Hassle-free playback of HD movies, home videos, digital music & photos on your TV
Full HD video playback & navigation; HDMI & composite video connections; comprehensive format support; includes remote
No Ethernet or Wi-Fi; sluggish remote control
Most of us have tons of videos, pictures and music on our main home computer and on personal multimedia devices. Maybe the time has come when you want to make the most of this media by watching it on your TV with your friends and family. The device that does this is called a media streamer, and there are a number of them available. There are a raft of devices around, from the basic that are simply an external hard drive that your connect to your TV using video and audio cables, to the top-spec models that stream files from our computers to our TV in the living room without wires or even over the Net.
Western Digital’s (WD) latest product (126x100x40mm, 303g) turns a portable hard disk drive or other USB mass storage device (such as digital cameras, camcorders, and portable media players that can be recognised as mass storage devices) into a Full-HD (1080p) media player. It’s very clever stuff. Just plug in a WD My Passport drive or other USB storage device with HD content in the WD TV HD Media Player (Best Current Price £78.29) to play it on a TV or home entertainment system. The WD TV HD Media Player then connects to your TV or home theatre using HDMI (cable not supplied) or additional composite (RCA) outputs.
Using the included remote control, you can then navigate and play your content using the WD TV HD Media Player’s on-screen menu. Content can be viewed either by filename or thumbnails of photos, album covers or movie cover art. In addition, automatic media aggregation lets you see all your supported media by media type in one menu regardless of its location in folders or drives. You can also browse by genre, title, artist, filename and partial filename. Photo viewing features let you create custom slides shows, zoom and pan, search photos by filename, partial filename, most recently viewed and date, while movie viewing offers the ability to fast forward, rewind, pause, zoom, and pan, view subtitles and search by filename, partial filename, most recently viewed and date. Finally, music playback comes with fast forward, rewind, pause, shuffle, repeat and search by filename, partial filename, most recently viewed and date.
Two USB 2.0 ports on the player connect up to two USB mass storage devices and let you access them simultaneously while the Media Library feature aggregates the content on both drives into one list sorted by media type. With external hard drives – and WD’s very own My Passport drives – now available in 500GB capacities, you can quickly build large collections on multiple drives, all playable by the WD TV HD Media Player. The device is very accommodating in terms of file support too, and it comes with ArcSoft’s MediaConverter 2.5 software for converting photo, video and music files into formats optimised for use on the gizmo.
For tech-heads out there, the WD TV HD supports MP3, WMA, OGG, WAV/PCM/LPCM, AAC, FLAC, Dolby Digital, AIF/AIFF and MKA music files, while photos include JPEG, GIF, TIF/TIFF, BMP and PNG. Video files comprise MPEG-1/2/4, WMV 9, AVI (MPEG-4, Xvid, AVC), H.264, DivX/Xvid, MKV and MOV (MPEG-4, H.264) at up to 1920x1080p at 24 frames per second (fps), 1920x1080i at 30fps, and 1280x720p at 60fps. The Apple TV (Best Current Price: £260), by contrast, supports H.264 video up to 1280×720 at 24fps or 960×540 at 30fps. MPEG-4 videos on the Apple TV can only be 720×432 at 30fps. Quite frankly, no other standalone device we’ve seen offers such comprehensive format support.
Playlists are also supported as long as they’re PLS, M3U or WPL, and subtitles are also compatible as long as they’re SRT (UTF-8), SMI, SUB, ASS or SSA. An audio receiver is required for surround sound output, and AAC/Dolby Digital decodes in two-channel output only. Unfortunately the WD TV HD does not support protected premium content such as movies or music from the iTunes Store, Cinema Now, Movielink, Amazon Unbox, and Vongo.
All of us have large digital libraries that are trapped on our PCs. In order to play our content on our TV we have to struggle with clumsy solutions such as copying onto multiple CDs and DVDs or connecting our PCs to our TV via wires or complicated home networking solutions. The WD TV HD Media Player enables anyone to easily access their high-definition content on the biggest screen in the home in a matter of minutes. Using the WD TV HD Media Player couldn’t be any simpler – plug in a storage device and the unit will automatically scan it for multimedia and automatically add the files to its library, which is split up into video, audio, and images. That’s it! WD is onto a winner here, as long as you don’t crave a fantastic selection of outputs (including Ethernet) and expandability with optional extras like Wi-Fi and a Freeview receiver.