Western Digital WDTV Media Player Review
Here we have the Western Digital WDTV Media Player. The mini-review and pictures here will hopefully explain what this box does and might be of some interest to you if you're thinking of buying a media player like this.
For ages I've been after some kind of device to store all my music as my 1000+ CD collection has been taking up far too much space. The Western Digital WDTV Media Player shown here solved the problem. The box itself doesn't actually store any of the music or video, but instead plays the music, video and pictures from USB mass storage devices that you plug into it. This is an alternative solution to some other media players which include their own internal hard disk. The WDTV's plug-in USB hard disk method is great because you can quickly whip the hard disk out and plug it into your computer to update it with new pictures, music or videos. You can also easily plug in a USB memory stick or camera into one of the two USB slots, which can even be used simultaneously.
The WDTV works with any external USB hard drive, but I chose to buy a Western Digital MyPassport hard disk to go with the WDTV as it has the same stylish piano-black look. Also, the Western Digital MyPassport drives don't require an extra power adapter, instead getting their power from the USB cable. Fortunately the WDTV is silent, as it has no fans or moving parts. The MyPassport drives, if you choose to use it with one of those, are almost silent too.
The WDTV supports full 1080p HD output, or composite output. I've tested a great many different videos and the WDTV plays almost all of them. Occasionally I come across one that works on mplayer on the computer and not on the WDTV, but very rarely. Recent full HD movies in MKV format look absolutely superb.
The manual states that the unit supports "MPEG1/2/4, WMV9, AVI (MPEG4, Xvid, AVC), H.264, MKV, MOV (MPEG4, H.264), MTS, TP, TS". You can pause, fast forward and rewind, and if you press the forward skip or reverse skip buttons when fastforwarding or rewinding, the unit skips ten minutes at a time. This makes it much less painful when trying to skip to the middle of a long film! However, the WDTV does resume playback if you stop playback in the middle of video, even if you turn the unit off.
The WDTV produces excellent audio quality, with almost no hiss. It plays loads of audio formats, including WMA and OGG. I toyed with the idea of ripping my music collection to OGG, as this offers better compression, but decided to stick with MP3 for compatibility. Apparently the WDTV does play FLAC lossless audio files too, although I haven't tried this myself. The player does introduce quite a long gap in between tracks, which can be annoying on mix albums or albums where tracks blend into one another. The WDTV shows album art, but in my experience is a bit quirky and seems to work intermittently. Even though I've used the same software to rip the MP3s, and embed the album art into the files, some of the album art is missing on the WDTV, for no reason I can see.
The media browser is quite simple but lets you browse music by album, artist, directory etc. This is quite versatile, but it's only practical to browse through music in directory mode when you have large amounts of music stored on the hard drive. I have some 5,000+ mp3 files stored on mine, and it's almost impossible to scroll down the list of say, artists, to find a particular artist. You can't jump to a certain letter of the alphabet. It doesn't help that scrolling is painfully slow through the lists. Using directory view, which is basically a view of the files on the hard disk, is much faster to navigate though. I'd recommend using this method, as long as you have your music collection correctly stored in album folders, and tracks numbered correctly. Most automated audio ripping programs such as Windows Media Player or Grip will do this for you anyway. You can also search the library, if you can be bothered to type words with the remote control.
Overall, I've been really pleased with the Western Digital WDTV Media Player. The main problems are that the unit is very slow to react to the remote control in certain conditions. But the output quality is superb, and the user interface is very slick and modern. It's a nice looking thing, and is probably slightly smaller that a pile of 3 or 4 DVDs. Some units like this can have very un-professional user interfaces, and cheapo remotes, but the WDTV is a quality piece of kit. I'd recommend it.
WDTV For Nerds
Western Digital have been very good with releasing new firmwares for the WDTV which include new features and updates. If you're a bit of a nerd/hacker, it's possible to install customised firmwares on the WDTV. There are firmwares out there that add the ability for the WDTV to use a USB WiFi dongle! This opens up all sorts of possibilities, including FTP access, telnet over the wireless network. This is a big plus point for the WDTV in my opinion! There is also a large community with forums dedicated to the WDTV usits.
Note: The review above is of a 1st Generation WDTV unit.