Western Digital announced their new WD TV media player in July 2014. It has support for virtually any file format, streaming from many sources, as well as access to online streaming content. It’s the latest addition to their already long line up of media players. Western Digital sent a review unit, so here I am eager to try it out.
With so many iterations of Western Digital’s media player products, it is becoming difficult to tell them apart. It doesn’t help that they sometimes look identical too. The new WD TV, for example, looks just like the WD TV Live Streaming, a product launched in 2011. I own and use the WD TV Live at home, and which I reviewed in 2012.
The new WD TV is in fact the 3rd generation its namesake product. The original WD TV was launched in 2008, but it had no network features. The new WD TV brings online streaming services that have become very popular in other Western Digital media players. Both Ethernet and Wi-Fi connections are supported. The WD TV’s emphasis, however, seems to be about streaming your content, whatever format that may be in. The new WD TV does support many online streaming services TV now, but Netflix is notably missing.
The WD TV packaging includes, apart from the WD TV itself, a remote control, power adapter with UK-3 pin plug, RCA AV cable and batteries for the remote. A US 2-pin type plug is also included. A quick install guide is in there as well, although it’s hardly needed. There’s no HDMI cable in the box.
The front of the WD TV box has a glossy panel on the left, with the Western Digital logo and the WD TV model printed on it. The glossy panel hides an indicator light as well as the IR receiver. There is a USB port on the right, which is convenient for plugging in USB peripherals like flash drives and portable hard drives.
All other connection points are on the rear of the WD TV box. From left to right, they are: 12V power input, S/PDIF optical audio out, Ethernet port, HDMI port, 2nd USB port, and 3.5mm AV out jack. The included AV cable converts this 3.5mm AV out to standard RCA jacks.
The underside of the WD TV has generous ventilation holes, as well as mounting sockets for you to hang the unit onto a wall or other fixtures.
Setting up the WD TV is really easy. You should be up and running in no time. Here’s the shot of the WD TV’s home screen. This is a non-HD computer display I happen to have handy. The WD TV does support HD, of course.
Western Digital proudly claims support for virtually any file format on this WD TV. Indeed, the list looks pretty impressive. Here’s the list taken from the technical specifications:
- 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, FLV (h.264)
- 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
The WD TV’s rich content format support means that, for example, you can rip your Blu Ray movies to MKV files, then play them back in full HD glory including DTS and Dolby Digital audio streams.
You can play content off many sources. To start with, there is local storage, which refer to flash drives or external hard drives connected directly to the WD TV’s USB ports. You can also stream content from your home network. In particular, you can access content on:
- Windows file server (i.e. SMB or CIFS)
- Mac file server (AFP)
- Windows media server
- Linux file server (NFS)
- Online service such as Facebook or Picasa
Most people will probably use one of the first three network sources above. The WD TV will prompt for username and password, so you can password protect your share servers.
The WD TV supports a pretty large number of online stream services, but the availability of some of them is dependant on your geographical area. The official product page lists a total of 63 online services across all geographical areas, but I counted more on my review unit. For example, there’s MLB.TV and tunein, both not listed on the Western Digital’s product page. Here are some of the highlights:
- BBC News
- Hulu Plus
- Vudu HD Movies
- Aol HD
- WSJ Live
Oh yes, as mentioned earlier, Netflix is notably missing. It seems rather unusual, considering that Netflix is available on other Western Digital media players like the WD TV Live Streaming. At least there’s Hulu Plus. Do bear in mind that many online streaming services are not directly available to Singapore users, and you have to make use of VPN services, DNS masking services, or value-add features of some local ISPs.
A nice trick the WD TV has is Miracast. Miracast enables peer-to-peer wireless screencasting over Wi-Fi Direct connections, supporting the delivery of audio and video to or from desktops, tablets, and smartphones. It’s like Apple’s Airplay, but it’s not compatible with it. Neither do Apple devices support Miracast. Miracast is supposed to be a standard, but unfortunately, some manufacturers have chosen to use different names. For example, Samsung calls it AllShare Cast and Samsung Link.
The WD TV remote is pretty handy, although it does get quite cumbersome when you need to type, such as in a search prompt to find content. Fortunately, there are two solutions to this. First, you can plug in a USB keyboard to the USB port. A wireless keyboard with a USB dongle will work nicely here.
The other solution is to download the WD TV Remote app, both iOS and Android versions are available. The WD TV Remote app is quite useful as it turns your smartphone into a wireless remote. The app also supports a volume control, which is quite surprisingly missing from the physical remote control.
The WD TV’s retail price is S$169.
The WD TV is indeed a very capable media player, handling virtually any content format you feed to it. It’s notably missing Netflix in its repertoire of online services.
- Plays virtually all file formats
- Supports access to all popular network file shares
- No Netflix
- Physical remote has no volume controls