Connectivity is where things start going downhill slightly. The Mini only has a single USB input to read memory sticks or external hard drives compared to the WD TV’s two, and more significantly, though an optical digital audio output has been retained, HDMI is no longer available. For video output we now have two 3.5mm jacks, one for composite video/RCA audio and the other just for component video, with special cables provided.
This is a significant step back for Western Digital, as it means this media player can no longer be used with most PC monitors (which only offer HDMI/DVI and VGA) – surely a prime market for people looking at players around this price point? It also means you have to have two audiovisual cables hooked up to the Mini if you care about quality, since the component cable only carries video signal. It’s worth keeping in mind that the composite/audio jack won’t take a regular 3.5mm audio cable either, so it can’t be used as a headphone connector.
Setting the WD TV Mini up is very simple. Just plug in the power brick (which is almost as large as the device itself) and the two audiovisual cables – you really don’t want to use composite video if you have the choice. Finally plug in a drive with some media and you’re ready to go.
You’ll want to set the Mini’s resolution to the maximum it and your screen can support. Together with the HDMI connection the mini has lost the ability to send a Full HD 1080p signal, though it will happily do 1080i at up to 60Hz. Once configured properly (it’s set to 480i/4:3 by default) it will up-scale everything to 1080i, at which it does a credible job for such a cheap unit. The processing doesn’t make standard definition sharper or better-looking, but at least it’s watchable scaled to the higher resolution.
Divided into Videos, Music, Photos, File Management and Settings, the Mini’s blue, black and white interface is clean and attractive, and generally responsive as long as you’re not dealing with DVD-size files (over 4GB). Like the interface found on the WD TV HD, it’s one of the better ones we’ve come across for media players in every respect. Icons and groupings are logical, and you can choose from a wide variety of setup options – including screensaver and slideshow timings, transition effects, whether or not to show picture icons for video, subtitle size, and the list goes on. It’s full of clever touches too, like the way the previous/next buttons on the remote skip through whole ‘pages’ of photos at once with a nice animation.
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