Western Digital’s New WD TV Does Netflix
There are a gazillion ways to watch movies and TV shows on the Internet, and I'm not sure if any of them are more fundamentally appealing than Netflix's Watch Instantly: It's reasonably priced, fun to use, and bursting at the seams with stuff worth watching. Small wonder that it's among the most widely-supported services on gadgets that let you connect an HDTV to your home network-the latest of which is Western Digital's $150 WD HD Live Plus HD. I tried a unit loaned to me by Western Digital.
Physically, the WD TV Live Plus HD looks like earlier incarnations of WD TV and reminds me of Roku's player: It's about the size of a thick sandwich, and plugs into your TV via component cables or HDMI (the latter cable isn't included). Unlike Roku, it doesn't have built-in Wi-Fi-you've got to connect it to your network via Ethernet or spring for an extra-cost Wi-Fi adapter. I used the former approach, and found that the box worked with minimal setup.
Most devices with Netflix support only give you access to videos that you've previously placed in your Instant Queue in a PC-based browser. WD TV, however, also lets you browse Netflix's entire collection right on your TV. The implementation of this idea isn't as slick as on the Roku, which lets you scroll through titles both horizontally and vertically to speed browsing, and which lets you do text searches. But it's still better than average. (Western Digital rival Seagate already offered Netflix on its similar TV boxes.)
The box supports a bunch of other streaming services: Pandora, Live 365, YouTube, Flickr, and Mediafly (which provides access to video podcasts). The one type of service that's conspicuously absent is something that would let you watch new movies, such as Amazon Video on Demand, Vudu, or CinemaNow.
As with previous versions of WD TV, this box is as much about your own content as it is about services that deliver entertainment across the Net. It sports two USB ports for plugging in hard disks and thumb drives, and can also talk to networked drives and UPnP/DLNA devices on your network. A bevy of file formats are supported, and this is the first version of WD TV that gives you access to the menus on ripped DVDs. All of which makes it a convenient way to get your digital movies, music, and photos onto an HDTV.
I streamed video (high- and standard-definition) and music off a USB drive, network drives, and the Internet. Everything played with hiccup-free goodness. The WD TV interface for browsing and playing files is servicable enough, but-as with all the other interfaces of this sort I've tried-it resembles a PC file manager and therefore feels a bit like work.
The one showstopping problem I encountered was with Windows 7′s Play To feature, which should have let me route media files on a PC to the WD TV for playback. I couldn't get it to work-and neither Windows 7 nor Western Digital's documentation offered enough explanation of the feature or troubleshooting tips.
I'm still looking for a device that truly degeekifies networked digital video to the same degree that Sonos has long done with music. (Maybe Dlink's upcoming Boxee Box will do the trick once it finally ships.) But if you're a Netflix devotee who also has a sizable collection of digital entertainment, the new WD TV is worth a look.
Product mentioned in this article
Western Digital WD TV Live Plus
The WDTV Live Plus is a good choice for anyone looking for a single device capable of streaming Netflix as well as content on a local network or thumb drive.