Rating 3 In My 360 Review Do.I.Leave The.Company Western Digital TV – HD Media Player Review

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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 swap your DVDs or Blu-Rays because that would be, well, not North American! 750-something donuts a year, we Canadians eat. She has to take a 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 that some of us may have.

XBOX 360 – Somewhat capable, but suffers from codec incompatibility, no built-in WiFi, loudness and other issues. Amazingly, the 360 ​​is reported to be able to read HFS+ partitions (Mac) which I like for a number of reasons, while the PS3, a product of a non-Apple competitor company, cannot read HFS+ or NTFS. Even better still, the 360 ​​can’t read NTFS. I wish I knew what happened behind the scenes… there was a disgruntled employee(s) who said, “let’s stick with MS man baby! HFS but no NTFS!! HAHA! There!” The menu, sorry, Dashboard works pretty well for a console, but not so much in my opinion as a media center. Finally, the 360 ​​just uses too much darn power.

Sony PlayStation 3 – Considered a good media player by many, it doesn’t meet the same kind of fanfare in my house. It can’t handle MKVs, even if the files within that container are generally OK for the PS3, you can’t take files larger than 4GB, you can’t stream these types of videos from a PC (and even if it could, its 802.11g speeds hold it back). Also you can get loud/hot like the 360, and get a lot of power. Apart from that, the PS3 having a Blu-Ray player is its saving grace. That, its Blu-Ray boot up speed and the fact that it can decode the lossless formats internally make it a decent player. I even like the XMB to a point where I don’t mind using it for organizing pictures and music, but since it can’t handle my MKV video collection, it also, unfortunately, must receive a thumbs down.

Wii – Hah. I’ll discuss the 1080p media center capabilities of my original Game Boy next.

Popcorn Hour – This was one of the first proper media center things that had all the necessary features on paper. Hard drive, included, along with WiFi, RSS Bit Torrenting skills and the ability to play MKVs and 1080p video with a high bit rate. The only problem is that he didn’t do it well. First-hand reports abound of the player stuttering, freezing, and generally sucking in playing back 1080p video.

Various other network media streamers – These all work fine for pictures, music and even SD video, but then again, so do the 360 ​​and PS3 with TVersity. Nay, the real test is full-bandwidth 1080p video, and I’m afraid how many players and their skimpy wireless connections are not up to the job.

HTPC – This will 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 videos should make short work of anything you can throw at them, at least in theory. Having owned HTPCs since I was able to connect an S-video cable to my Radeon 9700 Pro back in the day, I can tell you that the experience is not as seamless 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 that runs on top. BSODs, freezes, slowdowns and other issues will still occur, especially if you use the box for other purposes, such as background downloads. That, and the incredibly complex setup procedure was seriously annoying. You have to of course install Vista, but then the codecs, and make sure that things are being converted and handled properly, the sound is coming out via coax or toslink or HDMI properly, and then finally you calibrate the output of -video was a chore and then some. Most of these problems go away when you use Plex with a Mac as your HTPC. It’s one of the best media center frontends I’ve seen, and it’s incredibly efficient with its processing, video playback back smoothly that won’t in VLC or Quicktime with Perian. Still, it’s quite an investment (well, it’s actually a depreciating asset, but let’s not split hairs) to buy a full PC, and that too a Mac. Your only aesthetically acceptable option would be a Mac Mini, and their price-performance ratio is unheard of (in a bad way).

WD TV HD Media Player – Finally, this brings us to the item this review is about, the Western Digital TV HD Media Player. Nobody was expecting this thing, at all, at this price, and certainly not from WD. But none of that matters.

We’ve been led to believe that good things come in small packages, and it seems that this little device may be a proponent of that idea. It’s unbelievably small, at least to my eyes, which are used to seeing acceptable 1080p playback from large boxes containing massive coolers on multi-core CPUS that breathe hot air, suck electricity down and increase with the racket and sweltering heat produced by the other components inside that (usually) ugly box. This thing has no fans, it’s pretty green and gasp…it actually does what it’s supposed to! Setup couldn’t be easier, and I think no AV device in history has been easier to set up, physically. The power cable, the HDMI cable… and it’s done. Yes, this is also the case with many other HDMI devices, but this thing is tiny, and has only a few jacks, so it is very difficult to mess it up. There are no physical buttons on the unit, so it is turned on by the remote. A whiter-than-blue LED lights up for power, and if you have a USB device plugged in, it will flash or light up, depending on whether it’s scanning the drive or ready to go. I ran into a problem early on. After setting up the easy cables and entering the menu, I found that it would not recognize my 1 TB 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 flashing and the videos came out. Anyway, if it doesn’t read 1 TB hard drives, it’s not really an effective 1080p media center now, is it? I updated the firmware, and then finally saw the drive. I noticed an improvement in speed too! Hopefully this thing gets better and better with each firmware update.

This baby will play almost anything digital you can find. From old-school DivX encodings to the latest super-high-bitrate 1080p MKVs, it will handle them all. More surprisingly, he seems to have no problem playing them. They are no signs of a fight! I sent a specially ripped version of the Godfather, hardly compressed from the original, which takes about 20 GB. It started playing right away, faster than my gaming computer can start playing it (which has a 4 GHz Yorkfield and 8GB of RAM). VLC and other players sometimes have a lot of visual imperfections playing a video with a high bit rate at a high resolution, but there was no such macroblock, apart from any present from the compression. If you have not compressed your Blu-Ray RIPs much, or, you’ve just copied the stream file from a Blu-Ray disc (which WILL play!), the video will look superb. The sound is as good as standard Dolby Digital or DTS (if you’re connected via composite, though it won’t decode DTS), but currently, it doesn’t do DTS-MA or TrueHD as far as I know.

The interface is somewhat like a simplified interface, vertical scrolling Windows XP-color Sony PS3 XMB. Sounds a bit like Windows Media Center, right? It is not different from it actually. Although the menus are a bit simplistic, they do the job and I can’t complain too much. The only issue I have with the interface is that each icon should have the corresponding text next to it, not down in the lower right corner. Small niggle, really. The device has the ability to create libraries for you, but I disabled this feature since I have my own organizational structure on the drive, and also, it seems to take forever to index a 1 TB drive. Another caveat here is that you can’t do it for HFS + formatted drives, and I think it’s because it 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 them off, and never get stuck during playback, no matter how demanding the video file is. At this point, I only have one niggle… the remote is too small for adult male hands, and the buttons require a lot of effort to push. Sounds like a small issue, which can be easily solved using other types of remotes (programmable, Harmony etc.). For $139 Canadian, this is a great deal as it can do what HTPCs can’t do reliably or quickly, for hundreds less. It also trumps every other media solution on the market, including consoles.

I give it a 9 out of 10.

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