The Western Digital WD TV Live is a new version of the previously reviewed WD TV media streamer. It's got one major addition, though: the ability to communicate with computers on your home network. Thankfully, the addition of this massive new feature hasn't added to the price significantly, as this device retails at a very reasonable £100 or so.
While products like the Popcorn Hour A-110 cost about £200 in the UK, the WD TV Live can be found online for less than £100. We aren't pretending that the WD TV Live is quite as flexible, though. It lacks much of the A-110's Internet functionality, for example, although it can play YouTube videos, which is quite a popular feature and one that works very well in this case.
Design-wise, the WD TV Live is remarkable compared with any other networked media streamer. It's so petite that it almost defies belief. The good news, however, is that, despite its size, it has the performance and connectivity of a much larger machine.
As you'd imagine, there's a 1080p-capable HDMI output and a network connection. Because the network port takes up a big chunk of space, the composite video and RCA audio sockets have been removed. The good news, however, is that, while the RCA jacks have gone, a pair of 3.5mm mini sockets replace them. One jack handles standard-definition video and audio, and the other handles component RGB video. The optical audio output remains unchanged from the WD TV's, as do the rear and right-hand-side USB sockets.
Adding the WD TV Live to your network is no trouble at all. The whole process is designed to be as simple as possible. We found that, within seconds, the WD TV Live had obtained an IP address over DHCP and was able to see other computers on our network.
But we started to have problems when trying to get video from a computer on a network containing numerous PCs. While the WD TV Live was able to see our machine, we couldn't connect to its shares, even with the right username and password. We were, however, able to use Windows Media Player to share our video, music and photos, and watch them on the WD TV Live. For most people, this is probably the way they will opt to access their video anyway. Do be aware, though, that, if you're using Windows Media Player to share, it will only send video it can understand. This means that, with certain versions of Windows, you won't be able to send MKV video to the machine -- a problem we encountered ourselves.
One of the features we did enjoy was the ability to mount the WD TV Live as a network drive. This means that drives connected to the WD TV Live can be seen on your network, and can have video copied onto them. That's very handy indeed if you have a portable hard drive plugged into the WD TV Live and want a simple way to transfer files onto it, without the hassle of unplugging it and connecting it to your computer.
Picture and sound quality
As with its predecessor, the WD TV Live's picture quality is excellent. There's plenty of detail in the images and the sound is presented in either its original form or downscaled to stereo. How sound is handled is up to you, but Dolby Digital can be sent from either the built-in optical or HDMI connections.
The video we tested worked fine, for the most part. One MOV file was unprepared to play, but another -- a trailer from Apple's Web site -- presented no problems at all. We're not convinced the video quality is quite as good as that of the A-110, but, if there's any difference, it's likely to be a matter of which you prefer. At any rate, on our Samsung TV, the video looked as amazing as we expected.
The Western Digital WD TV Live costs around half as much as the Popcorn Hour A-110. It's not as capable when it comes to getting video off your home network, but it plays most major formats and does a very good job of it. We can't fault the WD TV Live as a piece of equipment, especially when it costs less than £100.
If you want the ultimate media streamer, we still think you'd be better off with the A-110. The option to internally mount a hard drive is well worth considering if you want a centralised place to store media, and the A-110 just feels like a more comprehensive product. But, whichever device you choose, we're pretty sure you'll be happy with the results.
Edited by Charles Kloet