Western Digital's original WDTV was one of our favourite products of last year. Never before had we seen such an easy to use media player that could play so many formats and that cost so little. Of course, time waits for no man or company, though, and today there are many rival devices available that offer similar or better functionality for the same money. So today we're looking at Western Digital's long-awaited successor to the WDTV, the WDTV Live.
Like the original, the WDTV Live's main purpose is to playback on your TV; music, video, and photos from USB hard drives, thumb drives, or any storage device that can be connected by USB. With this latest model there are a few additions, though. The main one of these is network connectivity, which comes in the form of an Ethernet socket on the back. There's no inbuilt wireless but you could use a wireless-to-wired adapter or a USB wireless adapter (a list of compatible adapters is available here). Once connected, you can access shared drives or media servers on your home network and connect to a number of online services. At present these consist of YouTube, Live365 Internet Radio, Pandora music streaming, and Flickr but we're led to believe other services may become available in the coming months.
Those services that are currently included are nicely presented and easy to navigate and set up. However, the reliance on an onscreen keyboard to search for things is somewhat tedious.
The device itself has had a minor overhaul as well, with a change from glossy black plastic to matt grey. It's also slightly smaller than its predecessor. On the left side is a single USB port, as on the original, while round the back is the new Ethernet port and two jack sockets that join the existing HDMI, optical digital audio, second USB port, and power socket. The two jack plugs that are labelled 'AV OUT' and 'Y Pb Pr' use proprietary cables to add stereo audio and composite video and component video, respectively. The HDMI port is now version 1.3 compliant so can transport the latest audio formats and supports deep color mode. All told, where the original WDTV had somewhat limited connectivity, the Live caters for near enough every connectivity eventuality.
The remote is essentially identical to the original WDTV's, except for a change to a matt finish to match the main unit, so remains just as logically laid out and easy to use. That said, if Western Digital had added a numpad, it would have made typing quicker and easier.
Although that covers the main feature updates to the WDTV Live, there is a little more going on including a complete overhaul of the menu system. As such, everything looks and feels a little slicker and it's easier to find the files you're looking for. In particular, music is now organised into a proper library so you can whittle down your music selection by Artist >> Album >> Track, whereas the previous version just presented a list of all tracks by an artist or on an album.