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Western Digital WD TV HD Media Player Review

Western Digital WD TV HD Media Player
“When small screens just doesn't deliver, the WD TV HD Media Player makes the transition from small to big screen seamless.”
Pros
  • Insanely easy setup; works for Mac and PC users; provides great audio playback; photos and video are incredibly sharp.
Cons
  • Doesn't have love for DRM content; no HDMI cable included.

Summary

With so much digital media available at our fingertips, the computer has become a trusty companion when it comes to content management. It may be busting at the seams, but it’s a nice alternative for those that don’t have thousands of dollars to plunk down on a dedicated media server. Now the only problem is how to enjoy that entertainment.

You could curl up on the couch or office chair and experience everything right on your desktop. However, unless you’re the type to hook a 60-inch screen up to your PC, stuff can often get a bit lost in the translation. For those times when the small screen just doesn’t deliver the goods, the WD TV HD Media Player wants to make the transition from small to big screen pretty seamless.

Features and Design

Western Digital’s WD TV HD The best part about the WD TV is that it doesn’t ask much of your already overcrowded A/V cabinet. The unit’s small (3.94 x 4.92 x 1.57 inches) enclosure is compact enough to stuff to the side of any device, or behind it when not in use. It’s also no slouch in the looks department, either. The black unit is slick and stocky, mirroring the look of one of Western Digital’s hard drive units.

On the front, there are no controls, only a simple white LED to show power. The back keeps things clutter-free as well, with only the power jack, a USB port, an HDMI port, a Toslink audio port and composite jacks. Western Digital sent us its My Passport Essential drive to use with the device, but you won’t be so lucky. You will need an external unit such as this one or WD’s My Book. Just don’t expect to shove any USB drive in there. We tried an iPod, which played our audio, but said we needed to format the existing video. Another USB stick was not kind to us at all either, causing a system crash that could only be remedied by taking out the power altogether. 

Aside from adding a hard drive, you will need an HDMI cable if that’s the route you want (and the one we recommend). We’ve seen complaints that the unit doesn’t come with the HDMI cable, but how many devices do? A few things that it does come with include a power cable, a quick setup guide, a software CD, and composite cables, so you can start playing right out of the box. The software includes ArcSoft Media Converter

Western Digital’s WD TV HD
Image Courtesy of Western Digital

When it came to setup, the WD TV was basic plug and play. A monkey could set this thing up—all while roller skating and smoking a cigar. Plug in the power, hook up your HDMI cable and you’re almost in business. Assuming you have a separate hard drive, it’s probably already loaded with digital goodies. Most should be ready for viewing/listening right out of the gate. Just hook the hard drive’s USB cable into the WD TV box and start salivating.

And salivate you will, because there is some slight waiting involved while the WD TV scans through everything on the hard drive. It’s not go-make-a-sandwich painful, but depending on how packed your unit is, it can take a few minutes.

Once the hard drive is recognized, you can access music, videos and photos all from the menu on-screen. However, we did experience a few quirks. For instance, when using the iPod as our source, the WD TV changed all of the titles, making it a bit cumbersome to cruise through music. Somehow “ghie.m4a” was a more appealing name than “Grandmaster Flash.” Fortunately, if you have album artwork, you should be able to browse that way. It was sort of annoying, however, especially during playback, when it listed the next song as some complete gibberish.

Playback of all of the content was great overall, though. Music sounded excellent, and both photos and videos were sharp. No worries about anything getting washed out or stretched; the unit handled the transfer perfectly. In a few cases, we were unable to play home video or sound was missing. However, it was nothing that a little ArcSoft converter software couldn’t fix. Just don’t expect the software to cure everything that ails you. Western Digital states right on the side of the box that is does not support downloads from iTunes, Cinema Now, Movielink, Amazon Unbox and/or Vongo.

Navigating through the each of the screens was also fairly easy. However, we did need to consult the manual when it came to browsing through photos, as we didn’t really understand some of the option icons. The unit allows you to view individual folders as a slideshow. Another nice option was being able to playback any of the hard drive’s music during the photo viewing; you don’t have to choose one over the other.

Conclusion

Sure, no one needs the WD TV. Non-techies probably won’t see a need, and those amassing a fortune in digital content will likely prefer an Apple TV, VUDU or other set-top device. If not, well… they always seem to manage to get content to the TV, even without a dedicated go-between. Still, if you just want to share the occasional song or photo with a group of friends, the WD TV is easy to use and doesn’t ask you to sacrifice a lot of space—or, cheerfully, a lot of your A/V budget.

Western Digital’s WD TV HD Media Player
Image Courtesy of Western Digital

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