Western Digital Refreshes WDTV Live Hardware

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Western Digital has refreshed their WDTV Live line today and the new 1080p streamer¬†($100) features two notable upgrades over its WDTV Live Plus predecessor. First, WD has integrated 802.11n wireless capabilities – finally putting that competitive disadvantage to bed. Second, it inherits the richer UI as found on its big brother – the 1TB WDTV Live Hub (~$200). This iteration of the WDTV Live is bundled with the Hub’s somewhat larger remote that includes a numeric keypad. It’s not the most attractive thing, but it gets the job done on anything other than text entry and is certainly more practical than the minimalistic AppleTV remote. Also, on the hardware front, the new unit follows the industry trend of dropping component output. Regardless, the WDTV Live comes better equipped in the connectivity department than aTV or the Roku 2. The WDTV Live shares the same footprint as the prior generation model but it’s shorter and sleeker with enough heft that your HDMI cable won’t pull it off the TV stand (as it might a diminutive Roku 2).

Of course, what sets the WDTV line apart from many other small, inexpensive media players is its broad support for local media — both in terms of file type or codec and location (USB, NAS, DLNA, etc). I hardwired a USB drive and the WDTV Live quickly indexed the files by format and had no problem with two MKVs as shown below.

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WDTV Live features a solid stable of online streaming apps (below left), not to mention the ability to add RSS feeds. As you might expect, the requisite Netflix experience is present — familiar and well done, including support for 1080p, 5.1 audio, and closed captions. Unlike Roku’s solution, Western Digital provides YouTube access… and it’s much more responsive than TiVo’s similar YouTube “lean back” update. Your video on demand needs will be met by Blockbuster or CinemaNow, both of which I find inferior to iTunes, Vudu, or Amazon VOD. But, it’s probably sufficient for most. For audio, heavyweight Pandora is present and Western Digital is pleased to introduce Spotify today — streaming for the first time on US STB hardware.

Roku’s made a pretty big deal about bringing casual gaming to their platform (along with a motion-a controlled remote). Yet, I remain unconvinced that this feature alone will move many boxes. Granted my sample size is pretty small, with a niece (10) and nephew (4) who get their gaming fix via the iPhone and Xbox Kinect. However, if casual gaming if your (or your kids) thing, Western Digital has checked this box by offering about 10 free titles including sudoku and poker.

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If you’re in the market for a new digital media device, there’s more competition than ever these days with a lot of options to sort through. For those merely looking to stream Netflix and maybe land a few other bonus channels on the cheap, I’d suggest the Roku 2 HD for a mere 60 bucks. While those tightly affiliated with Cupertino and the iTunes ecosystem will find AppleTV ($99) is the way to go. But the WDTV Live retains its crown as the most well rounded of of the sub-$150 boxes given those local playback capabilities (suitable for the more geeky) in addition to online streaming apps.

16 thoughts on “Western Digital Refreshes WDTV Live Hardware”

  1. Unlike many entrants in this category, the WDTV Live features a power button on the remote… that actually puts the unit into standby, where it draws less power. Having said that, I haven’t yet hooked up my Kill-A-Watt to get a reading.

    I’m passing this review loaner on to my pal Tom who covered the prior gen unit and uses it as his primary DMA. I want to get his opinion on the upgrade.

  2. Dave, do any of these OTT solutions offer content discovery across content providers? One of the features I like about TiVo is the ability to search for a movie and see that it is available on multiple content providers. I can than decide what is my best option for watching & obtaining that content. Thanks, ~Sam

  3. Sam, FWIW, the introduction of Bing on the Xbox later this year is supposed to provide search across all channels/apps.

  4. Oh thank goodness.

    I have been putting off buying one of these units to replace an AppleTV ver.1 for a while now because I just thought the interface was hideous.

    I’ve kept the old ATV alive by hacking it to death, but it just can’t handle some of the mkv files I throw at it smoothly anymore.

    Such such such good news.

  5. jcm, I’m still trying to get my hands on the new Sony and the new Netgear. The Sony was out of stock online but my local store supposedly had some. Unfortunately, my backlog is so full I haven’t grabbed it yet. However, I have longevity concerns with both those platforms given how the companies have handled (or abandoned) prior products. Apple TV, Roku, and WDTV are currently and actively developed. Boxee is still too expensive with too few apps — get the content or get the OTA tuner and I’ll have more love to show them.

    Sam, not that I’m aware of. Apps are mostly silos. However, I don’t feel like I’m missing much as I rarely use TiVo’s integrated search (which still doesn’t include Hulu).

    DDH, As you can see from the pics it does feature the YouTube lean back app. But I’ve been told the Android app you’re referring to is not compatible.

    Cliff, while it’s visually rich and richer than the former model for sure, there’s some rough edges and kludginess to it. It’s decent, but it’s not as polished as the new Apple TV (which has its own problems, due partially to that remote). Check out GigaOm’s video to see a new WDTV Live in action.

  6. Dave, I’m considering replacing one of my Rokus with the smp-n200 as it appears to be the only ~ $99 device with access to the major (i.e. Hulu Plus, Vudu, YouTube, Cinema Now, Amazon, Crackle and Netflix) video streaming services. Throw in the new Video unlimited (great interface on the PS3) for PlayStation Network – which I assume will eventually make its way to the SMp-n200 – and local streaming and you have what looks like a pretty stout device.

  7. The smp-n200 might have the worst name in this market segment, but nevertheless does look interesting. They’ve for the content sources that I care about. Looking forward to a ZNF shoot-out.

  8. I thought the WDTV Live had Amazon, but it does not. Without Amazon or Vudu, this box is a non-starter for me.

  9. I don’t get why it doesn’t at least have Amazon? You’d think they’d kill to get their service on as many platforms as possible?

    In any event I’m looking for a good streamer with full Netflix 1080p/5.1DD+ support so this looks to fill that need for me. From what I’ve heard the SMP-N200 doesn’t even have 5.1 Netflix (let alone 1080p).

  10. The Revue has fewer apps but browses the web quite nicely on TV if that’s what you’re looking for. If/when the Revue ever gets that promised Android Honeycomb update, with more apps and a refreshed UI, it’ll probably be a different story. We shall see. Right now I wouldn’t recommend it.

  11. Now I love my Roku, I’ve had it since they first were released and they are ctatsnnoly making improvements and upgrades. Doing a search on comparisons will bring you this review from Computer world Apple TV vs. Google TV vs. Roku . The link below is if you want to read the whole article with the pros and cons. ________________________________Apple TV is great for tapping into your iTunes library and the iTunes Store, and has a slick interface. But beyond YouTube and some great podcasts, most of its emphasis seems to be on pay-to-view content.The Roku XD|S and its sister products offer current standards like Netflix and Amazon Video On Demand, but also let you delve into an online videophile community that is sometimes amateurish but occasionally turns up a gem like Archive.org’s Prelinger collection.

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