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Western Digital TV – HD Media Player Review

These days everyone wants to be able to view all their media easily. And of course, why not, with media coming from so many places… digital cameras, video cameras, cell phones and, of course, the Internet. You also don’t want to have to physically change your DVD or Blu-Ray discs because that would be, well, not North American! 750-odd donuts a year, we Canadians eat. It has to take its toll somewhere.

But in all seriousness, playing all the different media you might have is never an easy task. Let’s look at the options some of us might have.

XBOX 360 – Somewhat capable, but suffers from codec incompatibility, no built-in WiFi, volume, and other issues. Surprisingly, the 360 ​​is reported to be able to read HFS+ (Mac) partitions which I like for various reasons, while the PS3, a product from a competing non-Apple company, cannot read HFS+ or NTFS. Even more amazing, the 360 ​​can’t read NTFS. I’d love to know what went on behind the scenes… was there a disgruntled employee who said, “Let’s stick to MS baby! HFS but not NTFS! HAHA! There!” The menu, sorry Dashboard works pretty well for a console, but not as much as a media center in my opinion. Finally, the 360 ​​just uses too much power.

Sony PlayStation 3 – Considered by many to be a good media player, it doesn’t meet with the same kind of fanfare in my house. It can’t handle MKV, although the files inside that container are generally fine for the PS3, it can’t accept files larger than 4GB, it can’t stream these kinds of videos from a PC (and even if it could, its 802.11g speeds will let it). would brake). It can also get loud/hot like the 360, and requires a lot of power. Other than that, the PS3 that has a Blu-Ray player is its saving grace. That, its Blu-Ray boot speed, and the fact that it can decode lossless formats internally make it a decent player. I even like the XMB to the point that I don’t mind using it to organize pictures and music, but since it can’t handle my MKV video collection, it unfortunately also has to get a thumbs down.

Wii- Hah. Next, I’ll talk about the capabilities of my original Game Boy’s 1080p media center.

Popcorn time: This was one of the first proper media center things that had all the required features on paper. Hard drive included, along with Wi-Fi, RSS Bit Torrenting abilities, and the ability to play MKV and high-bitrate 1080p video. The only problem is that he didn’t do it right. First-hand reports of the player stuttering, freezing, and generally not being able to play 1080p video abound.

Various other network media streamers – they all work decently well for pictures, music and even SD video, but then again, so do the 360 ​​and PS3 with TVersity. No, the real test is full-bandwidth 1080p video, and I’m afraid both the players and their meager wireless connections aren’t up to the task.

HTPC – This would be the only real solution for a long time. I even have posts detailing what they do and how to put them together. Why do these work? Because they are just computers connected to televisions. Dual-core CPUs, lots of RAM, and fancy video should make anything you can throw at them short, at least in theory. Having owned HTPCs since I was able to connect an S-video cable to my Radeon 9700 Pro in the past, I can tell you that the experience isn’t as smooth as it should be. Why? Because we are using Windows! XP Media Center Edition was just XP, and Vista has Media Center built in, so Media Center is just an application running on top. BSODs, crashes, slowdowns, and other issues will still occur, especially if you use the box for other purposes, such as downloading in the background. That, and the incredibly complex setup procedure was very annoying. Of course you have to install Vista, but then the codecs, and making sure things are converted and handled correctly, sound output via coax or toslink or HDMI as it should, and finally calibrating the video output was a chore and anything else. Most of these issues go away when using Plex with a Mac as your HTPC. It’s one of the best media center interfaces I’ve ever seen, and it’s incredibly efficient with its rendering, playing videos smoothly that it won’t in VLC or Quicktime with Perian. Still, it’s a big investment (well, it’s actually a depreciating asset, but let’s not split) to buy a full PC, and a Mac as well. Your only cosmetically acceptable option would be a Mac Mini, and its price-performance ratio It’s unheard of (in a bad way).

WD TV HD Media Player – Finally, that brings us to the subject of this review, the Western Digital TV HD Media Player. No one expected this thing, at all, at this price, and certainly not from WD. But none of that is important.

We’ve been led to believe that good things come in small packages, and it looks like this little device may be a champion of that idea. It’s impossibly small, at least to my eyes, which are used to seeing passable 1080p playback from large boxes containing massive multi-core CPU coolers that breathe hot air, suck electricity, and add to the noise and sweltering heat produced by the other components. inside that (usually) ugly box. This thing has no fans, it’s pretty green and it’s panting…it really does what it’s supposed to do! Setup couldn’t be easier, and I don’t think any AV device in history has been easier to physically set up. The power cable, the HDMI cable… and that’s it. Yes, this is the case with many other HDMI devices as well, but this one is small and only has a few connectors, so it’s very hard to mess it up. There are no physical buttons on the unit, so you turn it on with the remote. A whiter than blue LED lights up to indicate power, and if you have a USB device attached, it will blink or light, depending on whether it’s scanning the drive or ready to go. I ran into a problem early on. After setting up the easy cabling and accessing the menu, I found that it would not recognize my 1TB external hard drive. Alarmed, I immediately copied a 720p TV show onto my Patriot Xporter flash drive and plugged it in. After a few seconds of inactivity it started flickering and the videos came up. Still, if it couldn’t read 1TB hard drives, now it’s not really an effective 1080p media center, is it? I updated the firmware and it finally saw the drive. I also noticed speed improvements! Hopefully this will get better and better with each firmware update.

This baby will play just about anything digital you can find. From old school DivX encodes to the latest super high bitrate 1080p MKVs, this will handle them all. More surprisingly, she seems to have no problem reproducing them. They are not signs of struggle! I put a specially copied version of The Godfather, barely compressed from the original, taking up about 20 GB. It started playing right away, faster than my gaming pc could start playing (and it has a 4GHz Yorkfield and 8GB of RAM). VLC and other players sometimes have a lot of visual blemishes when playing high-resolution, high-bitrate videos, but there was no such macro-crash, apart from the compression present. If you haven’t heavily compressed your Blu-Ray recordings, or if you just ripped the streaming file from a Blu-Ray disc (which WILL be played!), the video will look great. The sound is as good as the Dolby Digital or DTS standard (if you’re connected via composite, it won’t decode DTS), but currently, to my knowledge, it doesn’t do DTS-MA or TrueHD.

The interface is a bit like a stripped down, vertically scrolling Sony PS3 XMB interface with Windows XP color. Sounds a bit like Windows Media Center, right? Actually, it’s no different. Although the menus are a bit simplistic, they do the job and I can’t complain much. The only problem I have with the interface is that each icon should have the corresponding text near it, not in the bottom right corner. A small inconvenience, really. The device has the ability to create libraries for you, but I disabled this feature because I have my own organizational structure on the drive, and also it seems to take forever to index a 1TB drive. One more caveat here is that you can’t do this for HFS+ formatted drives, and I think that’s because you can read them, but not write to them.

After using the device for a few hours, I can say that I am very satisfied with it. Switch between videos easily, resume videos where you left off, and never crash during playback, no matter how demanding the video file. At this point, I only have one drawback… the remote is too small for a grown man’s hands, and the buttons require a lot of effort to press. Sounds like a bit of a problem, one that can be easily resolved by using other types of remotes (programmable, Harmony, etc.). At $139 Canadian, that’s a great deal, as it can do what HTPCs can’t as reliably or quickly, for hundreds less. It also outperforms all other multimedia solutions on the market, including consoles.

I give it a 9 out of 10.

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