File playback over a network; component video output; improved file compatibility over the first WD TV.
No DRM-encrypted file support; time-consuming directory navigation; not ideal for music playback.
High-definition video files were meant to be seen on big-screen televisions, not your 19-inch PC monitor. But getting these files—either personally ripped from high-def sources or downloaded from the Internet—from your desktop to the living room has always been a cumbersome process. Users previously had the option of streaming over a network to devices like the Xbox 360 or PlayStation 3, which have restrictive file compatibility, or they could use a dedicated video player like Western Digital’s WD TV, which could only play back files from attached USB drives. The new WD TV Live, however, comes with a much-needed Ethernet port, and along with the addition of other new hardware and software features, is the best video streamer we’ve tested yet.
Like its predecessor, the WD TV Live doesn’t actually store any media. Plug portable hard drives filled with your movies, music, and photos into the player’s two USB ports and it’ll output the content to your home theater via either an HDMI, composite, or component video connection (also added since the original design). And while the first WD TV supported a host of popular file types, format compatibility on this successor is even more impressive. In our tests, high-bitrate 1080p videos encoded with MPEG, Xvid, H.264, or WMV codecs played without a hitch, even when housed in a variety of file containers, like Matroska MKVs. You can also play videos with multiple audio tracks, soft subtitles, and even DTS audio—a big omission in the last iteration. We only ran into problems on a few occasions, most notably with WMV 9–encoded files that wouldn’t play audio, and raw video recorded from high-end digital cameras.