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68 of 70 people found the following review helpful
Powerful, but best from a wired connection
on March 15, 2010
I bought this player to stream 720p and 1080p MKV files over my network from WHS SMB shares to an HD television. I did not try Youtube or the other internet features.
The unit had some trouble properly detecting my displays, even with the most recent firmware. I first tried it with a Dell 2408 WFP 1900x1200 display using a DVI to HDMI cable. The player defaulted to a low and pixelated resolution, and I was unable to force it to use anything higher. I then tried component inputs, with success setting to 1080i. While very good, there was still apparent text aliasing, and the analog nature of the input locked out a number of advanced display options. It's possible an HDMI/HDMI cable would have fared better, but I didn't have one to test at this location.
The second display was a Sony E50A10 720p projection television from 2006. No picture was visible when I connected the WDTV with an HDMI/HDMI cable. Neither composite nor component worked properly either, showing a rolling menu in gray tones. Resetting the unit didn't help. After consulting the manual, I used the extremely poor composite picture to manually select the right HDMI mode. I then switched to HDMI to confirm the choice, and the unit worked properly from there. Component also worked via manual selection at this point; image quality is identical to HDMI on my 720p screen.
Once operational, I plugged a Belkin 802.11g USB network adapter from WD's recommended list into the unit. It detected and became a choice in the network screen almost immediately. That screen is well-designed, and it was simple to input the proper password and settings for my WPA2 network. For the remainder of testing, I never lost the network connection.
I tried AVI and MKV files in the following sizes:
700 MB AVI - perfect and immediate play
1.4 GB AVI - perfect and immediate play
4.7 GB MKV - perfect play until high-motion scenes, then stuttering
8.3 GB MKV - same result in less time
11.0 GB MKV - same result in less time
14.0 GB MKV - almost immediate stuttering
The problem was the 802.11g adapter. Even connected at 54 Mbps with maximum signal strength, it isn't capable of playing a file larger than perhaps 3.5 GB without stuttering. I was confused by this at first because the 4.7 GB files had an average bitrate of only 7 Mbps or so; it turns out variable encoding makes for spikes of up to 20 Mbps. That's apparently too much for 802.11g, because my laptop with an Intel adapter connecting to the same WRT54GL router fared even worse.
The WDTV buffers very little, so you're at the mercy of any device sharing the 2.4 GHz band that 802.11g and most 802.11n networks use. Microwaves, baby monitors, cordless phones, nearby networks, and activity on your own network can all cause temporary dropouts. I'd look hard at 5 GHz 802.11n hardware, ethernet-over-coax, or powerline networking if a direct cable run isn't possible.
The natural followup was to try a wired network. Since I had no interest in the internet features and my router wasn't nearby, I ran a cable directly from my file server to the WDTV. A crossover cable was not required; ordinary CAT-5/e/6 will do. I then set the server network adapter's TCP/IP settings to:
All other settings blank. And the WDTV, I set to:
All other settings blank.
Though the internet check failed (no DNS server; of course it would), I could immediately access the server's shares just as before. While the WDTV has only a 10/100 Mb adapter, it was more than sufficient to perfectly stream all of the files above. I saw a maximum of 45 Mbps on my network monitor with the 14 GB file. A more aggressively-compressed 7GB animated feature peaked at 55 Mbps. Because a wired network can operate at full line speed, the probability of hitching is minimal with almost any 1080p content, Blu-ray or otherwise.
Wireless is drastically more variable. Even if there isn't a surly neighbor on your channel or three floors and two hundred feet separating the client and access point, most 802.11g hardware won't manage more than 20 Mbps. 802.11n will sustain 15-25 Mbps with cheap hardware, the 2.4 GHz band, and no channel bonding. Good hardware and channel bonding will get you to 50 Mbps with 2.4 GHz. 5 GHz and a close client can push that to 70 Mbps, but rarely more and occasionally less than 2.4 GHz (2.4 penetrates walls better than 5). In all circumstances, regardless of the connected speed reported by adapter driver (e.g., "300.0 Mbps"), a 100 Mbps wired connection will be superior. Boiled down: an 802.11g connection will get you through many DVD-sized films. 802.11n configured properly will work for almost all recompressed films, but not Blu-ray. And a 100 Mbps wire will handle anything.
Picture quality on the WDTV is excellent, perhaps even better than my BD player. Playback is aided by basic zoom controls, but the zoom function apparently occurs later in the processing chain than the downsampling of the source to fit the screen. So, if you're playing wide 1080p content on a 720p screen, zooming in to fill the black bars will upsample the 720p image instead of adding back resolution from the 1080p source. Fast-forward and rewind are very responsive over a wired connection and only slightly less so with wireless.
I've encountered two persistent negatives. The first is an inability to set favorite places; I have to drill down to my movie folder from the top menu every time I boot the unit. The second negative is share discovery. While my WDTV has no trouble sustaining a connection or playing a film, it's a crapshoot whether it'll find my network drive. Detection works for perhaps 4 in 5 tries. The release notes for firmware version 1.02.21 (3/30/10) suggest this latter issue may have been fixed, though I haven't had a chance to find out. Since the "just works" vibe is a major draw of the WDTV, I'm reluctant to recommend it to the non-tech-savvy crowd until I'm certain it will work consistently. WD's commitment to improving the product is nonetheless admirable.
=== Technical notes ===
File sizes are described in bytes, big B. Transfer rates, in bits per second, small b. There are 8 bits to each byte. To transfer a 5 GB file from point to point at 100 Mbps, for example, it would take 400 seconds.
5 GB = 5000 MB
100 Mbps = (100 / 8) MBps = 12.5 MBps
5000 MB / 12.5 MBps = 400 seconds
To derive my file size estimates in the earlier text, I calculated as follows:
Maximum sustained real-world bandwidth:
802.11g: 20 Mbps
802.11n: 20 - 85 Mbps
100 BASE-T: 95 Mbps
Peak bitrate: 3X the average bitrate for a given file
Average bitrate: file size / file length
Average file length: 90 minutes (5400 seconds)
20 Mbps * 5400 seconds = 108,000 Mb
108,000 Mb / 8 = 13,500 MB
13,500 MB / 3 = 4500 MB = 4.5 GB
We would expect 802.11g to just barely handle 4.5 GB files, though as I discovered, that turned out to be optimistic. There's a fudge factor here because the peak bitrate multiplier depends on the aggressiveness of the H.264 encoder. I've seen a range of 2X to 6X, so it's possible that a smaller movie could stutter while a larger one plays without issue. 3X remains a fair approximation for most files. Some routers support channel-bonding and frame-burst algorithms that may improve bandwidth and playback results.
You can also calculate the bandwidth required to play a particular file.
10 GB file
5400 seconds in length
10000 MB / 5400s = 1.85 MBps
1.85 MBps * 8 = 14.8 Mbps
14.8 MBps * 3 = 45 Mbps
For this 10 GB, 90 minute film, we can expect it to stutter over 802.11g, but play smoothly over a decent 802.11n network.