Western Digital's WD TV HD media player is not only a bit of a mouth full to say, but an incredibly smart device in such a small form factor.
You could think of it as a DVD player without the optical DVD drive and a home theater PC without the full functionality of a computer. It really is just that - it doesn't come with any internal storage and sadly no Ethernet networking support, but it does include two hi-speed USB 2.0 ports, which allows you to hook up two external hard drives or USB flash drives which use a FAT32, NTFS or HFS+ (no journaling) file system.
We tested the unit with a 64GB pen drive from Patriot and it worked fine detecting it and playing back - plug n play is supported, no need to keep turning the device on and off all of the time. One little fault about the location of the USB port on the back of the unit - it is too close to the other connectors, which means that larger pen drives such as the 64GB drive from Patriot will not fit - only standard width flash drives will fit. We also tried out an external caddie that uses two USB ports (one for data and one for power) and it was also detected and worked fine. We thought it may have issues with using two USB ports on one device, but it worked well.
The WD TV allows you to view photos, listen to music and watch movies on your TV. We have seen several devices like in this part, but none as good as this one. As for photos, WD TV supports JPEG, GIF, TIF/TIFF, BMP and PNG file formats. As for music, it supports MP3, WMA, OGG, WAV/PCM/LPCM, AAC, FLAC, Dolby Digital, AIF/AIFF and MKA file formats. As for movies, it supports MPEG1/2/4, WMV9, AVI (MPEG4, Xvid, AVC), H.264, MKV, MOV (MPEG4, H.264),MTS, TP and TS file formats. You will need to update your WD TV firmware to version 1.01 for all of these formats to be supported. Ours came already updated, so you may or may not need to depending on how long yours has been sitting around in the warehouse.
Find us another device which only weighs 303 grams and measures a tiny 40mm / 100mm / 125.5mm (H / L / W). Small nano-like devices are the in thing lately and if you're squashed for space in your lounge room, the WD TV passes with flying colors here, no doubt about it.
It hooks up to your SD or HDTV via HDMI or Composite A/V cable and it also has an optical audio out port for digital audio support, if you are not using HDMI cable. It does come with a Composite A/V cable in the package, but not HDMI, which is a bit of a shame - you will need to pay extra for that. In the video above, we used a HDMI cable and changed the audio out option from stereo to digital in the settings menu.
We can confirm that after this change, it outputs movie audio tracks as they were ripped - you won't get TrueHD or DTS-HD MA on this device, but you do get the next best - DTS. We were surprised to see our Onkyo TX SR-705 amplifier reporting DTS 5.1 output whilst playing back a Blu-ray copy of Kill Bill: Volume 2 that we made. It just keeps getting better.
It comes with a cute little IR remote control that works very well indeed - finally we see a product that includes batteries. Some products come with really shocking remote controls with very poor range. We are happy to report that the WD TV remote has very good range for its size - we even had to go outside, its range was so good. We estimate we had it working up to eight meters away, but any further and it just stopped responding. Nevertheless, very impressive.
As you will see if you watch the video above, the WD TV is a very simple and effective device. It is VERY easy to use and turns on and off in a flash - no fuss or hassle. It has some basic functionality built-in such as being able to zoom in on images and rotate, but that's about the extent of it. You can skip scenes and fast forward and rewind in movies. All of the basic stuff you would expect is there.
Don't expect it to be a replacement for your home theater PC, it is not; but having said that, it is not designed to be either. It is just a basic product that allows you to play media on your TV and it does a fantastic job of doing it. We were a bit skeptical about such a small device being able to properly playback 720p AND 1080p content, but it did it remarkably well with no frame skipping, visual artifacts or anything to cause concern at all.
You can currently pick up the WD TV from Newegg for a very reasonable $109.99 USD shipped to your door; $20 less than what it's going for at the WD Shop. We would like to see it drop in price to around the magic $99 USD mark, but we cannot have everything our way.
However, if you consider the cost for even building the most basic HTPC that can do the same as the WD TV, things begin to look a whole lot better for that asking price. Inside the package of the WD TV, Western Digital also include a $20 USD off ticket (promo code) when you buy a My Passport Essential portable USB hard disk drive, as well as 20% off on protector cases for the drive. The WD TV does come with a nice matching black stand to seat your My Passport Essential drive - sneaky Western Digital, but a nice idea. Also in the package is a CD which includes ArcSoft MediaConverter 2.5, some demo files to try out and the manual.
Really, we tried to make the WD TV fail during our testing; we tried thinking of bad points for this product, but came up almost empty besides just a few small issues. First on the list is it is a slight disappointment that there is no Ethernet networking to stream content from a file server or your PC. We would also like to see a price drop and maybe a HDMI cable included in the package, but besides that, Western Digital's WD TV is a brilliantly designed product for what it is intended to do. For anyone looking to add basic HD movie playback and more to their lounge room, this is pretty much as good as it gets and best of all, it's affordable for many people!
Note to Western Digital - Surprise us next time with a similar device that packs in a Blu-ray optical drive and that is able to bitstream out Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD MA for a good price and you'll sell a million of them. What about opening up this product to the mod and developer world and letting them create applications and enhancements?