Set top media streamers are almost a dime a dozen these days, and for the most part (truth be told) most of them pretty much suck in one way or another. Some play high bitrate h.264 files, but lack web integration for Netflix. Some seem really choosy about what media formats you can stream, while others include a garish remote control or UI.
Western Digital first entered the market with their WD TV HD media player, which if recall correctly, only played digital audio and video files from USB drives. It was still a decent product though, and since then has been the foundation for future WD TV products that included more robust features like network playback and other web services. Compared to other streamers and set tops, they’ve held their own, but have always been lacking in key areas to make it the “go-to” media receiver. Howver, Western Digital is looking to change that with their latest offering, the WD TV Live Plus… but does it hit a home run?
In short, it’s probably the most feature packed set-top receiver they’ve come out with, hitting the key areas that really count and going above and beyond in others. For example, this model has one of the most impressive lineups of online entertainment yet, boasting support for Netflix Instant Watch, Pandora, MediaFly, Live365, and more. Plus, it handles a good variety of 1080p material, photos, and DVD menu navigation (not Blu-Ray though, unfortunately). The UI is pretty usable, and dare I say even somewhat attractive.
It’s not all applause and high-fives, though. Like every other product in this category, there are some rough edges. For example, the support for Netflix stops at playing back what’s in your Instant Queue or specific categories that you’d find on the, but you can’t add to or modify your queue. On the playback front, file format and codec compatibility is always hit or miss with these things. The WD TV Live Plus is no different. Anandtech did a pretty good job throwing the kitchen sink at it, and it fared pretty well on the most common codecs and containers that TV addicts like you would be throwing at it. If you want a detailed breakdown, you can see the full test here. Video quality also seemed weaker than others in the category, although how much you’ll notice really depends on what you’re playing.
All in all, if you’re looking for a set-top that can play Netflix and other media files on your TV, I’d put the WD TV Live Plus in the serious contender category. With street prices hovering around $120 bucks, it would be challenging to find a set-top receiver that offers as much for the money for the average TV addict. That is, at least until someone puts out a box that does both Netflix AND Hulu Plus for the same price…
Satisfy your inner geek while fueling your TV addiction… TV Tech Fix is a column by Matt Whitlock, editor of the TechLore.com Consumer Electronics Community (plus several other gadget-focused community websites), and lover of both technology and TV. In this column, he’ll cover a wide variety of tech topics aimed squarely at the TV addicts of the world – from tips and tricks to help you better your TV experience, to gear recommendations, to the impact technology is having on the TV shows we love.