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Western Digital WD TV Play review

Gordon Kelly

By

Reviewed:

Summary

Our Score:

6

User Score:

Pros

  • Attractive, intuitive UI
  • Wide range of integrated streaming services
  • Very cheap

Cons

  • No support for DTS audio
  • Poor navigation for local media
  • Remote has questionable layout

Key Features

  • Local & network media playback
  • Netflix
  • BBC iPlayer
  • Spotify
  • Bulit-in Wi-Fi and Ethernet
  • USB & HDMI
  • Manufacturer: Western Digital
  • Review Price: £55.00

What is the Western Digital WD TV Play?

Time was media players were about one thing: codecs. And time was one little media player ruled them all: the original WD TV. With the world quickly adopting streaming across both music and video, however, the war has moved on. Now WD TV maker Western Digital is back with the WD TV Play, which it claims excels at both while hitting a new price low.

WD TV Play - Design

If the premise is ambitious, the design certainly isn’t. The 'hockey puck' box is now as much a staple of the media player market as smartphone slabs and 'unibody' laptops. This isn’t to say Western Digital has done a bad job. Certainly the Play knocks off the Apple TV, but its curves are similarly graceful and it could just as easily fit in a coat pocket as under your TV.

In fact, if we had a gripe about the Play it is that it feels too light. This comes down to build materials with Western Digital cutting costs by using cheap plastics. We also aren’t convinced by the mixture of finishes with the matt black top clashing with its gloss sides, but the hint of blue created by the entirely blue base does win us over.

Apple would no doubt call the Play a cheap copy and it may well be, but we’ve seen far worse.

WD TV Play - Features

While the Play cuts costs on the outside, it doesn't where it counts. Sticking to its roots, the Play supports a vast array range of codecs. For video lovers there’s AVI, MKV, MPEG4, MP4/MOV and WMV9 to name but a few, while music lovers get numerous formats including MP3, WAV, WMA, AAC, FLAC, OGG and Dolby TrueHD. There is also JPEG, GIF, TIF, BMP and PNG image support as well as a wide selection of playlist and subtitle formats.

Looking to the future the WD TV Play embraces a significant number of streaming options. We may lose its Hulu and Pandora support in the UK, but staples like YouTube, iPlayer and Netflix are joined by SlingPlayer, WVimeo, VUDU, DailyMotion, Spotify and CinemaNow. There are also widgets for Accuweather, Facebook, Twitter, Flickr, Picassa, Flixster and more. If you don’t own a smart TV, the WD TV Play gives you a potentially decent stand in for very little outlay.

Connectivity is also good. Squeezed into the Play’s dainty dimensions are HDMI, Ethernet, optical, auxiliary and USB ports plus 2.4GHz 802.11n WiFi. The greater speed of 5GHz 802.11n WiFi would’ve been welcome (as would 802.11ac), but it isn’t a grave omission.

There are multiple control options, too. The WD TV Play comes with a fairly uninspiring remote with overly spongy buttons, but Western Digital also supplies virtual remotes via iOS and Android apps. More of which later.

WD TV Play - Setup

Boot up the WD TV Play and what immediately strikes you is how far media player user interfaces have come. The home screen takes inspiration from the Windows 8 start screen with large, colourful tiles and a favourites area to which you can pin as many apps and services as you like.

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Setup is simple since each service takes you through a setup wizard on first start, though usernames and passwords are best done through the smartphone apps as they provide access to a full keyboard. We also found the apps easier to use in general as they have dynamic layouts, a dedicated services section with quick access icons for every service and the ability to toggle between a standard control dial or touchpad for navigation.

By contrast the physical remote is limited and fiddly. Notably, the back button is positioned right below the power button (which caused us to accidentally switch off the Play on multiple occasions) and a dedicated Netflix button, which is only useful to Netflix subscribers and cannot be customised.

That said getting the WD TV Play up and running is nigh on foolproof, which means getting to your content is only minutes away.

torjs99

May 7, 2013, 4:20 pm

For codec support get a dune media player. I've got a 301 and it plays everything.

Pbryanw

May 7, 2013, 4:35 pm

I'd have to agree with this. They're slightly more expensive and bulky then these hockey-puck sized devices, but Dune media players have excellent codec support.

It's a shame that their support for streaming services is so poor, but that's not a problem if you use them with a Smart TV, Roku or Apple TV. Though I guess most of us are still after the one box that does everything well.

prettynormalperson

May 7, 2013, 7:09 pm

I have the WDTV live and it play everything. I use it to play 20GB+ MKVs from my NAS, handles them no bother.

LeftMoses

May 7, 2013, 9:19 pm

No USB? And what's with the blue lights?! I hate when they "blue light" everything.

andyvan

May 8, 2013, 7:54 am

USB is in there - I think it's on the side.

Gordon Kelly

May 8, 2013, 3:14 pm

yes it's on the side. The blue lights in this case aren't particularly distracting, thankfully.

Jonny

May 8, 2013, 4:54 pm

How does this compare to the Roku Lite?

Gordon Kelly

May 9, 2013, 12:50 pm

Hi Jonny, I presume you mean the Roku LT? That is designed for streaming web services, only plays in 720p, has no YouTube access, USB or wired Ethernet so I find it fairly limited (no pun on the name) and prefer the Play. That said it does have a wider array of streaming services than the Play (YouTube excluded) so it is good for web video fans.

Spike Black

May 10, 2013, 9:34 am

One of the other problems may be in future firmware releases. The WDTV line has been plagued by bug ridden firmwares and late releases. The WDTV Live HD had a final firmware promised only for it to turn up a year later with so many bugs it was removed from download within a couple of days. Even the firmware currently available isn't recommended by users. Just check the WD forums for the number of issues.

http://community.wdc.com/t5/WD...

At this point I've got to say I have a WDTV Live HD and as yet I've never had a serious problem, except when it killed a brand new 640Gb drive, but I'm accessing content from a local usb powered drive and only internet services with no NAS where some have reported files being changed to unrecoverable folders randomly.

One problem is the support from Flingo where the Chrunchroll feed randomly loses episodes. At the moment if seem to be the flingo service having a problem with a large number of options on a content stream. But watching 3-4 episodes to find that it suddenly jumps 4 and you've no idea when the others will appear isn't great.

andrew wood

October 5, 2013, 12:57 am

I purchased a unit about 6 months ago. It was to be an intricate part of my 3rd floor 'man cave" I buried all wires in the wall, framed and drywalled , installed a 52 inch plasma screen etc etc. I have yet to get any sort of response from my unit. It briefly connected with my laptop and grabbed some files, but I was never able to replicate the process. It mostly flat out refused to do as advertised. I would not be lying to say that I spent over 8 hours trying to get it to work. Tonight I attempted again but it first asked to download a firmware update. Post update that was the end of it. it powered down to install and never returned past home-screen

I calmly disconnected it, took it downstairs to my workroom, and smashed it several hundred times with a hammer. That is the first time it made me happy.

I feel like suing. My apple TV, plug and play.

andrewjmwood@gmail.com

Bjenna

November 16, 2013, 6:01 pm

When purchasing this I thought I would be able to go online with this but this does not have a web browser, no email & can't add apps. This also doesn't play about half my Mkv files. And for some reason deleted everything (400+gb) off my pmp. I hesitate to attach my 2tb.
No custom Firmware that I can find either

Josh

December 8, 2013, 10:37 am

My WDTV unit is deplorable. Western Digital will not survive as an entity/brand due to such very, very poor, dysfunctional products such as WD TV. Plugging in my laptop to the TV is faster and more reliable than this rubbish. I cannot believe that this company would allow the release of such products with such problems... crashing, freezing, slooooooow and completely unpredictable and unreliable. The senior product managers at Western Digital should be held to account and dismissed. DO NOT ALLOW PRODUCTS TO MARKET THAT ARE FULL OF BUGS - the WD reputation is destroyed.

Spike Black

January 14, 2014, 9:51 am

OK, I should have followed my own advice but I spotted the Play on Amazon for £35 and thought what the hell I'll try it.
Crunchyroll supported through the Flingo Launchpad but it's a mess, no bookmarks except on individual episodes so you have to find the series your watching every time. It also takes an age to load as it insists on loading everything at once, all the series and then episodes. There's also no support for the crunchyroll premium hd service.
As I said above I've also got a wdtv live hd and it's way better than this even though it's now unsupported and has dodgy firmware releases.
Plus my firmware prediction came true. no new firmware release since I wrote the original statement. I'm betting this device will not last much longer and why I was able to get it for half price.

5cardstud

April 21, 2014, 1:18 am

BS, I've tried 4 different playlists and it plays none. Also I have Comcast hi speed and all the streaming media starts and stops every couple seconds. None of my other devices do this when streaming.

frank4r4

October 10, 2014, 9:35 pm

Use to be great but they removed netflix. The box is now worthless...

Errol Gee

November 29, 2014, 5:35 pm

Apart from No DTS support and it won't connect to the hard drive on my router
The range on the remote is a bit limited ... I also have the WDTV Live get that instead

Adele Samantha

April 23, 2015, 7:11 pm

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

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