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Western Digital TV – HD Media Player Review

Nowadays, everyone wants to be able to easily watch all their media. And of course why not since media comes from so many places… digital cameras, camcorders, cell phones and of course the internet. You also don’t want to have to physically replace DVDs or Blu-Rays because it’s not North American! We Canadians eat about 750 donuts a year. You have to pay somewhere.

But seriously, playing different media is never an easy task. Let’s see what options we have to choose from.

XBOX 360 – Somewhat capable, but codec incompatibility, no built-in WiFi, volume and other problems. Surprisingly, the 360 ​​can read HFS+ (Mac) partitions, which I like for a number of reasons, while the PS3, which is not an Apple competitor, cannot read HFS+ or NTFS files. Even more amazing is that the 360 ​​can’t read NTFS. I’d like to know what went on behind the scenes… was there a disgruntled employee(s) who said “Let’s stay with MS, baby! HFS, but no NTFS!! HAHA! There!” The menu, I’m sorry, the Dashboard works pretty well on a console, but I don’t think it works as well as it does in a media center. Finally, the 360 ​​uses too much power.

Sony PlayStation 3 – Considered a good media player by many, but it doesn’t get that kind of fanfare in my house. It can’t handle MKVs, although the files in the container are usually fine for the PS3, it won’t accept files larger than 4GB, it can’t stream that type of video from a PC (and even if it could, its 802.11g speed would hold it back ). Also, it can get loud/hot like the 360 ​​and use a lot of power. Other than that, a PS3 equipped with a Blu-Ray player is the saving grace. That, along with its Blu-Ray boot speed and the fact that it can decode lossless formats internally, makes it a decent player. I love XMB so much that I don’t mind organizing pictures and music, but since it can’t handle my MKV video collection, unfortunately it has to go too.

Wii – Huh. Next time I’ll talk about the 1080p media center capabilities of my original Game Boy.

Popcorn Hour – This was one of the first media center things that had all the necessary features on paper. Included hard drive, WiFi, RSS Bit Torrenting capability, and the ability to play MKVs and high bitrate 1080p video. The only problem is that he didn’t do it well. First-hand reports abound of the player stuttering, freezing, and generally sucking when playing 1080p video.

Various other network media streamers – All of these work well for pictures, music and even SD video, but also 360 and PS3 TVersity. No, the real test is full-bandwidth 1080p video, and I’m afraid the players and their cramped wireless connections aren’t up to the task either.

HTPC – For a long time this would be the only real solution. I even have posts detailing what they do and how to put them together. Why do these work? Because these are just computers connected to the TV. Dual-core CPUs, lots of RAM, and fancy videos should do anything, at least in theory. Having had an HTPC since I was able to connect an S-video cable to the Radeon 9700 Pro, I can say that the experience is not as seamless as it should be. Why? Because we use Windows! XP Media Center Edition was just XP, and Vista has built-in Media Center, so Media Center is just an application that runs on top of it. BSODs, freezes, slowdowns and other issues may still occur, especially if you use the box for other purposes such as background downloading. That, and the incredibly complicated setup process, was seriously annoying. Of course you need to install Vista, but then the codecs and making sure things are upconverted and handled properly, the audio goes out via coax or toslink or HDMI as it should, and finally calibrating the video output is a chore, and then some. Most of these issues go away when you use Plex with a Mac as an HTPC. It’s one of the best media center frontends I’ve seen and it’s processing is incredibly efficient, it plays video smoothly, which VLC or Quicktime with Perian can’t. Still, it’s a pretty big investment (well, a depreciating asset actually, but let’s not pull hairs) to buy an entire PC, and a Mac too. The only aesthetically acceptable solution is 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 subject of this review, the Western Digital TV HD Media Player. Nobody expected this, 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 looks like this tiny device may be a believer in that idea. It’s incredibly small, at least to my eyes, which are used to seeing acceptable 1080p playback from big boxes that on multi-core CPUS have huge coolers that draw hot air, siphon power, and add punch and sweltering heat are produced by the other components. in that (usually) ugly box. This thing has no fans, it’s pretty green and wheezing… it actually does what it’s supposed to! 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, it’s the same with many other HDMI devices, but this thing is tiny and only has a few sockets, so it’s really hard to mess it up. There are no physical buttons on the device, so you can turn it on with the remote control. A whiter-than-blue LED lights up for power, and when a USB device is connected, it blinks or lights up, depending on whether the drive is being tested or ready for use. I ran into a problem early on. After setting up the simple cabling and going into the menu, I found that it doesn’t recognize my external 1TB 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 appeared. Still, if it wasn’t going to read 1TB hard drives, it’s not a very efficient 1080p media center now, is it? I updated the firmware and then it finally saw the drive. I also noticed an improvement in speed! Hopefully this thing will get better with each firmware update.

This baby will play almost anything digital you can find. From old DivX encodings to the latest super-high bitrate 1080p MKVs, it handles it all. Even more surprising, he seems to have no problem playing them. No signs of struggle! I uploaded a specially ripped version of Godfather, barely compressed compared to the original, it takes up about 20 GB. It started playing right away, faster than my gaming rig could start playing (and it has a 4GHz Yorkfield and 8GB of RAM). VLC and other players sometimes have a lot of visual imperfections when playing high-definition, high-bitrate videos, but there was no such macroblocking, except for scenes due to compression. If you didn’t compress the Blu-Ray rips too much, or just ripped the stream file from a Blu-Ray disc (which you can play!) the video will look great. The sound is as good as standard Dolby Digital or DTS (it won’t decode DTS if connected via composite), but it won’t do DTS-MA or TrueHD as far as I know.

The interface looks a bit like a simplified vertically scrolling Windows XP colored Sony PS3 XMB interface. Sounds a bit like Windows Media Center, right? In fact, it is no different from him. Although the menus are a little simplistic, they get the job done and I can’t complain much. The only problem with the interface is that each icon needs to have the appropriate text near it, not in the lower right corner. Really a bit of a chick. The tool can create directories, but I disabled that feature because I have my own organizational structure on the drive and it seems to take forever to index a 1 TB drive. Another caveat is that it can’t do this for HFS+ formatted drives, and I think that’s because it can read them but not write them.

After a few hours of use, I can say that I am very satisfied with it. Easily switch between videos, pick up where you left off, and never freeze during playback, no matter how demanding the video file is. My only gripe at this point is… the remote is too small for grown male hands and the buttons take a lot of effort to press. Sounds like a minor problem that can easily be solved by using other types of remotes (programmable, Harmony, etc.). At $139 Canadian, it’s a great deal, as it does what HTPCs can’t do as reliably or as quickly for hundreds of dollars less. It also outperforms any other media solution on the market, including consoles.

I give it 9 out of 10.

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