Hands On with the WD Live TV Plus (Netflix)

Guest Blogger —  June 23, 2010

Greetings, fellow Zatz Not Funny readers. Like many of you, I’ve been searching for that perfect media player that can handle any video format as well as stream content from the Internet.

I like having all my movies at my fingertips. No need to go looking for the disc. And my journey started when I built my first HTPC using Meedio as the interface. While the HTPC did what I needed it was not with out its faults. One it was loud and PC cases at the time just did not blend well in the media cabinet. I was on that never ending quest to make that HTPC quieter and smaller. Over the years I just grew tired of maintaining yet another PC in my house. Then I found the Popcorn Hour A-110. This has been great device that plays almost every video format known, is small and blends will into the home theater. While I’m fond of the A-110, it is not with out its faults and I’ve kept my eyes open for other solutions. During CES the Pop Box was put on display. Upon seeing the demos I fell in love with it. Just like the A-110 but only smaller and able to stream Netflix, interface with IMDB to get cover art and movie information. So I made my pre-order and waited, and waited and continue to wait. So in the mean time, I’m playing the field and am giving the Western Digital TV Live Plus (~$125) a try.
wd-life-tv-plus

I’ve been looking at WD’s lineup for some time and finally decided to pick the newest rev up. It can stream 720p, 1080p video content and Netflix – the main things I am looking for. It also supports streaming popular media codecs and enclosures. Here’s the list supported file types:

Video: AVI (Xvid, AVC, MPEG1/2/4), MPG/MPEG, VOB, MKV (h.264, x.264, AVC, MPEG1/2/4, VC-1), TS/TP/M2T (MPEG1/2/4, AVC, VC-1), MP4/MOV (MPEG4, h.264), M2TS, WMV9
Photo: JPEG, GIF, TIF/TIFF, BMP, PNG
Audio: MP3, WAV/PCM/LPCM, WMA, AAC, FLAC, MKA, AIF/AIFF, OGG, Dolby Digital, DTS
Playlist: PLS, M3U, WPL
Subtitle: SRT, ASS, SSA, SUB, SMI


wd-life-tv-plus-unboxed
With the device you get a quick start guide, remote, composite A/V, component video cables, power and a CD with WD Discover Software, demo media and documentation. It would have been nice if WD had thrown in an HDMI and Ethernet cable. Setup was easy… Simply connecting the Ethernet, HDMI, and the power cables was all it took to get up and running. After powering on the WD TV got an IP address and I was presented with a simple menu for Audio, Video and Photos, Internet Media and Settings. The device also has two USB ports for connecting external USB drives like the Western Digital My Passport Elite.

In the video section you can choose from Media Server, Network Share, Local drive, Netflix, and YouTube. Upon selecting Media Server the WD TV found my QNAP NAS. When I made the selection I was presented with the thumbnails for my movies, in duplicate. It seems the WD TV likes to display all content on the share.  I saw the same thing when I set up the WD TV to pull content from a share from my Windows 7 machine.  Looks like over the network, the WD TV wants to display all content in a folder. This just looks like a little filtering bug that can be taken care of in a firmware update. The WD TV had no problem playing any of my MKV Blu-Ray or DVD rips. I was also able to play MP4 files with no problem. But I did have some trouble playing some older AVI files and I have had the audio cut out a few times – but after power cycling everything returns to normal. I’ll continue to investigate the cause and see if I can reproduce the error at will, which could be a network or HDMI issue.
wd-life-tv-plus-youtube
In taking a look at the YouTube option,  the on-screen keyboard can be a pain to use when typing something of length. When are companies going to start making these devices with built in Bluetooth and provide an iPhone app that allows me to enter text? The other I don’t like about the keyboard is that it’s not a QWERTY layout. I know this sounds dumb, but it makes it much harder for me to find the key I want. Upon selecting the first YouTube video I received the following message. And I saw this messge a lot. If YouTube can add a flag for content that cannot be displayed on TV connected devices, then Western Digital should be able to filter out those videos in the search results. This almost makes the YouTube feature unusable. Do not tempt me with content I cannot view.
wd-life-tv-plus-youtube-blocked
By comparison, Netflix streaming was great. You need to register the device with your Netflix account and then after that you are good to go. The interface is the similar to the one found on the PS3. And the WD TV also steams Pandora Internet Radio and Flickr.
wd-tv-live-plus-Netflix
Overall, the WD TV Live Plus is a great device for streaming HD content to your TV.  It was able to play all the HD content I gave it and the picture quality looked great on my HDTV (55″ Samsung 8500).  If you’re looking for a way to add Netflix streaming service to your home entertainment system, then the WD TV Live Plus is an affordable and attractive option. The WD TV does have its faults, such as the duplicate thumbnails and audio dropouts, but I hope Western Digital can address those with a few firmware updates.

Pros:

  • Full 1080p playback
  • Support for many popular file types
  • Compact design
  • Easy setup
  • Includes digital outputs for audio and video
  • Firmware upgradable
  • DLNA and UPNP support

Cons:

  • Poor filtering of networked content
  • Wi-Fi is optional
  • Intermittent audio issues

23 responses to Hands On with the WD Live TV Plus (Netflix)

  1. Fred Beiderbecke June 23, 2010 at 8:55 am

    Thanks for the review, I have been considering that unit.

    Any idea what wi fi unit can be used with the box or is it just a WD one?

  2. For some reason I thought you were a Tivo user. Doesn’t TivoHD (and up) do all of this? (OK, no 1080P maybe?)

    To be fair, you do have to run streambaby (or pytivo, or tivodesktop).

  3. A question for you Dave…
    I have the first generation WD HD. My biggest gripe is MKV/DTS playback requires me to use the optical output for audio.
    Does this new unit allow DTS soundtracks to play through the HDMI connection (or the L/R analog outputs)?

    Thanks for the review.

  4. Scary, My pal Tom checked this out. (see the byline) But I run many devices (TiVo, Roku, Xbox, Vudu, etc), with overlapping capabilities. (I wouldn’t be much of a digital media blogger if I didn’t play the field.:) Netflix on TiVo is probably the worst of all my Netflix-capable devices, in terms of navigation and stability. Also, most video streaming from PC to TiVo is a hack and not by design. Popcorn Hour and WD TV are imperfect, but better suited than TiVo for local media playback. Heck, the Xbox 360 is pretty darn good for local streaming or sneakernet playback. (Also, TiVo’s promised Pandora app still hasn’t launched.)

    Steve, I’ll have Tom check. Incidentally, WD also sent me a review unit. But due to some fortuitous timing, I’m going to pass.

  5. Dave, I’d be glad to review it for you!

  6. Thanks for the review Dave. I have the WD TV Live and love it. Looks like Netflix is the only significant difference. Maybe a firware update will fix that! :)

  7. Any parental control type filtering for content of of the share, or something like folder level security?

  8. for parental control I prefer Actymac VidShots remote (actymac.com)…

  9. “Netflix on TiVo is probably the worst of all my Netflix-capable devices, in terms of navigation and stability”

    How so?

    (I’m aware that the TiVo HD will freeze and need a reboot if the IP signal is lost while watching Netflix, but my current setup never loses the IP signal, so that problem is solved for me. As long as I’ve got a uninterrupted IP signal at the TiVo, stability is rock-solid.)

    Given how compelling Netflix HD streaming has become, you ought to write up a post comparing the Netflix experience across the different boxes, Dave. I’m genuinely curious what I’m missing in Netflix by using my immensely lovable TiVo.

    (I’m vaguely aware that you can navigate the Netflix library and add stuff to your queue on some non-TiVo devices, but I always find using a old-fashioned laptop better for navigating libraries than using a lean-back remote control interface. But I wonder if I’m missing anything else.)

  10. I only have experience with Popcorn Hour — how does this find media on the network? Is there a client installed on each computer like the Popcorn? Is this Mac compatible?

    I’m waiting on a popbox and/or the viewsonic vmp75. Netflix is a priority, so I’m hoping popbox adds it or the viewsonic is of decent quality.

  11. As a non tech blogger, I find having everything I need in one box to be very appealing. With Tivo, I can watch netflix, stream media from my PC, and of course all the normal tivo stuff.

    That being said, I understand it may not be the best at any specific non dvr task. I’ve never used another Netflix device, so I had no idea it wasn’t good. Its never had stability issues for me.

    Still, the Popcorn Hour A-110 does sound pretty compelling.

  12. Any idea if the “WD Live TV Plus” has different hardware than the previous “WD Live TV”? I haven’t been able to find any hardware comparisons and am beginning to think that they are the same product with different firmware. I haven’t been able to get any response from WD regarding this and am starting to believe that their continued silence is confirmation that my assumption may be correct.

  13. Chucky, Yes some of the other Netflix clients do give you a bit more discovery and playback options. But, like you, I generally the find laptop web interface sufficient/efficient – at least if I’ve planned ahead. But I find the TiVo’s Netflix UI sluggish, I find the red glaring, and more importantly I get frequent buffering and occasional freezes during video playback that I don’t see on any other platform. So I usually go with the Roku, because I can navigate it much more quickly and the streams come through more reliably. (I haven’t spent much time in the new Roku UI though – it’s certainly richer looking, but may have slowed down as it’s grabbing more thumbnails and such from the cloud.)

    Amazon on Demand is a different story. And I possibly watch more Amazon content than Netflix. Like Scary I (would) prefer a single box to handle stuff, and having Amazon content pushed to TiVo has always worked very well. Again, it’s much easier to buy on the laptop. But I’d probably buy more content if TiVo made it easier onscreen – and it’s my understanding they get a cut…

    James, I don’t have a definitive answer – but it certainly seems like a reasonably theory. I’ve had the same thought…

    Dave L, I believe it it uses DLNA to find content on your network.

  14. OK I went back into the new Netflix/Roku UI. It’s still pretty sprightly. It loads up the box art behind the scenes (off screen). (Browsing the recent releases and what not, then playing instantly is pretty cool. And obviously led Mari into watching more.)

  15. Another option to consider instead of wireless is a powerline adapter. I attached a Zyxel unit to my iMac on the ground level of our house and the other to the WDTV Live+ on the second floor on the opposite side of the building. The connection is solid, the picture is clean and I can also access the older WDTV Live Box and its connected hard drive, giving us access to hundreds of stored movies and music files. It beats any flaky wireless connectivity.

    J. Moberg: I’m pretty sure the only difference is the ability to stream Netflix. Otherwise, the units are identical.

  16. As for me, I prefer to use VidShots Remote. It allows to take videos of your monitor remotely. So you can see what is done on your computer.
    http://www.actymac.com/Screenshots_Remote/

  17. So far, with a week’s use of the WD Live player under my belt, I’m most happy with the purchase, which is essentially for the playing of Netflix videos. The HD quality, on our 63″ Sony HDTV is really quite good, and the interface, while a bit cumbersome is generally well thought out and designed.

    My “gripe” is the tendency of the box to “freeze”. Pixelization of the picture, followed by a complete lockup, requiring shutting off the unit, and restarting it, often… but not always… gets the movie going again. But, who wants to go through this nonsense when its happening at least 50% of the time?

    For what its worth, this isn’t the result of wireless dropouts, as we have thus far hooked up the player, directly wired to our 6mb/sec ATT DSL modem.

    Has this been commonly reported as a “flaw”, and is there any “solution” being suggested (I cannot state what firmware version is installed, but this is a brand new box, and “should” have the latest version)?

  18. live tv plus hd: fail. it is all itard all the time

    con: network Master Browser trauma UNACCEPTABLE.

    con: unable to specify network PATHS to media

    con: finicky

    con: flicker

    con: CHOKE on 1080, FAIL for 100megabit ethernet [wired]

    returned to retailer

    (also was very not happy with popcorn hour c200)

    I miss my xbmc on xbox1

  19. My daughter loves the WD TV Live Plus for streaming truly awful horror movies from Netflix. I’ve just ordered a new TiVo Premier to replace our trusty old Series 2.

    I’ll be curious to see if we can stream the TiVo data to the WD TV Live Plus box. That would be a wonderful thing.

  20. Received WD TV Live Plus but my HD TV only has one set of connections. Help!

  21. I have a problem with my passport elite 500 gb i cant connect to the bluray dvd to tv i dont know what program shall i use its almost a week that i cant sleep because of this…can any1 help me pls email me what to do at spicy2009@yahoo.com thank u

  22. Great article . For those who live outside US like me, you can access Netflix, Hulu and similar media stations on your WD TV by using UnoTelly or similar tools.