Play It Smart (Part 2) - Western Digital WD TV Live, Apple TV, D-Link Boxee Box

12/6/2012 3:17:59 PM

Media Player

Western Digital is best known for making hard drives, but since 2008 has also been making its own ‘WD TV’ line of media players.

The latest generation WD TV Live is widely available under $200 in NZ yet still ticks a lot of boxes for such a slim price tag.

The tiny unit is about the size of a large wallet and packs Ethernet and built-in Wi-Fi for network connectivity. HDMI and S/PDIF optical ports are included for digital video/audio, phono RCA jacks (via dongle) provide analog video and audio, and you get a USB port at front and rear to attach hard drives. You can also connect a keyboard to one of the USB ports if you’d prefer to make entering search keywords that much easier.

Description: Western Digital WD TV Live

After connecting the WD TV Live to my television and powering it up I was greeted with an elegant and intuitive graphical user interface. That was followed by a prompt to download a software update, which was an automated process after accepting the pop up.

A quick Google search revealed that Western Digital releases fairly regular updates to its WD TV products, adding new features or fixing old bugs, which is a very good thing.

The remote control is what I would describe as medium size, with an ergonomic design and comfortable rubberized grip. There are buttons for full play back control and menu operation plus an alphanumeric keypad which provide excellent control options without feeling cluttered.

File support appears excellent with most of the variants of AVI, MPG and MKV being listed on the box as supported, and I couldn’t find a video file in my library that it wouldn’t play. Even a 1080p video encoded with x 264 (a popular open-source encoding method taking over from Xvid) was fine.

With a full USB drive connected to the WD TV Live, I was able to stream media easily to other DLNA certified devices on my home network, such as an Android tablet and smartphone. It also automatically found the shared media library on my Windows 7 PC. That’s not a remarkable feature in itself, but it’s nice that I didn’t have to wrangle with settings or configuration pages to get there.

Aside from simple hard drive and network playback, the WD TV Live also has many internet streaming features via apps found on its Services page.

Sadly New Zealand can’t access globally popular services such as Netflix, which charges a monthly subscription for access to many of the latest movies and TV shows. The WD TV Live doesn’t support the local equivalent Quickflix, either, so this unit is limited to more mundane web apps like Facebook, You Tube and Shoutcast.

Also worth mentioning is the WD TV Remote app for Android and iOS devices. Despite some scathing reviews, it functioned well for me. The simple fact that Western Digital went to the effort to release a free app deserves brownie points.

All in all, the WD TV Live does everything a basic media player should do, without any whizz bang gimmickry to complicate things,

At a glance

·         Streaming media player with built-in Wi-Fi

·         No onboard storage

·         Good codec support

·         Regular software updates

Western digital WD TV live

Price: $189


An excellent media player that sticks to the basics but does them well

Value: 9/10

Apple TV

Media player

There are two reasons why you would want to buy an Apple TV media player.

The first reason would be because you’re already invested in Apple’s ecosystem and its large movie selection, and other brands of media player don’t support your burgeoning library of iTunes movies and music, with their proprietary file types and digital content protection methods.

The second reason would be to buy it and ‘jailbreak’ it to install something that plays nice with all your digital media, like XBMC.

Sadly, according to a few pages of Google results, you can’t jailbreak this new version yet. If this is what you want to do, go and buy the second-generation model instead. It’s almost identical in every way, except that it’s limited to 720p video output.

Description: Apple TV

If you are a true Apple junkie, on the other hand, then by all means get this new model. When we first reviewed it in March this year, we liked the fact that it has one of the best catalogues of movies to rent on demand (they still charge up to $8 a pop though), and it has great performance when streaming HD files over a home Wi-Fi network.

The unit is also nice and small with an extremely minimalist remote (two buttons plus a directional pad) and it is pretty darn cheap- although in my opinion they may as well give it away for free, considering you won’t get much use out of it if you don’t pay for movies and music through Apple’s iTunes and/or ‘Match’ services.

At a glance

·         Full HD 1080p media streaming

·         Excellent user interface

·         Can’t be jail broken like previous model

·         Only plays content from Apple iTunes and Match

Apple TV

Price: $159


A media player with classic Cupertino design, usability, and incompatibility with anything that isn’t Apple-related

Value: 6/10

D-Link Boxee Box

Media player

Late last year we took a look at the Boxee Box from D-Link and found it was a capable media player, with some interesting channels and apps. It just needed a bit more popular movie and TV content to make it a worthwhile product.

I would love to be able to report that the situation has improved but sadly that is not the case. TVNZ On Demand is still the only natively supported TV streaming app, and if your internet connection can support a 1,500Kbit stream then it’s actually quite a cool feature. The rest of the content available is mostly what you would expect the least popular half of 400 American cable TV channels to provide.

I say ‘mostly’ because scattered here and there amongst the seemingly hundreds of apps are some gems that at least a few people would appreciate, such as no less than three Starcraft channels, an Escapist channel (for fans of the hilarious Zero Punctuation game reviews), and yes I’m serious a Happy Tree Friends channel.

Description: D-Link Boxee Box

The rest of the Boxee’s media player capabilities are good. It has great file support, and local media streaming works flawlessly. The full QWERTY keyboard on the back of the remote is cool, and the Boxee has built in Wi-Fi and a web browser which is surprisingly usable.

The available internet content still sucks though. It doesn’t even have Quickflix (not that this would improve things by much). And it is too expensive there are good streaming media players like the WD TV Live which will do much the same job at almost half the price.

Given that D-Link has had almost a whole year to improve Boxee content in NZ and it hasn’t, I’m actually going to downgrade its original 3.5 star rating to 3. Poor form.

At a glance

·         TVNZ On Demand access

·         Good media player capabilities

·         Interesting apps

·         Overpriced

D-Link Boxee Box (DSM-380)

Price: $350


A well designed and usable product, but overpriced considering it doesn’t provide access to a lot of popular internet content like the overseas version does.

Value: 6/10

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