WD TV Live Test Results
Like most discerning home theater enthusiasts, I’m critical of digital media player devices. Benchmark Reviews has tested several products designed for the Home Theater segment, from fancy HTPC enclosures to efficient compact computer systems. But of them all, very few have ever offered the level of multimedia performance found on desktop computer systems. My criteria for the “perfect” digital media player has never been terribly strict, but a man’s home theater is a trophy onto itself. The ideal system needs to offer wireless Internet access, comfortable web browsing, fast file transfers, and display multimedia content over HDMI without frame loss or stutter. This section discusses how well the WD TV Live digital media player performs, and the various features it offers.
From the first moment you power on the WD TV Live, the device begins to impress. Within a few seconds I was greeted with a beautifully colorful background, and then prompted to confirm my language preference. Immediately afterward, WD TV Live searched for available networks and was easily joined to my wireless connection. A few seconds later the system date and time were automatically updated, and an update notification appeared prompting me to download the latest firmware. A few minutes later WD TV Live restarted to install the new firmware, then after a few more minutes the updated device greeted me with a large navigation menu.
The setup screen is easy to understand and straight-forward. I’m the type of person who has to check every option to ensure I’ve tweaked the system to its fullest potential, but with the WD TV Live I was pleasantly surprised that nearly every configuration had been optimized for my connected hardware. The only item that really needed any attention was the Day Light Savings option for the date and time, both of which were automatically detected and set when the device first connected to the Internet. Optionally, I chose to display my local temperature beside the time by adding my city to AccuWeather (Services → News and Weather).
Users can customize the theme and background image on WD TV Live, similar to any Microsoft Windows PC. At the time of this writing there were several different background images to choose from, all part of professionally taken photo sets, along with a few different (and truly unique) themes. Additionally, users may utilize their own images for the background. Some aftermarket themes are more ergonomic than others, but because I had become so used to the default theme it remained my favorite.
Each Video, Music, and Photo library has the option to configure their visual layout to suit your tastes. For example, I like to see as many gallery icons as possible in my multimedia library, but other people might prefer large thumbnails with extra detail visible. All of this is available in the Setup menu, and from within each menu itself by using one of the color-coded shortcut keys on the remote. Whenever these icons are present in the upper-right corner (on the default theme), users can alter the layout of the screen.
The WD TV Live automatically recognizes connected storage devices formatted with FAT, FAT32, NTFS, and HFS+ file systems; however exFAT drive partitions were not detected. Personal electronic devices such as smartphones and tablets can also be connected through the media player’s USB interface, which then mounts any available storage partitions. Alternatively, network storage devices and multimedia servers can be mapped and configured as additional media sources.
WD TV Live will actively search and index media files as new storage devices are attached to the system, which populates the library menu inside Video, Music, and Photo catagories. However, if a large-capacity storage device filled with many files (such as an external hard drive) is attached, background indexing could take a while.
WD TV Live will automatically attempt to locate media information for all indexed files, if configured to do so in the settings. This works well overall, but occasionally a folder is given an incorrect icon that doesn’t match the contents. Alternatively, users can replace folder icons simply by adding an image into the directory.
Multimedia items are represented as thumbnails icons, with the complete file name (and file extension) displayed below. WD TV Live also offers a preview function for highlighted files as one of the layout styles, including sound with the item being previewed that can also be expended into full-screen view.
WD TV Live delivered lossless video playback from digital sources encoded with several popular codecs. I’ve converted many Blu-ray and DVD movies into MP4 and MKV file formats, in addition to an older library of MPG, AVI, and WMV movies joined by hundreds of FLAC, WAV, and MP3 music. Everything played flawlessly, and I didn’t come across a single unsupported audio or video file type (although *.xvid file extensions must be renamed for the file system to discover and play them).
The WD TV Live is more sensitive than other media players, and requires that the file extension correctly match the media codec in order to properly play back digital files. For example, one particular multimedia file obtained over the Internet incorrectly ended with the *.mp4 file extension (MPEG-4 container) despite actually being encoded as *.mkv (Matroska container). Open source applications played the file without issue on the PC, likely because they’re designed to inspect the codec container instead of depending on file extension, but the WD TV Live would not. After checking the media info and correcting the extension to *.mkv the file played without issue on WD TV Live device.
Unlike every other digital media player we’ve tested up to this point, WD TV Live features a working playback timeline that displays overall progression and total run time. Not only does it work, but it works extremely well: WD TV Live has the unique ability to jump playback and begin directly from a specifically entered time. This useful feature suppliments the ability to scan forward and reverse up to 16x, or skip forward and back in ten minute segments. The enhanced playback features are especially useful when resuming from extended-length multimedia files, and Western Digital succeeds in delivering playback tools that have gone overlooked by competing media players.
Because multimedia files are encoded from a myriad of differing sources using dissimilar software and hardware, it’s unreasonable to expect audio level equalization across all media files and types. Although most multimedia files play back with similar audio levels, many times it was necessary to adjust volume. So despite the many great features that WD TV Live offers, one key item is missing: volume control. Most people have a separate remotes for their HTPC or A/V Receiver, but having command of volume levels from the same device that controls playback adds an appreciated level of convenience. Now that we’ve covered multimedia playback, let’s get into the other features available on WD TV Live…