John Galea's Blog

My blog on Gadgets and the like

WD Player Live HD Review

I’ve used a PC beside my TV to play music and video content stored locally and on LAN shares for years. I’ve often wondered what these players would be like. Newegg had a bargain price of $65 for a refurb and I’ve been having difficulty with one of my PCs so I thought I would give one a whirl based on experiences of friends.

So let me save you some time and cut to the chase. Of course the details are below. If your going to play content off a network share, skip the stock firmware, use WDLXTV, skip trying the browser and go right to hard coded xmount shares.

Out of the box I was shocked at how small the device is. The output flexibility is impressive. It can handle composite, component and HDMI. Audio wise it has HDMI, optical and stereo. Impressive. And they include the component, composite and stereo cables with the unit. No HDMI cable was included. I bought a spare at Bewawa a place recommended by a friend and I was happy with my experience with them.

Right out of the box the device detected there was a new firmware when placed online. I am still shocked at how difficult the router companies make it to update their firmware. Come on folks get with it. Even my Linksys E3000 is much harder than it should be to update the firmware. Updating on the WD was simple and easy, it just did it. The remote for the device is uber small and did not come with it’s AAA batteries. Oddly the unit did not come with a manual either. After about a 5 minute process the player downloaded it’s new firmware, rebooted and came back up all nice and shiny new. Oddly enough once updated it found yet another much more current firmware release and so the process started yet again.

On top of local content it supports internet content from the likes of Blockbuster, facebook, flickr, Pandora, netflix and many more. The weather content did not include any Canadian locations. Thanks WD.

Plugging in a USB flash drive was easily found and played smoothly. After a power off the USB device was not recognized and I had to unplug it and plug it back in. Nice feature, NOT. Of course a feature is simply a bug you didn’t fix 🙂

Network discovery on this device is VERY poorly done. The device relies on a network browser. If the browser happens to find the computer your serving from then your good to go. You enter a userid/password if needed for the share and away you go. Unfortunately my servers were not seen. And one was seen and then not. Whatever this is using as a network browser is buggy at best. And unfortunately they did not allow you to simply enter a file share manually. And the userid for authentication can not be on a domain or this won’t work either. I was really disappointed at how poorly this was done. This made it problematic at best, frustrating as hell at worst. There are tons of posts out there with people with this same issue. Why WD doesn’t address this is beyond me.

The device is quite slow to power up. It takes almost a minute. Not sure I would be powering it off much. Except, it really does get quite warm so must be consuming a reasonable amount of power.

So once I gave up on the stock firmware I installed WDLXTV. They have taken the stock firmware from WD and improved it. There is a web interface, a telnet/ssh interface both of which make configuring the device and manually adding shares possible. The web interface also allows you to use a web browser as a remote control for the device.

Once loaded I figured out the silly syntax of the xmount command using telnet and then added it to the auto mount so it would work on power up. The auto mounted shares show up like local content so you need to have a USB flash drive on the device or the local content menu doesn’t show up. All of this is pretty well documented in the MANY posts on using this thing to control network shares.

I tried with no success to use domain userid/passwords and eventually gave up.

Once I had all the network stuff figured out (this was key because all of my movies and music are on network shares) the player works very well. Playback is bright, vivid and smooth. No interruptions. Sound quality was good but there is no volume control on the WD remote so you are reliant on the TV or receiver’s volume control. Oddly once the show was done it moved onto the next file in the directory or started replaying the same one if there were no others. The prev/next worked flawlessly moving between files in the directory. It remembers where you left off on any show you had started which is nice. There is no way to delete content once watched which is a major miss in my opinion. In preview mode when you are scrolling through files to find the one you want it immediately begins playing the file which slows down navigation significantly.

The device by default automatically shares out the USB drive you plug in allowing you to copy to it over the network. This works ok but is kind of slow. It got around 3M/s.

They have brilliantly added support the NTFS based drives. This is very important because the max file size for a FAT32 partition is 4G and many of the hi def movies are bigger than this. Yay!

I tried a CD/DVD USB drive but it was totally ignored.

The code is suppose to support movie sheets to give you details of the movie file you are hovering on. The movie sheets are manually offline prepared. I couldn’t get this going as was the ONLY obstacle for replacing the PC beside the TV. Without it you are stuck looking at the name of the file and trying to remember what the movie was about. Pooh.

I didn’t play a lot with music playback but it is quite basic. It supports tags and does allow you to select by album, artist, genre etc. In album mode it didn’t see the artwork but in folder mode it did. Playback of an individual file showed the artwork of that file. All in all it works but don’t be expecting anything too impressive. It’s basic.

Photo playback is also quite basic. No transitions in between photos, no ability (that I could find) to change how long the picture stayed on the screen. You can set shuffle and replay modes. So it works, but nothing elaborate.

I can’t even begin to tell you how long setting up this device took. The issues were all around network shares. From USB all was simple and easy.

This device is very manageable remotely. It includes telnet, SSH, FTP, and SFTP all built in. With Winscp it’s possible to completely automate content management of the device.

DLNA is fully supported both from a media, share and display point of view. Well done.

This device works well and has a plethora of options for connecting it. It’s small allowing it to fit in easily to any environment. No noisy fans either. It does generate a reasonable amount of heat. For the low price they are charging for this device it is impressive.

January 9, 2012 - Posted by | Electronic gadget reviews

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