It's not often we're truly gobsmacked. While we see a fair number of outstanding products grace the pages of our site, most of them have been talked about so much prior to us actually seeing them that there's little left to surprise us. There are exceptions, like when we all first actually used an iPhone and saw quite how stunning an interface it employs but more often than not we know what's coming. Not so with the product I'm looking at today.
While attending a seemingly innocuous product launch event towards the tail end of October, out of the blue the world's second largest hard drive manufacturer, Western Digital, announced and demonstrated its WD TV and in doing so, brought the room to a standstill. Not only was it surprising to have a hard drive manufacturer release a multimedia playback device but it was even more surprising to see that it was actually a very good one. A couple of weeks later and not only do we have one to review but you can already buy them in the shops. So over the next couple of pages I'm going to explain exactly why many of you should be adding this little box to your Christmas wish list.
The Western Digital WD TV HD Media Player (to give it it's full title), then, couldn't be a simpler device. It's a little black box that plugs into your TV and can be used to play audio and video, or view images straight from your USB storage devices (i.e. portable hard drives, or USB thumb drives). You control it using a little remote control and it has some simple onscreen menus to let you navigate your way round your media. All of which sounds rather familiar. However, while we've come across all sorts of variations on the 'getting my multimedia stored on my computer to play on my living room TV' theme, this is the first that has taken such a simple and effective approach.
Other devices use a network connection to stream your multimedia so require a certain degree of potentially confusing setup and also require your remote storage device to be constantly on. Not to mention that few of them have wowed us with regards quality.
Another option is to get a Media Center PC that not only plays all your media but can store it and even be used as a PVR. However, Media Center PCs are expensive to buy ready made and require a significant amount of time and effort to self-make and when all is said and done, you may seldom ever bother to actually use its myriad of features.
A third option would be a laptop with an HDMI output but this is hardly an elegant solution and it can often be a pig to get working properly.
With the WD TV, Western Digital has quite rightly taken the opinion that it's often easier just to turn on your main computer copy whatever it is you want to watch or listen to onto a USB stick and just plug that stick into a box next to your TV. What's more, many people store their entire multimedia collection on a portable hard drive so being able to just plug this in and go is incredibly convenient. Not to mention that if a friend is coming over and they want to show you some holiday snaps or a home video they can just bring a USB stick or even plug their camcorder/camera straight into the WD TV and switch it to mass storage mode. The WD TV doesn't care what it's reading, so long as it's a mass storage USB device, it'll give it a go.