WD TV Live Streaming Media Player

Audio|Video|Misc
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INITIAL SETUP

The full manual is in PDF format, downloaded from the WDTVL web page. The manual is extensive, surprisingly well-written and organized, well worth referring to in order to get the most from the product.

The unit comes with a brief pictorial quick start sheet. Setup is a matter of hooking the WDTVL to AC power, a HDTV, and your home network. AC power is obvious; HDMI is the normal single-cable hookup to a HDTV, but an AV output and breakout cable for composite phono plugs is an option as well. The hookup to the home network can be either wired or wireless, 802.11n — described as "Wireless-N" in the product spec sheet.

The HDTV used for this review was connected to an audio-video receiver, a HTPC, the home network via wired gigabit ethernet, and to the Internet via Shaw Extreme cable (with a maximum download speed of 25 Mbps). It was simple to hook up another ethernet cable from the local network box under the TV, and plug the WD TV Live into the receiver via HDMI. This took all of five minutes, spent mostly in getting access to the back of the gear. The unit powered up without a hitch, and within 30 seconds, the AV receiver display was reporting the WDTVL as a 1080p input source. Accessing files on other computers was just a matter of ensuring folders are shared on the network, with or without password protection, which if used, the WDTVL will remember next time. Within a minute or two after hookup, an HD movie file from my HTPC was playing on the TV through the wee box.

This was probably the quickest, most pleasant, hassle-free out-of-box setup I've had with a complex electronic device in... years. Modems, TVs, PVRs, mobile phones, cameras — almost all techno gear, in fact — can have complex and non-intuitive operating systems that make the out-of-box experience challenging and frustrating. WD gets full marks for making the TV Live work easily from the get-go despite the obvious complexity of what's under the little hood.

TEST SETUP

Primary Screens

The default screen that presents itself at turn-on is reminiscent of a Windows desktop background. The menu options are in a full width bar across the bottom, and always present on the home screen, with the center box clearly highlighted as the chosen one. It is pleasant and functional. It turns out that like a Windows desktop, the background image can be easily changed. There are a couple dozen built-in image options, and you can easily upload your own photo, as well.


The WDTVL "home page" seen on a 58" Samsung plasma HDTV. The background can be changed to any photo of your choice.

A quick scroll across the main menu gets us to the Setup page, which has nine sub menus.


This is the top level of the setup page, which drills down a few steps deeper in each sub menu.


The A/V Output setup screen.


Many video output options are available in a scrolling menu under AV Output.

In the A/V Output section, WDTVL had detected the HDTV properly and set the output to 1080p 60Hz. This was reset to 1080p 24Hz for best movie viewing.

Sound

Stereo sound came through the HDMI as expected, to the AV receiver. Though capable of 5.1 channels, the Paradigm Millenia speakers are set up as a 3.1 channel system to avoid the clutter of speaker cables running to the back of the small den — left, right, center and subwoofer speakers provide plenty of high quality sound. There was no change in fidelity whether music or movies were played, either from the HTPC or via the WDTVL.

Networking

Setup of wired networking is virtually automated and not worth going over here. Wireless networking is a little more complex to set up, but this only reflects the difference between wired and wireless; the need to input long-ish passwords, for example, can be a bit tedious with the remote control and on-screen keyboard. However, WDTVL accepts any standard USB keyboard, including wireless ones. I plugged in an optical USB all-in-one keyboard and keyboard inputs via the IR dongle were accepted without a hitch.

A comparison was made streaming content through the WDTVL via the gigbit wired ethernet versus the 802.1l-N wireless network. With photos and music of any file size on hand, there was no difference. Both wired and wiress connections worked smoothly.

A bit more variation was seen streaming video files. Only a couple of 480p files were tried, and not in any systematic way, but no differences were apparent. In today's HD video world, there is really not much point with 480p except archived content.

With 720p video files, there was rarely any difference betwen the two network routes. Both worked smoothly without hitches, although the video preview window became active more quickly with gigabit, but this was a minor issue. With 1080p files, however, the wireless network was consistently more glitchy, with random starts and stops and sometimes crashes on some files.

There are two main points I will make here:

  • Most people have a hard time appreciating the qualitative difference between 720p and 1080p even on a >50" 1080p TV, so if you're making choices about which compression to use when ripping Bluray discs, keep in mind that the 720p files are much smaller, and stream more easily over wireless.
  • Gigabit wired does make everything work just a bit faster (especially any file transfers), so it's probably worth the bother to run a cable to the WDTVL if you already have a gigabit network. Then, traffic on the network has virtually no chance of interrupting the media streaming.

Power Consumption & Noise

Just a quick note to get it out of the way, as there will be no other purely technical measurements here: AC power draw measured 7W at idle or "off", and 8W maximum doing anything. This means as long as the unit is connected to AC, it is constantly on. 7~8W is peanuts even by Green standards, certainly lower than any HTPC. It probably does not differ that much from other media streaming devices.

And no, noise was not measured, because even with the unit held to my ear, there was little I could hear from it. A trace of hum/buzz might have been coming from the AC/DC adapter, but it is one of several in a forest of dongles behinf the TV, receiver, Bluray player, HD PVR, and HTPC, so we're just going say noise from this unit is just not an issue, even when the TV is off.



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