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Western Digital WD TV Live
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Western Digital WD TV Live - 22-November-2009, 05:52

We reviewed Western Digital's first media player, the WD TV, almost a year ago. It stood the test of time well, appearing regularly as one of our Editor's Choices. Now we've got our hands on this updated model, although you'd be hard pressed to tell the difference at first glance.

The WD TV Live retains the original's diminutive size and minimalist design - both of which are good things. Like its predecessor, it's completely silent in operation too, a major plus for a living room-based device. The most significant change is on the rear, with the addition of an Ethernet port. The original WD TV only played files from USB storage devices, but this updated version can stream content from other devices on your network or from a selection of popular websites.

This hugely expanded functionality has necessitated a new menu system. Thankfully, it's as clearly presented and easy on the eye as the original's, and is controlled with the same neat little remote control. The layout is reminiscent of the XrossMediaBar on Sony's PlayStation 3 console. You select from Video, Photo or Audio options, and are then offered a range of sources for each type.

The WD TV Live can play video files from local storage devices through its two USB ports. You can access files from UPnP and DLNA media servers on your network, or from shared folders on PCs or network storage devices. The list of supported files is comprehensive, and includes every container, codec and subtitle format you're ever likely to need. The only disappointment is that fast forward and rewind are limited to 16x speeds. It supports playback resume, so you can continue watching your movie from where you left it.

You can also view videos from YouTube. The interface for this looks great, with easy access to videos in various categories, such as top rated, recently posted and recommended. You can also log in to watch videos from your own account. The WD TV Live plays HD videos too, and selects the highest quality version automatically. The only downside is that entering search terms with the remote and onscreen keyboard is painstaking.

You can access photos from the same range of sources as videos, with a Flickr option replacing YouTube for web content. You can browse photos by folder or date, and the 10 onscreen thumbnails make this easy. There are lots of slideshow options, and it even picked up the EXIF rotation data from cameras that support this, automatically displaying portrait photos in the correct aspect.

There's no support for protected audio formats, but otherwise codec support is excellent, and it recognises PLS, M3U and WPL playlists. You can browse by artist, genre, date, folder or album, and you get 10 album art thumbnails onscreen at once. Internet radio support comes courtesy of Live365 Internet Radio - Thousands of Free Online Radio Stations. This provides over 6,000 stations, but you'll have pay a 3.75 monthly subscription if you want an ad-free service.

The HDMI output, with 1080p and 24fps support, will remain most users' first choice. However, this new model also adds a component output, which is handy if you're short of HDMI inputs on your TV. There's also an optical S/PDIF, and support for both Dolby Digital and DTS.

The WD TV Live costs 20 more than the original version, which we feel is money well spent. It's rather like the similarly priced Xtreamer, although the WD TV Live has no wireless networking and no internal bay for local hard disk storage. However, its interface looks slicker, it has more thumbnails to assist browsing and it's easier to get to grips with, plus its support for online content is better.

If you're looking for a media streamer and you don't require wireless networking, the WD TV Live is the one to buy. In use it feels more like a consumer device, such as a Blu-ray player, than a complex piece of technical equipment. This is an impressive feat for a unit with so many functions, and it deserves our Best Buy award.
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