A HD multimedia player in a tiny package — that’s what the WD TV promises.
WALK into a home appliance store these days and you’ll be hard pressed to see traditional CRT (cathode ray tube) televisions — all TVs seem to be LCD — or plasma-based HDTVs now.
That’s all fine and good but have you noticed that unless you have a Blu-ray player, there’s just a lack of high-definition content in this country?
Well, if you’re tech savvy, that’s not a problem of course — geeks like us have been getting video podcasts, trailers and some stuff off the Internet for some time now.
The problem, of course, is how to play the files you’ve downloaded. You can easily connect a bulky PC capable of playing HD content to your HDTV, but Western Digital has a more elegant solution in the WD TV.
The WDTV is essentially a tiny dedicated multimedia player that supports a bewildering array of HD video content in addition to the usual list of music and picture file formats.
Just to give you a taste — for video, the WD TV supports MPEG1, MPEG2, MPEG4, DivX, Xvid, H.264, WMV and, most importantly, the new MKV (Matroska) file format.
Unlike most multimedia players, however, the WD TV doesn’t itself come integrated with a hard disk — instead the device comes with two USB ports, into which you can plug in any external hard disk drive or flash drive.
Apart from the standard composite RCA AV outputs, the WD TV offers HDMI output, capable of displaying 1080p video.
That rounds off quite an extensive feature set, and on paper at least, the WD TV sounds like the perfect little multimedia player for anyone looking to view HD content on a HDTV.
Setting up the WD TV couldn’t be simpler, especially if you have an HDMI cable — hook up the power, connect the HDMI cable and then turn on the device.
The menu system is reminiscent of the PlayStation3 interface, as you get a bunch of vertical and horizontal scrolling icons which are quite self explanatory.
STANDARD: The small remote control supplied with the WD TV is easy to understand.
If you have a USB storage device, just copy the files into it and then connect it to the WD TV which will then scan the files on it and update itself accordingly.
The WD TV supports thumbnails and you should be able to see a list of thumbnails when you go into the video or audio category.
The supplied remote control is a pretty standard affair, with all the usual playback and navigation buttons.
The only issue I had right off the bat is that the infrared coverage is rather limited on the remote.
You really have to point the remote quite directly at the WD TV for it to work and even then the time between pressing the button and the WD TV responding is relatively long.
As far as video playback is concerned, the WD TV worked flawlessly for MPEG, DivX, Xvid and QuickTime files, and we had no issues with those.
However, with MKV files, which is the most popular container for high-definition video files these days, we found that some played fine while others played without any audio.
A little investigation into the issue and we found the reason — apparently, the WD TV can’t decode MKV files with DTS or Dolby Digital encoded digital audio tracks.
We also had some hiccups with out of sync audio in certain MKV files but those could be due to poorly-encoded videos rather than the WD TV’s hardware.
Anyway, we solved most of the problems when we updated the WD TV’s firmware to the latest one, especially for MKV files.
JUST PLUG IN: The WD TV comes with USB ports, analogue video and audio outputs as well as a digital HDMI port and optical digital output for audio.
The operative word here is “most” as the update fixed a lot of issues with audio but still could not play digital surround audio and still experienced some choppy video playback with some MKV files.
On the upside, the WD TV comes shipped with video conversion software that can convert most of these files into a format that the hardware can play so any issues should be easily solved if you have the time and a relatively powerful PC for transcoding audio.
It may look like the review is a bit critical of the WD TV, but in fact it’s a really great device.
For one thing, the WD TV is a more elegant (and cheaper) solution to view HD content on your HDTV than using a full-blown PC which is not only bulkier but tends to consume more power than the WD TV.
That, along with a wireless remote control and support for a wide variety of video and audio file formats makes it a real winner.
Now, if only Western Digital would update the WD TV with a gigabit ethernet port so I can stream video across my network, and perhaps better audio decoding support, then it would be a perfect solution for me.
The WD TV is worth a serious look if you’re looking for a HD video player for your HDTV.
Pros: Support for many media formats; small and light; HDMI output.
Cons: Audio support for MKV files still needs work; support for media streaming in a home network would be nice.
(Western Digital Corp)
HD multimedia player
Supported file formats: 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, MOV
Interface: HDMI, Composite AV, USB 2.0 Dimensions: 12.5 x 10 x 4.0cm (W X H X D)