Western Digital WD TV Media Player (2014) review: Media box is like VLC for your TV

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MSRP: $99.99

The Good The WD TV plays back pretty much any file format you can throw at it, including MKV, AVI, and MP4 video. Huge HD video files played smoothly without any hiccups. Its native app selection includes 80 choices, such as YouTube, Hulu Plus, Spotify, and Pandora.

The Bad Its streaming video support is subpar, lacking Netflix, Amazon Instant Video HBO Go and others. Many apps, especially YouTube, suffered from sluggish load times.

The Bottom Line While not for everyone, the WD TV's adroit playback of video and music files makes it the perfect living room box for people with large digital media collections.

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7.3 Overall
  • Design 5
  • Ecosystem 8
  • Features 6
  • Performance 8
  • Value 8

Although it looks like the Roku, Apple TV and many other set-top "pucks," the WD TV Media Player is something different.

Instead of focusing on streaming services like Netflix and Amazon Video, the little box prides itself on being able to deliver pretty much any file in your media collection -- video, audio or photo -- to your TV and home audio system. The device has no built-in storage, but interfaces with your existing storage devices, such as external hard drives, a NAS server or a computer, via its USB ports or your home network.

If you're familiar with VLC Media Player, the jack-of-all-trades, open-source video playback software popular among more tech-savvy PC and Mac users, then just think of WD TV as VLC for your TV. If you've never heard of VLC, then you probably don't have a collection of media files you'd like to play on your TV, and the WD TV probably isn't for you. For media hoarders looking for a reliable way to play back video on the big screen, however, the WD TV is tailor-made.

Version information: Western Digital has released numerous similarly named products over the years, most recently the WD TV Play in 2013. This review refers to the 2014 version, called simply "WD TV Media Player." It's available worldwide, and comes in NTSC and PAL versions depending on the video standard of the country in which it's sold. We tested the NTSC version sold in the US (model number WDBYMN0000NBK), but the PAL version sold in the UK and Australia (model number WDBPUF0000NBK) should be otherwise identical.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Design and features

The WD TV resembles a lot of other set-top boxes with a simple rounded rectangle design. It's 4.9 inches in width, 3.9 inches in depth, and 1.2 inches in height.

Sarah Tew/CNET

The back features an optical audio output, Ethernet, HDMI output, a USB port and an AV output for analog connections. An IR receiver and a USB port are on the front. The bottom of the device has slots that allow the box to be wall mounted. The WD TV can be controlled using a free iOS or Android app and can also respond to commands via HDMI control signals from compatible devices, like a TV.

For wireless connectivity, the box supports 802.11 a/b/g/n and Miracast so you can mirror your screen from devices running Android 4.4.2 (and higher) or Windows 8.1.

Sarah Tew/CNET

User interface and remote

When the device starts up, there is a grid of icons pinned to the front page. Plenty of audio services are upfront with Pandora, SiriusXM, and Spotify preloaded as favorites. Video services include CinemaNow, Hulu Plus, Vudu and YouTube. To access your local content, there are icons for Music, Photos and Videos.

Unlike its predecessor, the WD TV Play, the WD TV drops support for Netflix, which is an odd move. It also lacks many other major video streaming services found on other devices, including Amazon Instant Video, HBO Go and Showtime Anytime.

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