Western Digital TV

If you're anything like me, that previously huge pile of DVDs in your living room is constantly shrinking, parallel to the growing number of media files stored on your PC.

NameMedia player: Western Digital TV
Summary:Perhaps the first media player that delivers on all promises, highly recommended.
Rating:4.5/5
RRP:$299
Contact:wdc.com

If you’re anything like me, that previously huge pile of DVDs in your living room is constantly shrinking, parallel to the growing number of media files stored on your PC. Accessing that PC-based media from your TV has been possible for some time, but the hassle of setting up a media PC or simpler media centre has put it in the enthusiasts’ domain. However, Western Digital’s new WD TV looks set to challenge the status quo. The WD TV is a media player that plays files stored on whatever external storage you use, from thumb drives to portable hard drives to powered terabyte drives.

The WD TV (which wins our logical product name of the year award) is an unassuming looking box, measuring 40 x 100 x 125mm. At the back you’ll find ports for power, HDMI, USB and composite connections, plus an additional USB port on the side. Two USB ports means you can have the WD TV connected to a large hard drive while also using your thumb drive to quickly transport and watch media.

Using the included remote control – a small and simple little thing – you navigate through the built-in menu. There’s no software to install and no setup necessary; the WD TV will work straight out of the box. The menu is intuitive, easy to use and looks great. A sleek interface gives you access to your different media, be it music, photos or movies. My only gripe with the system is that it’s a bit sluggish at times, meaning there’s a delay from when you push the button on your remote to when action happens onscreen. You can browse your storage by file types or, as I prefer, by its original folder structure.

The WD TV is capable of recognising almost every format under the sun, with very few exceptions; MP3, WMA, OGG, WAV/PCM/LPCM, AAC, FLAC, Dolby Digital, AIF/AIFF, MKA, JPEG, GIF, TIF/TIFF, BMP, PNG, MPEG1/2/4, WMV9, AVI (MPEG4, Xvid, AVC), H.264, MKV and MOV (MPEG4, H.264).

A recent patch to the system upgraded the MKV support for subtitles and chapters, as well as now recognising MTS (the file extension for the AVCHD video format used in digital camcorders from companies such as Sony, Canon, and Panasonic), and TS and TP (MPEG transport stream files from ripped DVDs). The patch also fixed some minor bugs.

Importantly, the device automatically converts files into the intended ratio, which means you don’t get any annoying stretch effect when watching a 4:3 video on a widescreen display. Because it supports full HD, you can watch AVCHD files and ripped Blu-ray movies in all their glory, and the aforementioned version update also added support for 1080p24 (24 frames per second).

WD has bundled a stand for their own Passport series of portable storage, but most USB storage devices will work. The design of the WD TV means it will fit in well in any home theatre, and the relatively low price point puts it within reach of videophiles and inexperienced home users alike. The size makes it a decent travel companion as well, great if you’re heading overseas and want to show off some home videos and photos.

The WD TV is one of the better media players I’ve tested, and what it lacks in extra features it more than makes up for in price, design, usability and format friendliness.

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Jan Birkeland

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