Western Digital was one of the first storage manufacturers to enter the world of media streamers. Their latest play in the market is the WD TV Live Plus HD media player. This model attempts to provide users with all their local media, as well as thousands of videos from across the web. We have seen several similar players from Western Digital, including the WD TV HD, WD TV Mini, and the WD TV Live.

Western Digital has a vested interest in getting these devices out in the market, since users who purchase these devices are more likely to purchase Western Digital hard drives (such as the WD My Passport, My Book models, etc.). Users buy these drives in order to continually feed the content to the media device. The media player and HDD product mix support each other. In fact, it is not uncommon to see these devices sold side by side at the local Best Buy.

The most prominent differences between the WD TV Live Plus HD media player and the previous generation of WD media streamers are DVD Menu Navigation and Netflix Instant Watch capability. There are also many other desirable features on the device. The WD TV Live Plus boasts one of the broadest feature sets we have ever seen in a media streaming device, including Netflix, Youtube, Flickr, Pandora, Live365 and MediaFly, in addition to full 1080p playback in a wide variety of formats. We will be covering these advertised features and also overall compatibility in this review.

The WD TV Live Plus retails for $149.99, however can easily be found for much less (at the time of writing NewEgg has it for $119.99). At this price, the Plus is hitting the same price target as the WD TV Live  before it. The WD TV Live can now be had for $109.99 and The WD TV HD which originally retailed for $129.99 can be found for as little as $89.99. The WD TV Mini has a very limited feature set. The MSRP is $99, but it can be found for $49.99. However, the mini is almost a different class of device geared more towards portability and SD quality content.

For those looking for a high definition device, there is an effective price difference of only $30 between the lowest end device (WD TV HD) and the highest end device we are reviewing today (WD TV Live Plus HD). There is quite a bit of incentive to spend that extra $30. The bit of extra cash gets you Netflix support, Youtube, Flickr, Pandora, Network video viewing support, Windows Play to Support, DVD navigation, and extra connectivity options (component).

What's Inside the Box?
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  • Decaff - Thursday, July 29, 2010 - link

    I definately second this.
    Most of the commentaries I've seen around point to the PlayON being a far better player, though some people claim the WDTV to be better, but doesn't back it up.

    Also, the Popcorn boxes are often regarded as being superior (probably due to the higher pricetag), but I haven't seen any solid confirmation of it anywhere.

    So keep up the good work. I'm loving these articles.
    Reply
  • jo-82 - Thursday, July 29, 2010 - link

    Why would i want to let my normal machine run all the time? If i use a USB-attached one i have the mess auf more Cables and an additional device.

    Dear WD: Put a 2,5" Drivebay (Hotswappable would be nice) inside and we have a deal. Especially as a Device for Parents und and Friends...
    Reply
  • probedb - Thursday, July 29, 2010 - link

    Some of us have these things called fileservers or NAS boxes. If you want an internal drive why are you even looking at this as that's not what it's for??? Reply
  • dvinnen - Thursday, July 29, 2010 - link

    These type devices are geared toward people who have media servers (i currently use a 7 year old machine running linux and a ton of storage and it works great). Also to get you to purchase a WD external HD.

    Internal storage wouldn't work unless they added NAS functionality to it. Hot swapping drives to put media on it and bring it back to the player just sounds like a bad idea.
    Reply
  • saiga6360 - Friday, July 30, 2010 - link

    Did you happen to see the price tag? You want something like, you will have to pay more for like a Popcorn Hour or a Dune. Reply
  • Finite Loop - Thursday, July 29, 2010 - link

    I had been looking for the WD TV Live, but it was sold out everywhere and nobody had any backorders for it. I went with the AC Ryan Playon HD mini.

    It would have been nice if the article discussed playback over the LAN connection. The AC Ryan performs well over its (100Mb) LAN connection except for 1080p content where fast action scenes may exhibit block-effects. The only content the AC Ryan doesn't seem to play (whether from LAN or USB) is stereoscopic video which causes the player to freeze.

    I was hoping this WD "Plus" version would have a gigabit connection. Without gigabit, the increase in price in comparison to the previous version doesn't seem to be justified. Additionally, the AC Ryan comes with an HDMI cable which I would have had to purchase separately had I gone with a WD TV Live model.

    It's interesting the article mentions the chip(s) in the WD TV Live Plus however a comparison with chips used in other devices would be appreciated. Why does this device require 1Gigabyte of memory while the AC Ryan mini operates with only 128MB? What's the difference between the video decoding chip in this player and other players?
    Reply
  • cbutters - Thursday, July 29, 2010 - link

    You can get the WD TV Live Plus for 119 at newegg with a free 8GB thumb drive.

    I'm not entirely sure that gigabit is an important feature here, with bluray video streams maxing out at 40mbps and averaging less than 30, there seems to be little benefit of increasing the 100mbps connection to 1000 as the bandwidth would go unused. However this is something that we hope to examine further in future articles.
    Reply
  • Saltbread - Thursday, July 29, 2010 - link

    I'm assuming that the Core 100 refers to the Asrock product reviewed before and the column should actually be labled Live Plus or something like that. My apologies if I am incorrect. Reply
  • ganeshts - Thursday, July 29, 2010 - link

    This has been fixed. Thanks for pointing out. Reply
  • ned14 - Thursday, July 29, 2010 - link

    These low end media boxes mainly come with one of two chipsets: Sigma and Realtek with the former being more expensive. The problem isn't the hardware, it's more the manufacturer supplied firmware where the Sigma one is good, whereas the Realtek one was written by incompetent chimpanzees. Anyone who has used both types of box will know exactly what I mean.

    There is a brand new third option though - the Amlogic chipset. Its firmware is spartan, but due to its simplicity is seems to "just work" and it looks better than the Realtek's but not as good as the Sigma. The specs of the Amlogic I bought is detailed here at http://www.iboum.com/pr/nation2.php.

    My first problem with the WDTV Live, as with anything costing more than US$70, is that for that price it really ought to have an internal drive bay so you don't have to faff around with external USB drive solutions. My second problem is with anything costing more than US$100 when for less or even not much more you can pick up a second hand P3 based quiet computer off ebay or a second hand games console both of which are far better media playing solutions. After all, Boxee and/or XBMC can be downloaded and installed on most things, so a DIY solution is often better here.

    The only remaining argument is that these boxes are small and easily transportable e.g. to a friend's house in a way that PCs and game consoles are not. And here's my third problem with these boxes: top end smartphones are increasingly able to serve content either through HDMI or DNLA or both, and you can't beat a phone for portability.

    Now if you can pick up a tiny light box for US$70 AND it has an internal drive bay AND it can play off of a DNLA server such as a phone - e.g. the Amlogic box I bought - then you might be on to something because it can act as a simple TV driver for media living elsewhere while still having the flexibility to act as a cheap NAS box too if desired. And what few bugs it has in its firmware have been fixed quickly as they seem to be operating a quarterly firmware release schedule. Personally I have been pleasantly surprised considering the price.

    Oh, and it plays RMVB just fine. I have a huge collection of South Park in RMVB, and while they're a little blocky on my 1080p TV due to the low bitrate that is hardly the player's fault!

    Cheers,
    Niall
    Reply

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