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This little box is an absoloute gem.
The Western Digital TV Live is a media player that allows you to play media files such as movies and music on your tv. Media can be accessed from a USB device such as a small dongle or even a large USB hard drive. I have it connected to the TV via HDMI.
I have been using it for well over 2 years now and I have not encountered a single file type that it wont play. The picture quality is brilliant when using a HD source. I have also encountered no situations where it skips or stutters.
The menu system is perhaps the most important thing when using a device such as this, I have used my fair share of bad menus and it totally ruins the experience. Fortunately the menu on this little device is very quick, smooth and easy to navigate. Perfect if I'm honest.
And on that note I would have to say that the whole thing is perfect. Its very small and looks nice enough so theres no problems on that side of things.
This is a seriously good piece of kit.
I currently have it set up running a toslink though to my yamaha amp, then out through a 1080p plasma and q accoustics speakers.
The media is run via network share from my drobo fs which works faultlessly.
On some movies I can strem 1080p accross the network, but sadly a part of the network is Devolo ethernet over power HD and while great it does struggle with the high bit rate movies. That said, copying the movie to an external hard disk (I use the toughdrive from freecom, which are excellent) and then plugging it directly into the WDTV Live isnt a hardship.
I love that WD are so committed to this device - a recent firmware update (Which come down automatically over the internet) added Deezer (free music a la spotify), Facebook, Media Fly, and wireless usb keyboard support. All for free and all brilliant.
Overall a great device and great support and ongoing committment from the manufacturer.
Recently my girlfriend and I, who are both huge film fans, took the plunge and upgraded our aging television to a lovely big flatscreen plasma. Although it is of course a High Definition TV, we sadly only had standard definition sources to play on it, a humax 9200 PVR, a dvd player and more retro games consoles that you can shake a stick at...
Being a boy who loves gadgets and technology, I wanted something to take advantage of the capabilities of the new television. Not wanting to spend too much money, I decided against the upgrade to a Blu-Ray player or purchasing either an Xbox 360 or PS3. Really what I wanted was something to operate as a media player for HD material, but did
not want the hassle of building myself a Home Theatre PC to do this. With a bit of research I found that there were various standalone boxes capable of such things.
The one I went for, was the Western Digital Live, as it had all the features I was looking for and having read up on it and the previous generation, simply known as the WDHDTV, I found that there were a lot of people making their own firmwares (the actual software that runs the box itself) and also making different on screen displays etc to
customise how it worked and how it looked.
As someone that likes to tinker with these kinds of things, and along with the specifications of the WDTV Live, this seemed like the perfect thing for me. I got it shortly after release for about £90, which is still about the price it is available for online.
***** Contents *****
In the box, there is the WDTV Live (which I shall refer to as the Live from now on) itself, along with the power supply, remote control, batteries, a CD containing some sample videos and software for converting videos to play on this box. There are also 2 leads for connecting the unit to the TV - 3 phono plugged Composite video and stereo audio lead; and a Component video lead.
***** The Western Digital Live 1080P Internet Media Streamer *****
The Live itself is a lovely little unit, only about 4 inches x 3 inches x 1.5 inches...ish!
It is small and grey, a sort of metallic gun metal colour, and feels nice in the hand. The build quality is good and the whole thing feels pretty sturdy and well made.
On the front there is a Western Digital Logo, next to which there is a small black window which houses a small light to indicate that the power is on, the infra red receiver and a light which indicates when a USB device is attached and when it is being read., the rest of the front is a smooth and empty.
The front curves nicely to the top and bottom, making it quite a nice looking unit and one which certainly won't look out of place in most modern homes.
The top and bottom of the unit are essentially just the metallic gun metal grey.
Moving on to the sides, on the left there is a single USB 2.0 port. ON the other side there is nothing.
Onwards to the back, which is where the good things are....all the connectors that make this unit so very very good.
Starting from the left, you have as follows
1) socket for the power supply
2) USB 2.0 slot
3) HDMI connector
4) Digital Optical socket
5) Ethernet (network) socket - allows the Live to be connected to you local network and the internet
6) AV out - this is a 3.5mm jack socket. Use this to connect the Live using the Composite video and stereo audio lead - works nicely for just the
7) Component video out - like the above socket, this is a 3.5mm jack socket - this is used with the component video lead included.
As you can see this is a nice selection of connection options. All the sockets feel nice and sturdy with none of the movement you sometimes find in cheaper electrical goods.
***** The Remote Control *****
The remote control for the unit is a lovely little thing, which is in keeping with the small size of the actual unit. It's about 3 inches long by about an inch and a half. It fits nicely in the hand, feeling both comfortable and
sturdy, not complaints about the build quality at all and is easy to operate.
The layout of the buttons is fairly intuitive and the buttons, despite the small size of the remote and fairly small size of the buttons, are nicely spaced so you shouldn't end up pressing the wrong button once you've learnt the layout.
Unlike some devices I have used in the past, the remote control operates the Live very nicely, it responds to button presses quickly and I've not found myself having to repeatedly press a button in hope that the unit might respond. It seems to be fine controlling the Live from all angles and in different lighting conditions.
***** Setting Up *****
There are all sorts of options for setting up the Live. The simplest and one which I imagine most people would use is the simple HDMI lead, which plugs straight into the Live and straight into the TV. This will carry both video and audio and will give a stunning picture (with decent material being played of course...)
There is also the option to connect via component, which again will give great picture quality; and composite which will be ok but is no where near as good quality.
On the audio front there are also good options. Either via the HDMI lead, Digital Optical, or analogue stereo.
I currently have all three options setup, so I can use different audio for different things.
Firstly for general watching I just stick with the audio through the HDMI lead. If I'm watching a film and want surround sound, I switch on my amp and set the audio output on the Live to digital and get lovely surround sound from the optical hook up. And finally, if I'm listening to audio, I use the analogue stereo output again plugged into my amplifier as I find it sounds nicer than the music being played through the digital optical, which can be a bit too clinical and precise.
I'm sure that whatever/however you want to connect the Live, you will be able to do so and will be very happy with it.
***** Useage *****
The Lives' function in life is as a media streamer, meaning it will play all your media for you to watch on your TV or listen to through an amplifier (or do both) as a computer would do but giving you the comfort of being able to control it all from the comfort of your sofa using a remote control, and giving you a nice simple user interface to be able to easily select everything. And I have to say it does this very very well indeed!!!
Firstly, you need to give it a something to play. Not having it's own storage space, it is necessary to connect the Live to the place where you store your media. Not unsurprisingly with this unit, there are various options, from a simple, USB flash drive with a few files on to an external hard drive with thousands of media files to shared network drives that are connected to both you computer and the Live at the same time (using the network capabilities of the Live)
The media files can be video, audio or photos, so this box really can give you easy access to pretty much all your media!!
In addition to these methods, you can also watch media from online sources, Youtube for videos, Flickr for photos and Pandora Internet radio or Live365.com for audio.
The user interface makes it simple to navigate between music, video and photos and allows you lots of options for sorting your media to make it easy to find what you want. For example music files can be view by Artist, Album, Recently Added etc etc, with similar options for video and photos too.
There is too much depth in the usage of the Live to really be able to cover it all in this review, instead I will just say that it has done a great job with everything I've wanted it to do. I have not played around with the network side of it very much at the moment but have found that when using an external hard drive connected via USB, this really is a wonderful little device. The interface is simple to use and it nice and quick to navigate, the remote control works very well and the connectivity options are great!
***** Video *****
The most important part of the Live for me is the video playback, which I have to say is brilliant! It is able to play a huge array of different video files (see boring technical stuff at the bottom of the review for more info) and so far I have not found anything which has caused any problem, playing anything and everything I have thrown at it.
The Live is capable of full 1080P (otherwise known as Full HD) and even 1080p24 which won't mean much to a lot of people but I know will be important to some. It will upscale video files that are of lower resolution and does so effortlessly!
I am using it at 720P, the native resolution of my screen, connected via HDMI and I have to say the picture quality is amazing! The user interface is crystal clear and the image quality of the HD source material I have played has been breath taking...what it must be like on an even bigger screen (mine is 42inch) and at full 1080p I just don't know!!! The colours and detail are fantastic!
Of course a lot of the video quality will depend upon the quality of the source files, a badly compressed low resolution file, will of course look like what it is, this box is a brilliant performer but even it can't work miracles!!! The old adage "put rubbish in, get rubbish out" certainly is true of this and every other media player!!!
That said, even some fairly ropey quality video files I have tried managed to look reasonable, and certainly watchable!
***** Audio *****
The sound quality of the Live is also very impressive, with great detail and clarity, films and television shows have sounded great, surround sound (via the optical output and my amplifier) has been very good and again very impressive
When playing music, I personally found the digital output a little too clinical for my liking and instead use the analogue stereo output into my amplifier, which sounds brilliant!
The music player is a little on the basic side but is easy to use and has all the options you would expect, though with the noticeable absence of any form of equaliser to allow you to tweak the sound to your own personal preferences...more or less bass or treble etc. However on the whole I would say this is a pretty good music player with great sound quality.
As with the video, the Live is able to play a huge range of different file types, and has played everything I have tried it with, and done so with aplomb!
***** Photos *****
I've not really had much of a play with the photo displaying side of the Live but from the quick go I had with it, it seemed reasonably good, it allows you to view individual photos, or play your pictures as a slide show.
The images I tried it with looked very good, as the box is capable of great image scaling (as evidenced with the videos) and it also does a good job with photographs. The only slight complaint...not even really a complaint...more of a slight niggle, is that it takes a slightly longer than would be ideal when browsing photos, it takes a few moments to load the next image rather than being immediate but for me this really is a tiny little niggle!
***** Internet based Media *****
As of yet I've not played around with this enough to be able to make any judgements on it. For me this is really a very tiny part of what the Live can do and is not really something I am interested in. If I do get around to trying it all out properly I will update my review
***** Network based Media *****
As with the internet side of the Live, I've not done very much with the networking side of the Live and don't feel I can make any judgements. All I know is from what I have read on various forums, and on the whole the response has been very good, it is capable of viewing network shares and streaming media from them reliably.
***** Pros *****
* - Fully 1080p & 1080p24 capable
* - Plays pretty much every media file type you can imagine
* - Great build quality, it really feels like a nicely made piece of kit
* - Great remote control - so many things these days come with a remote control that barely functions and feels like it cost about 10p to make!!
* - A nice small unit, will fit in anywhere
* - plentiful connectivity options both for media sources and for connecting to the TV/amp etc
* - Brilliant picture quality (depending on your source media of course)
* - Good options for finding the media you want
* - Handles music, video and photos well, giving you great and easy access to your media
* - Network capabilities make it easy to access your media even when it's on your PC
* - totally silent in operation - there are no cooling fans or such like, meaning this is completely silent - of course your hard drive might not be...
* - future updates and great support from the user community (see conclusion for more info)
***** Cons *****
* - slightly sluggish when browsing photos
* - no internal storage means you always need a media source connected (not a real problem for most I'm sure)
* - To get the most out of the Live, it might take a little more knowledge than the average home user might have.
***** Conclusion *****
I have been thoroughly impressed with the WDTV Live in the time I've had it. It has played everything I have thrown at it, and has blown me away when present with good quality HD material to play, and has even done a great job at displaying fairly poor quality lower resolution files!
It really is great value for money, it would cost a lot more to build a dedicated Home Theatre PC which would be capable of playing as many types of files etc as the Live at full HD resolutions and it most certainly wouldn't fit in a tiny box like this, nor would it be completely silent in operation!
When I started looking at media players, I found that there were lots of different options but this stood out as it was cheap, from a trusted manufacturer (I have for years used Western Digital hard drives and been very happy with them) and thought it looked really nice.
Another part of the reason I went for the Live is because the first generation WDHDTV has been well supported, not only by Western Digital but also by a good community who have produced unofficial firmware and software to give the unit even more capabilities, such as being able to download files via bittorrent and news groups, and even created entirely new user interfaces giving it a whole different look and feel.
I am someone who likes to tinker with things like this and wanted something that had a good community and good support in this way, which was why I went for the Live over other players (well that and the great price!). This might well be beyond the capabilities of the average home user but for me I think it will be the best way of getting the most out of a what is already a brilliant device!!
Overall, I would say that if you were looking for a stand alone media player, the Western Digital Live should definitely be on your short list!!!
***** Boring technical stuff *****
Taken from http://www.westerndigital.com/en/products/products.asp?DriveID=735
File Formats Supported
Video - AVI (Xvid, AVC, MPEG1/2/4), MPG/MPEG, VOB, MKV (h.264, x.264, AVC, MPEG1/2/4, VC-1), TS/TP/M2T (MPEG1/2/4, AVC, VC-1), MP4/MOV (MPEG4, h.264), M2TS, WMV9
Photo - JPEG, GIF, TIF/TIFF, BMP, PNG
Audio - MP3, WAV/PCM/LPCM, WMA, AAC, FLAC, MKA, AIF/AIFF, OGG, Dolby Digital, DTS
Playlist - PLS, M3U, WPL
Subtitle - SRT, ASS, SSA, SUB, SMI