WD TV Live Games and Services
My large (and continuously growing) multimedia library usually manages to satisfy the family’s entertainment appetite, but there are times when music and movies give way to fun and games. The WD TV Live is a media player first and foremost, but it came as a surprise that the device also offers many parlor-style video games such as Blackjack, Poker, Chess, and Sudoku.
All of the games featured on WD TV Live are free, and do not require any premium account to enjoy. funspot offers a staple selection of 2D games that have been designed to work well with the remote control, but Games by PlayJam takes things a step further and delivers unique arcade games as well as multiplayer gaming tournaments (for players who have created a free PlayJam account online). Considering the $89.99 price tag for WD TV Live (from Newegg or Amazon), Western Digital certainly packs a lot of value into this little media player.
Western Digital has included dozens of popular media sources on the WD TV Live, most of which are streamed in high definition and completely free. I found most of the services to be useful, albeit occasionally limited, at delivering entertaining multimedia content. While WD TV Live offers namesake features like ‘Live TV’ services, both Skitter TV and SlingPlayer require a previously established account (although it doesn’t appear that Skitter’s service is ready for prime time, and does not offer end-user accounts). Unfortunately, if you want cable television-level entertainment programming you’ll need to subscribe to a premium service like Netflix, Hulu Plus, Flixster, and MLB.tv.
Many of the free services offer a lot more than you might expect, and occasionally offer full-series programming. I wasn’t the target audience for some shows, but others were right up my alley. AOL HD (Services → Web Video) offers plenty of high-definition programming that’s on-par with premium services, and gives WD TV Live owners free access to shows like Engadget TV (below). One noted concern was the lack of visible playback buffering, since each item would begin immediately and occasionally stutter at the start. This wasn’t an issue for every service, but it did indicate that buffering might not be controlled at the device level. Western Digital offers a full catalog of their available services, complete with details and requirements.
There are plenty of music services available from big names such as Pandora, Shoutcast, and Spotify, so streaming your playlist over WD TV Live is always an option when your eyes are occupied elsewhere. Flickr and Picasa are convenient photo services for showing off your latest pictures to a captive audience, presuming you don’t already have them indexed on the device.
Social networks are fun, and have grown in popularity over the past ten years, so it’s not surprising to see Western Digital include the most popular among them on their WD TV Live media player. Twitter hasn’t been added (yet), but Facebook is included as a reduced-functionality version of the social media website. As of firmware 1.09.10, this particular service does not load post images and consequently makes some conversations seem out of context. It works at the most basic level, which is probably sufficient for most users, but videos saved to Facebook wouldn’t play.
Considering how limited most other media players we’ve tested have been, it’s refreshing to see so much attention given towards developing the WD TV platform. Firmware updates are frequently published and pushed out to the devices with very little user intervention needed, so I expect WD TV Live to only get better with time. There are a few things missing that we’ve seen elsewhere, such as public-access Internet TV/Radio tuning and web page browsing, so hopefully Western Digital continues their pursuit to include everything under the sun inside WD TV Live.