this code at Netflix.com/wdtv. Once you sign up, the player will automatically be associated with the account you just created. Now, via a computer, you add or remove movies from the Instant Queue. The next time you access Netflix with the WD TV Live Plus, it will display this queue and let you stream movies, rate them, or remove them from the queue.
When existing Netflix subscribers access Netflix the first time from the player, it will also provide a code that you can enter at Netflix's activation Web page. After that, it works just like it does for new subscribers.
This is a convenient way to associate the player with a Netflix account, as its remote control is too tiny to use to enter the username and password with. However, this also means you can use the player with only one Netflix account; but that shouldn't be a problem in most cases.
Quality-wise, the player is capable of streaming at 720p and the images generally looked good in my trials. However, even when used with a really high-speed connection, it still took up to 20 seconds or so to buffer a movie and each time I wanted to fast-forward or rewind, it would take about another 10 seconds to re-buffer.
Other than Netflix streaming, the new WD TV Live Plus HD media player doesn't have much to offer that's different than the WD TV Live HD. Other noticeable features include:
Full-HD 1080p video playback and navigation with well-organized menu interface.
Supports network connection both wired and wireless (USB wireless adapter sold separately). This allows the device to access contents from network computers or NAS servers.
Supports a wide variety of the most popular file formats, including HD formats such as MKV with subtitle and alternate sound tracks.
Access to online media including Pandora Internet radio, Live365 Internet radio, daily podcasts from CNN, MediaFly, NBC, MTV, ESPN, and other online content providers.
Supports up to two USB external hard drives.
Supportsthat enables users to stream files from Windows 7 computers to the TV through WD TV Plus HD media player.
The player also supports HDMI 1.3 and has the capability to copy or move files between two connected USB external hard drives.
The new WD TV Live Plus HD media player is available now and is slated to cost $150. If you don't have a media player, the WD TV Live Plus HD is a good one to get. Otherwise, its Netflix support isn't big enough for you to upgrade from the previous version of the player.