Beginning with this review, we are changing the presentation of our media streamer test suite results. We have updated the suite with 3D streams and also added full Blu-ray disc backups in ISO and folder format. The first aspect we will cover is container compatibility. In the tables below, it is evident we have put more stress on Blu-ray ISOs and folder structures compared to DVDs. DVD menu and folder support is pretty mature in almost all media streamers. However, Blu-rays are a different story altogether. New features (such as 3D support) keep getting added to the core specifications. In order to understand the Blu-ray rows in the tables below, we will first look at the different types of Blu-rays in existence.

Blu-ray Profiles

The earliest Blu-rays all conformed to Profile 1.0. These contained the main movie in HD and some optional extra features accessible through the main menu. Starting in November 2007, Profile 1.1 Blu-rays added Bonus View to the mix. These Blu-rays included PiP (Picture-in-Picture) streams. The rise of network enabled Blu-ray players came about due to the introduction of Profile 2.0 Blu-rays which included BD-Live capabilities. With BD-Live, users could watch downloaded content related to the Blu-ray movie (including trailers of upcoming movies from the studios) and also interact with other watchers over the Internet. Local storage is also necessary for Blu-ray players supporting this profile. 3D Blu-rays have started gaining traction over the last couple of years. Despite have a separate profile (Profile 5.0), not all 3D Blu-rays seem to fall under this profile. My general observation has been that Blu-rays which indicate an MVC encoding in their jacket fall under Profile 5.0, but 3D Blu-rays which just indicate AVC tend to not care about the profile supported by the player.

Another irksome aspect of media players supporting BD-Lite or some other similar form of Blu-ray support is the unpredictable behavior of titles with seamless branching. In this case, multiple versions of the movie are spread over multiple M2TS files and different playlists have different orderings set up to represent the multiple versions.

The table below summarizes our Blu-ray test suite:

Blu-ray Test Suite
Aspect ISO Folder Structure
Profile 1.0 What's Up Doc? Step Into Liquid
Profile 1.1 The Hangover Band of Brothers (Disc 1)
Profile 2.0 2012 Public Enemies
Profile 5.0 Alice in Wonderland 3D Ice Age 3: Dawn of the Dinosaurs 3D
3D (Non-Profile 5.0) Coraline 3D Monsters Vs. Aliens 3D
Seamless Branching A Bug's Life Avatar Collectors Edition

The entire test suite was run off a hard disk connected directly to the streamer. For the A.C.Ryan PlayOn!HD2, this disk was put in the internal slot. For the Netgear NeoTV 550, we connected the disk over eSATA. For the Boxee Box, the disk was conenected as an external USB drive.

Container Compatibility Details
A.C.Ryan PlayOn!HD2
Firmware Version v9.5.3.r5440
Container Notes
DVD Menus Supported
ISO Supported
Folder Structures Supported
Blu-ray ISO Selectively Supported (Refer Profile Limitations Below)
Folder Structures Selectively Supported (Refer Profile Limitations Below)
BD Profile 1.0 Supported with Menus (if BD-Lite option is turned on)1
BD Profile 1.1 (Bonus View / PiP) Plays with No Menus, PiP Unavailable1
BD Profile 2.0 (BD Live) Plays with No Menus, BD Live Unavailable1
BD Profile 5.0 (3D) Plays in 2D without Menus1
Non-BD Profile 5.0 3D Blu-rays Play in 2D without Menus1
Seamless Branching Doesn't Work (Longest Playlist Chosen unless Profile 1.0 BD)
MKV Supported Video Codecs: H.264, VC-1, MPEG-2, MPEG-4 (DivX / XViD)
Supported Audio Codecs: AC3, DTS, DTS-HD HR2, FLAC, AAC, MP3, LPCM
Supported Embedded Subtitles: SRT, ASS/SSA (PGS Not Supported)
Multiple Video Tracks Supported
Multiple Audio Tracks Supported
Multiple Subtitle Tracks Supported
Chapters Supported (Chapter Names Not Supported)
Header Compression Supported
MKV3D (Stereoscopic Flag) Not Supported
Half SBS / TAB 3D Plays Back with Manual TV Mode Change
M2TS Supported Video Codecs: H.264, VC-1, MPEG-2
Supported Audio Codecs: AC3, Dolby Digital Plus, Dolby TrueHD, DTS, DTS-HD MA, DTS-HD HR, LPCM
Supported Embedded Subtitles: PGS
AVI / DivX Supported Video Codecs: MPEG-4 (XviD / DivX), MJPEG
Supported Audio Codecs: AC3, MP3, PCM
SBS 3D AVIs Don't Autoswitch
MP4 / M4V Supported Video Codecs: H.264
Supported Audio Codecs: AAC
Miscellaneous Containers DVR-MS Not Supported
TRP Supported
WTV Not Supported
MTS and TS Supported
M2V Not Supported
1 Audio tracks sometime go silent when playing ISO or folder structure, but navigating to the M2TS file and playing that is flawless
2 HD Audio support in MKV is very unreliable, and doesn't work most of the time (especially when HDMI Audio is set to passthrough for bitstreaming)

 

Container Compatibility Details
Netgear NTV550
Firmware Version 3.2.16NA
Container Notes
DVD Menus Supported
ISO Supported1
Folder Structures Supported1
Blu-ray ISO Selectively Supported (Refer Profile Limitations Below)
Folder Structures Selectively Supported (Refer Profile Limitations Below)
BD Profile 1.0 Supported with Menus
BD Profile 1.1 (Bonus View / PiP) Plays with Menus, PiP Available
BD Profile 2.0 (BD Live) Plays with Menus, BD Live Available2
BD Profile 5.0 (3D) Doesn't Play
Non-BD Profile 5.0 3D Blu-rays Play in 2D with Menus
Seamless Branching Works Perfectly
MKV Supported Video Codecs: H.264, VC-1, MPEG-2, MPEG-4 (DivX / XViD)
Supported Audio Codecs: AC3, Dolby Digital Plus3, Dolby TrueHD3, DTS, DTS-HD MA, DTS-HD HR, FLAC, AAC, MP3, LPCM
Supported Embedded Subtitles: SRT, SUB, PGS, ASS/SSA
Multiple Video Tracks Not Supported
Multiple Audio and Subtitle Tracks Supported
Forced Subtitle Tracks Supported (with manual selection)
Named Chapters Supported
Header Compression Supported
MKV3D (Stereoscopic Flag) Not Supported
Half SBS / TAB 3D Plays Back with Manual TV Mode Change
M2TS4 Supported Video Codecs: H.264, VC-1, MPEG-2
Supported Audio Codecs: AC3, Dolby Digital Plus, Dolby TrueHD, DTS, DTS-HD MA, DTS-HD HR, LPCM
Supported Embedded Subtitles: PGS
AVI / DivX Supported Video Codecs: MPEG-4 (XviD / DivX)
Supported Audio Codecs: AC3, MP3, PCM
SBS 3D AVIs Don't Autoswitch
MP45 / M4V Supported Video Codecs: H.264
Supported Audio Codecs: AAC
Miscellaneous Containers DVR-MS Supported
WTV and TRP Not Supported
TS and MTS Supported
M2V Not Supported
1 Many of the ISOs and folder structures in my media library played without issues, but our test suite ISO and folder structures failed to play back correctly (the menu title took us back to the main screen)
2 Usage of BD Live features sometime tend to lock up the system requiring a hard reboot
3 Support for some of the HD audio codecs in MKV containers is not reliable. Works sometimes, sends static to the AV receiver on other occassions.
4 The M2TS splitter has some issues with H.264/AC3 content as described in this bug reported against another Sigma based media streamer.
5 Many of the MP4s in my media library played without issues, but one of the MP4s in our test suite played back with audio only (blank video)

 

Container Compatibility Details
D-Link Boxee Box
Firmware Version v1.2.2.20482
Container Notes
DVD Menus Supported
ISO Supported
Folder Structures Supported
Blu-ray ISO Selectively Supported (Refer Profile Limitations Below)
Folder Structures Selectively Supported (Refer Profile Limitations Below)
BD Profile 1.0 Plays without Menus
BD Profile 1.1 (Bonus View / PiP) Plays with No Menus, PiP Unavailable
BD Profile 2.0 (BD Live) Plays with No Menus, BD Live Unavailable
BD Profile 5.0 (3D) Plays without Menus
Non-BD Profile 5.0 3D Blu-rays Play in 2D without Menus
Seamless Branching Doesn't Work (Longest Playlist Chosen)
MKV Supported Video Codecs: H.264, VC-1, MPEG-2, MPEG-4 (DivX / XViD)
Supported Audio Codecs: AC3, Dolby Digital Plus, Dolby TrueHD, DTS, DTS-HD MA, DTS-HD HR, FLAC, AAC, MP3, LPCM
Supported Embedded Subtitles: SRT, SUB, PGS, ASS/SSA
Multiple Video Tracks Not Supported
Multiple Audio and Subtitle Tracks Supported
Forced Subtitle Tracks Supported
Named Chapters Supported
Header Compression Supported
MKV3D (Stereoscopic Flag) Not Supported
Half SBS / TAB 3D Plays Back with Manual TV Mode Change
M2TS1 Supported Video Codecs: H.264, VC-1, MPEG-2
Supported Audio Codecs: AC3, Dolby Digital Plus, Dolby TrueHD, DTS, DTS-HD MA, DTS-HD HR, LPCM
Supported Embedded Subtitles: PGS
AVI / DivX Supported Video Codecs: MPEG-4 (XviD / DivX), MJPEG (upto SD Resolution)
Supported Audio Codecs: AC3, MP3, PCM
SBS 3D AVIs Don't Autoswitch
MP4 / M4V Supported Video Codecs: H.264
Supported Audio Codecs: AAC
Miscellaneous Containers DVR-MS Supported
TRP Supported
WTV Supported
TS and MTS Supported
M2V Supported
1 The M2TS splitter has some issues with H.264/AC3 content as described in this bug reported against another Sigma based media streamer.

 

Setup, User Interface and Jukebox Capabilities Video Codec Support
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  • Methusela - Sunday, November 20, 2011 - link

    What is a media streamer roundup without the latest WDTV? Just because you had another Sigma-based design from a different company? WD is the market leader in sales for network media tanks/streamers. Reply
  • loox - Sunday, November 20, 2011 - link

    Surprised here, as well. I honestly believe that there is no way the WDTV has been tested extensively by Anandtech (or else it'd be here).

    Like the folks at Anandtech, I too have spent YEARS finding a decent solution to playing multiple media formats on my HDTV, beginning with Lacie's Silverstream device.
    Ultimately, I settled on the WDTV (gen 1), then the Plus, and sticking with the WDTV Live.

    It just works. It works with my TV, my HDTV, hotel room TV's, My friends TV, My Parents TV (its very portable), HDMI, HDMI w/ Optical audio out, 7 ch. PCM, Bitstream Passthrough, Component HD, Composite SD, my Sony Amplifier/Receiver, DTS, DD, can stream DNLA content, as well as the iTunes server content on my WD My Book World Edition. Blu-ray ISO's, DVD ISO's, WMV, AVI, MP4, MKV, and the list goes on.

    It also supports Windows 7's PlayTo functionality and streams Netflix and other online content in HD with considerable less buffering/lag than any other solution.

    My conclusion is that at this moment, for watching (or listening to) media on a Television set (not so much internet browsing) the only superior solution to a WDTV Live is a good HTPC or quite laptop with recent hardware.
    Reply
  • Souka - Tuesday, November 22, 2011 - link

    I have a networked Brite-View unit....great product except for the interface....kinda basic.

    but that being said, I've been able to play pretty much any video file I've tossed at it.
    Friends with WD units have compatibility issues with various files, but I don't.

    I'm not a huge video watcher....except when I'm bettween jobs..heh

    my $.02
    Reply
  • ganeshts - Sunday, November 20, 2011 - link

    This review is primarily meant to finish up coverage of the review units we have had for a long time. The WDTV Live Hub has been extensively tested and reviewed here:

    http://www.anandtech.com/show/3990/western-digital...

    In addition, the WD TV Live Streaming Media Player has been with us for the last 1 month or so. Still some pending issues to fix up in that player, and I am waiting for a stable firmware from WD before reviewing it.
    Reply
  • jonyah - Monday, November 28, 2011 - link

    Funny, I think the same thing, but replace WDTV with PopcornHour. There is no match for the latest PCH (now the A-300). WDTV just seems like a little plastic toy box in comparison. Yes it's twice as expensive, but with that you get something that supports everything, integrates with IMDB, has apps addons, etc. Reply
  • pseudo7 - Sunday, November 20, 2011 - link

    Nice round up, though it would be nice to XBMC in the review round up (especially after next release).
    There are number a commercially available boxes:
    http://www.pulse-eight.com/store/

    Plus shed light on a nice opensource project
    Reply
  • kolepard - Sunday, November 20, 2011 - link

    Agree. XBMC is a fantastic piece of work, and I'd love to see it compared in the roundup. The Boxee software is based on XBMC, and one of the reasons I purchased a Boxee was that they support the XBMC project. Reply
  • Rainman200 - Sunday, November 20, 2011 - link

    Well those are PC's not really off the shelf boxes, XBMC is getting there though to a point were a set top box running XBMC is viable.

    The Arm linux port of XBMC is making progress and Sigma Designs are porting XBMC too so in the future you might see XBMC powered players like a WDTV Live that use it for GUI rendering and jukebox creation.

    Hopefully the Pulse Eight guys can cook up an low cost Arm set top box that runs XBMC.
    Reply
  • pseudo7 - Sunday, November 20, 2011 - link

    Hmm The pulse eight box seems "off the shelf" as there is no assemble required.
    Also you can get the xtreamer ultra with openelec preinstalled (and hense XBMC)
    Reply
  • Boopop - Monday, November 21, 2011 - link

    I concur, I've been a fan of XBMC since the early days when it was only available on the original Xbox. It would be nice to see how the people here think it compares! Reply

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