Media Streamers and Hubs Guide
Design & Features
Playing it Safe
With a footprint of 12.5 x 10cm, the WD TV Live won't take up too much space on your TV console. Western Digital also plays it safe with a boxy shape; the graphite color scheme is a nice touch though, as almost all media players on the market sport a uniform black coat of paint.
The WD TV Live's chassis is made of plastic, and it does make you wonder if this humble-looking media player will survive an accidental drop. We do wish media player manufacturers would make their products feel a bit more sturdy or premium (see: Patriot Box Office), though that would understandably push up the retail price.
Straight up, the WD TV Live looks pretty sleek, with a sole USB 2.0 port adorning its front panel. If you found the small power indicator an eyesore or a distraction during movie watching, you can switch it off in the preferences menu. Though not a dealbreaker, unlike the ASUS O!Play Mini Plus, the WD TV Live doesn't have a built-in card reader. Considering that it only has two USB ports, this omission becomes more glaring. Maybe WD feels that a third USB port is unnecessary since Wi-Fi is now integrated. However, none of the USB ports support the SuperSpeed standard (USB 3.0).
Due to its small size, don't be expecting too many I/Os at the back of the player. You will find the second USB port, an HDMI port, a S/PDIF jack, and a composite AV port. Both USB ports work with any device that supports the Picture Transfer Protocol (PTP) - that means you can playback or transfer videos or photos from a digital camera or camcorder without a PC. While composite AV cables are included in the retail package, an HDMI cable isn't. For those who prefer a wired connection (we strongly recommend this if you intend to stream a lot of high bit-rate and high definition videos), you also get an Ethernet port. Though the speed isn't specified, we'd hazard a guess that it's a 100Mbit/s port (Fast Ethernet) based on our chipset guess.
Powered by two AA batteries, the WD TV Live uses the same 37-button remote as the WD TV Live Hub. While the remote doesn't look like the standard rectangular TV remotes that most of us are used to handling, it's light and has an ergonomic curved back to provide a comfortable grip. While holding the remote presented no comfort issues, we feel that the buttons are a tad too rubbery, making them difficult to press in quick succession. Typing on it also became a longer affair than what we would have liked. The good news is that the USB ports also support USB keyboards, so if you're looking at some serious text entry on your Facebook page, you can always hook up a keyboard (wired or wireless).
Using the remote is pretty easy as most of the button functions are easy to understand, such as the dedicated subtitle button which allows the user to access the various subtitle settings with a press of the button. The remote also possesses function buttons (the green, red, yellow, and blue buttons) that allow users to access certain menus or settings. By default, button A activates the sort and filter menu; button B activates the select content source menu; button C activates the change view menu; and button D activates the dashboard menu.
The WD TV Live uses the same UI as the one found in the WD Live Hub. Dubbed Mochi, it looks good and even allows users to download their own pictures to use as wallpapers.
Navigating the UI is a breeze; all the media types and major system settings are given their own tabs at the home screen. When we were reviewing the WD Live Hub, we had to wait for the animated icons to finish loading before we could switch tabs, but the same sequence on the Live happened far snappier. We deduce this could be in part due to the faster processor used in the new Live (700MHz compared to 500MHz in the Live Hub).
There's also the addition of casual games and the ability to subscribe to RSS feeds. Apps have retained their own tab, but the selection has increased from the ones present in the Live Hub.
In our review of the WD Live Hub, we mentioned that for convenience sake, we would like to see built-in Wi-Fi in addition to basic Ethernet connectivity. It seems that our prayer is answered. The WD TV Live now comes with integrated Wi-Fi support, supporting the latest 802.11n standard no less, thus making viewing and sharing content easier. In addition, you've one cable less to clutter your AV setup area.
Accessing content is fairly straightforward: you will be asked to select your content source be it from a local storage device, a network attached storage (NAS) or a shared computer located on your network. Selecting the "My Media Library" option will reveal all the content on all your drives in one view, though be warned that it might take a while to scan if you are hoarding a lot of content.
The WD TV Live supports network shares via Samba or NFS. Samba and NFS are both network file system protocols, meaning they allow users to access files over a network as if they were on a local directory. Based on our experience, NFS is usually faster than Samba.
If you're going the wireless route, WD has made the Wi-Fi setup process very easy. All you need to do is to let the WD TV Live scan for available Wi-Fi networks, select the desired one, and enter the credentials to login.
Besides being UPnP compliant, the WD TV Live also serves as a DLNA client; in other words, you can share media content between other DLNA-certified devices on the same network. For the less technically inclined, this sure beats having to configure Samba, NFS, or Bonjour (on Macs).