This media player, from hard disk manufacturer Western Digital, is designed to plug into your HD TV, and play media files from USB removable storage devices such as portable hard disks.
It eschews the network-streaming capabilities and built-in hard disks found on most media players, which means it’s smaller, cheaper and easier to get to grips with.
The WD TV HD Media Player is the first such player we’ve seen. It’s tiny, too, measuring 41x124x98mm, and its glossy black finish means it will sit discreetly beside most HD TVs. The front is pleasingly featureless, except for two small indicators for power and disk access. It uses 4W on standby, so it’s best to turn it off at the mains when not in use, but incredibly it uses only 9W while playing even HD video content.
The player has two USB ports, so you can keep a drive plugged into the rear socket for everyday use and still have the port on the side free. There’s no memory card reader, but you can get a USB reader for around £5 including VAT. When you plug in a hard disk there’s a small delay, depending on the number of files on the disk, while it looks for compatible files.
There are HDMI and composite video outputs, with the former being the only real choice. It supports 720p, 1080i and 1080p resolutions in both 50Hz and 60Hz. There’s even a 1080p 24Hz mode, which is great if you’ve got one of the latest HD camcorders with a 24p cinema mode. Audio can be transmitted over HDMI, stereo phono or optical S/PDIF. The box will decode Dolby Digital audio, and DTS soundtracks can be passed though the optical S/PDIF to a compatible AV receiver.
We strongly advise you to update the firmware to the latest version, which is quick and easy, as it fixes some minor issues and adds format support. The list of supported formats is impressive and covers all those you’re likely to want. For anyone who likes to download video from the web, there’s even H.264 and MKV support, with chapter selection and subtitles. We played video from HDV and AVCHD camcorders, and it even handled Blu-ray quality video without dropping a frame. Our only quibble is that fast-forward and rewind are limited to 16x speed, which makes navigating movies without chapters a tiresome experience.
The interface is attravailable, simple to navigate and reacts quickly to your inputs on the remote. You need to be careful not to lose this, though, as there are no controls on the device itself. Videos, photos and music are all organised sensibly For example, music can be viewed by artist, genre, album, folder or recently played, while photos are organised by date or folder.
For the price, the WD TV media player is good value. It’s easy to use, and has a great interface and the kind of file support that should satisfy video enthusiasts. It’s a great buy if you do store your media files on a removable hard disk, and a persuasive argument for doing so if you don’t.