WD TV Live Streaming Media Player

Audio|Video|Misc
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ONLINE SERVICES

Thus far, our coverage has been entirely on media content that is in your own location, on networked or USB storage. WDTVL also provide extensive access to online media content. The review sample (with firmware version 1.03.10) offers 19 online services under the Services option on the main menu. (NOTE: As this article was being posted, firmware version 1.04.12 became available. It increased the number of online services to 20 by adding Vimeo. A couple dozen small fixes were also implemented.)


There are 15 service options on the first Services screen...


...and five more on the second.

The offerings are quite varied, from music and video streaming sites, to weather forecast and photo storage/sharing sites. You can log in to your existing account and have the same access to paid content as on a computer. You can upload videos and images, as well, to your accounts at Facebook, Picasa, or Youtube, for example.

  • AccuWeather.com – Local and international forecasts, climate trends, latest news.
  • Blockbuster On Demand – Watch digital movies on your TV instantly, rent or buy, including new releases, cinema classics and TV shows, with no monthly fee. Account required, US only.
  • CinemaNow – New release movies the same day they come out on DVD, TV episodes for many popular shows the day after they air. Account required, US only.
  • Deezer – Personalized on-demand music service to listen to seven million tracks, one of the most popular Internet and mobile music offerings in Europe.
  • Facebook – Share your status, photos, videos, and your favorite links on Facebook. Access it all on your big screen TV.
  • Flickr – Connect to Flickr using the on-screen menus. View the photos on your Flickr account and enjoy them on your TV.
  • Flingo – Offers free Internet Television from leading studios, TV networks, and video websites.
  • Hulu Plus – Current hit TV shows and award-winning movies anytime in HD. Watch any current season episode of top shows like Modern Family, Glee, 30 Rock and many others, enjoy classic series, or explore acclaimed movies from The Criterion Collection and Miramax. Account required, US only.
  • Live365 – Listen to thousands of commercial-free Internet radio stations.
  • Mediafly – Stream daily video podcasts from CNN, NBC, MTV, ESPN, and other online content to your TV.
  • Netflix – Access your Netflix membership and instantly watch TV episodes and movies on your big screen. Account required, some countries only.
  • Pandora – Free, personalized Internet radio. US only.
  • Picasa – View, share and enjoy your photographs right from your television.
  • SHOUTcast Radio – Online radio stations directory featuring over 45,000 music, talk, sports, and community radio stations from around the world.
  • Spotify – On-demand access to over 15 million tracks and albums. Available in USA, UK, Sweden, Finland, Norway, France, The Netherlands and Spain. Account required.
  • TuneIn – The world’s largest Internet radio guide with access to over 30,000 free radio stations searchable by location, genre, or format.
  • YouTube – Watch your favorite videos from the world’s #1 video sharing website on your television.
  • Vimeo - Videos from a community of creative people passionate about sharing their art. (added mid-Nov 2011)

The above services are integrated with their web-based counterparts when accessed via the WDTVL. If you are a registered user, everything you create, rate, or bookmark when using the WDTVL shows up on your account the next time you sign in from your computer.

The interface for these services varies. I did not check all of them, but most function quite logically, which is very good, given the much fewer controls on a remote control compared to a web browser and a full keyboard.


The main screen on the Youtube Video service link.

This week's top rated videos on youtube, in a list + icon view.

The resolution of the online HD streaming video content is generally only as good as — and usually not quite as good as — the 1080i of cable or DSL TV, and the quality can vary with providers as well as the vagaries of web traffic. However, there was no quality difference between viewing these on the WDTVL or my own custom-built HTPC. You get the occasional sound (usually not video) dropout on either, even on Shaw Extreme cable's supposedly 25 Mbps download speed.

FINAL THOUGHTS

After several weeks of living with the WD TV Live along side my HTPC, identifying the preferred video playback device is a tossup. It is easier and quicker to organize, modify or otherwise manipulate the media files on the network with the HTPC. However, the navigation and playback controls on the WDTVL are quick and responsive, and it has native capability to play the ever-popular MKV video files, unlike any native Windows software (like Media Center). In fact, the WD never balked at any video file type I thre at it. The ease of access to handy tweaks like subtitle controls and audio scychronization make the TV Live quite compelling for local or network video streaming. The quality of the video and color rendition are as good as the HTPC, and with motion, it is often smoother on difficult files.

The online services offered are well implemented, and for viewing, the experience is about as good as you'd find with a PC. Finding a specific video online could be a bit tedious, but then it can also be a pain even when you have a keyboard and browser. The WDTVL accepts a USB keyboard without any problem, even a wireless one.

The underlying system setup controls are extensive, though not every detail was fully covered in this review. The extensive setup controls, along with the speedy, user-friendly main interface, makes it desirable for both casual user and Alpha geek. The 1080p 24fps support necessary for videophiles is also there, along with both built-in wireless-N and gigabit wired eithernet. The tiny size of the device and its innocuous appearance is a plus, although the need to keep it within line of sight of the remote control is not.

The photo viewing and music playing capabilities are about average, but there's not much to complain about. They work well enough, but not on par with dedicated software and PC or an audio-specific streamer like the Squeezebox.

The fact that you get all this in the wee box for just $100 is quite something, really. The WD TV Live looks like the one of the best products and a great bargain in its category.

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Our thanks to Western Digital for the TV Live sample.


Western Digital Live TV receives the SPCR Editor's Choice Award

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Market Note: Potential buyers should note that there appear to be several WD TV Live products on the market: One is the variant reviewed here, which is the latest. The other versions are in a slightly bigger, older, casing without WI-FI built in, and called WD TV Live Plus. There is a version of TV Live Plus for Latin America, though it is not clear what makes it so. Finally, the slightly earlier TV Live Hub appears to have about the same functionality as the TV Live minus WI-FI, in a chassis big enough for a 1TB HDD to be housed within it and sold for about twice the price.

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Articles of Related Interest
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Samsung PN58C6400 Plasma HDTV

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