Wednesday, January 09, 2013

WD TV Live (3rd generation)



After moving to my new house I decided to stop using htpc's and see if I can live with alternative devices like this streaming box.  You can typically find these for around $80-100.  These 3rd generation devices have a Sigma Designs SMP8670AD 700mhz processor with 512MB of DDR2 memory which makes them quite capable little boxes.

- Small and silent.
- Relatively inexpensive.
- Extensive file format support.  You can pretty much throw any video (avi, mkv, vob, iso, ts, wmv, mpg, mp4, and many more), audio (mp3, aac, flac, ogg), or image (jpg, bmp, png, tiff, gif)  format at it and it will play it.  When I mean everything I mean everything like very high bitrate 1080p x264 MKVs, entire bluray ISO rips (no menus though, plays just the movie), DVD iso (full menus) and more.  It does this all natively with NO TRANSCODING.  This means almost no cpu utilization on your server.  All you have going is disk and network IO.  Recordings from hdhomerun (mpeg2 ts, ac3 audio) play just fine.
- Good support for streaming all that media off of network shares.  No plex or dlna server needed (though dlna is supported); just raw browsing of network shares - fast and efficient.  I like how you can set fetching meta data only on demand.  Keeps things lean and fast when browse vast quantities of content.
- Pretty good internet streaming support with youtube, netflix, hulu, pandora, and several others.  The only big name it's still missing is amazon VOD which I wish it had.  Youtube isn't HD though unfortunately but this is a lame restriction by google and isn't WD's fault.
- Great subtitle support even when streaming.  Those SRT files work just fine with your MKVs.  Good flexibility on size and positioning.
- Very good hdmi support and will pass through everything to your receiver like bitstream DTS and dolby trueHD.  DTS-HD master audio isn't supported and you will only get DTS core due to licensing issues.
- Good and easy to navigate UI.  You can browse LARGE collections of media pretty easily in list view and paging.  There are basically two ways to browse: add network share folders to your medial library and just a raw folder/file view of your shares.  The first gives you some nice features like sorting and resume but it takes a bit to build that library.  I only add my most commonly accessed folders to the media library.  Folder view is fast but you can't sort.  This is fine for the rest of my media collection.
- Resume doesn't work across multiple wd tv live devices.
- Very high WAF.  Works great with Logitech harmony remotes.
- Great iOS app that really saves time entering usernames and passwords for shares and internet services.
- Instant on from sleep state
- Firmware update over internet works fine.  It has built in 802.11bgn wifi (2.4ghz only) but I didn't test it since my house is fully wired with cat6 and gigabit switches.
- 2 usb ports.  Any attached storage shows up as shares too so you can access that attached storage over your LAN.
- If you have multiple wd tv lives on your network you should give each device a unique name otherwise odd things happen.
- Can play music in the background while doing other things.
- Screensaver kicks in while music is playing.
- Accuweather app.  Shows current temperature on main menu.
- If there is a power outage it will wake up the wd tv live.  Sometimes you have to add the network share back when this happens (though this happens pretty rarely).
- If the network shares go down for a period of time (say you turn off the computer that the shares are on) sometimes the wd tv live won't see the shares again until you do a complete power on/off.  Hold down the power button for 3 sec to completely turn off the wd tv live.  This one is a tad annoying and I hope they fix this in a future update.
- Power usage: killawatt - 6w under full load (1080p mkv), 4w idle on main menu, 4w sleep.
- You can scan 16X in either direction, skip in 10 min increments in either direction, or go to a specific point in time.  I really wish it had a 30 sec forward/ 10 sec back commercial skip.  Using 1-9 to jump to 10%-90% would have been nice too.  Too bad these navigation features are missing.
- Really cool RSS feature.  You can add the rss feeds to all your video podcasts and watch them.  The best way to enter the url's is to cut and paste them from an iPhone or iPad using the wd tv live app.  You can also access a variety of features by hitting the IP address of the wdtv live with a browser including setting up rss feeds.  This is tempting but do NOT DO IT.  IT IS BUGGED and will screw up all your rss feeds and you will need to factory reset your settings.  Add rss feeds directly through wdtv only.
- Roku 2 XS is an alternative but targets a different kind of user.  I think the wd tv live is great for somebody who primarily streams a large collection of local content in a variety of formats and codecs and also uses some online services.  Roku is great if you primarily stream everything from online services and have some light usage for local content.  Roku codec/file format support is pitifully small: video: mp4 (h.264); audio:  aac, mp3; image: jpg, png.  For anything else roku requires a plex server (a buggy bloated pos IMO, transcode errors, cpu intensive, disk io intensive when scanning media, etc).  So yeah Roku would be pretty much useless to me.

Highly recommended.  For streaming local content and most internet content this box really does fully replace an HTPC for me.  It's small, quiet, sips power, relatively cheap, and plays pretty much every file format out there.  I have 4 of these now.

UPDATE 3/29/2013:
- Firmware update 1.15.10 was released yesterday.  I'm happy to report that the wd tv live now works with hdhomerun prime project connect (hdhr prime acts like a DLNA server) to stream live tv in full HD with 5.1 sound.  This is fantastic news.  I basically gained access to all my channels in 4 rooms for the low low price of $0.  WD TV Live just keeps getting better and better!

UPDATE 6/4/2014:
- For no reason at all pretty much all of my wd tv live boxes are locking up when starting playback of a file, after pausing, or after fast forwarding.  I spent a day troubleshooting.  It would usually happen after playing 10-20 files.  I looked into upnp, nfs vs smb, master browser, etc.  I rebooted everything I could think of but didn't reboot one 8 port dlink switch that shouldn't have even been hit in the chain of devices.  Anyways, rebooting that switch seemed to have fixed my issues.  The moral of the story is just reboot EVERYTHING on your network and I mean everything as a first step.  These boxes are very finicky with networks and just adding a new device or computer could mess up things.  I still have 5 of these boxes but I've just ordered my second med600x3d which will be replacing the heavily used wd tv live in the family room.  If you don't need netflix or amazon (chromecast or playon works in a pinch)  then the med600x3d is just far superior for streaming local media.  After this frustrating episode I'm thinking mede8er devices are worth the extra money.

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