Review: Western Digital WD TV HD Media Player

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For months now, I have been trying to play .MKV and other video files on my living room front projector. At first I tried to connect a laptop directly to the TV. But this didn’t always work, the audio was crappy, and it was awkward to have a laptop connected to the projector.

I started using my XBOX 360 to play video files. At first I wanted to stream the files across my network. This worked every once in a while, but mostly it was an exercise in frustration. And I got miserable fast forward and rewind capability because of the network bottleneck.

Then I tried using my Neuros OSD for this. That was a non-starter as the OSD only has a composite video out port and I wanted to play high definition video.

Eventually I started copying video files to big fat thumb drives and plugging them directly into the XBOX. This worked very well for a lot of video files, but didn’t work at all for high definition files because they were mostly over 4GB in size (the XBOX 360 only recognizes FAT32 formatted drives, and FAT32 doesn’t allow for more than 4GB per file).

I then started investigating the black arts of video transcoding. I looked for tools that would allow me to convert the video formats I found on the internet into something that was XBOX 360 friendly. But most of the automated tools were a compromise. If it converted the video into something XBOX friendly, and under 4GB in size, the audio would be downgraded to 2 channels (from 5.1). And I would run my computer for hours converting video, and many times something would go wrong and the file wouldn’t play on the XBOX.

I was banging my head against the wall trying to figure this out.

One Fall afternoon, Western Digital announced the WD HD TV Media Player. It promised to play high definition video over HDMI and optical audio, up to 1080p, all for about $120 street price. I was skeptical at first that such a tiny and inexpensive device would solve all of my months of video headaches. But any skepticism disappeared once I hooked the gizmo up to my projector and in about 20 seconds I was watching glorious high definition 1080p with DTS sound.

Basically the WD HD TV Media Player (horrible name, by the way) will play just about any video format you throw at it. You put the videos on any USB mass storage device, like a thumb drive or an external hard drive, and plug it into the device. It recognizes the files on the drive and plays any video, audio, or photo files it finds. It comes with a handy remote control, and the software interface is very simple and easy-to-use. The box has 2 USB ports for you to plug in any combination of mass storage devices. Even better, it supports the NTFS file format so you are not limited to files that are under 4GB.

I loaded up an external hard drive with all manner of video files and plugged it into the Media Player. Using the remote control I navigated the on-screen menu and chose several different file formats to test. The little black box played each of the files beautiful. The playback was smooth, even in fast action sequences. The digital audio worked flawlessly and it even supports subtitles. I tested a variety of 720p and 1080p and 480p files. I couldn’t find a single one the device had trouble with.

I connected the Media Player via optical audio and HDMI. It also supports composite video with analog audio, but I did not test those ports.

I was also pleasantly surprised by the compact yet powerful remote control. I hid the tiny Media Player box behind my media cabinet in the back of the room where my projector is. And I didn’t think the remote control would be able to hit the device, but sure enough I just pointed it at the ceiling above my head and it worked very nicely, registering each key press.

I love this little black box. It singlehandedly solved my video playback problems and ended months of frustration. People will gripe about the lack of network support, but I personally have no desire to stream high definition video over my local network. Direct hard drive or thumb drive connections ensure fast and reliable playback and controls. Simple and fast, the WD HD TV Media Player is a powerhouse solution in a tiny and affordable package.

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