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Customer Review

184 of 202 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Only good for Netflix type apps. Poor UI for networked media shares. No DTS = dealbreaker. Get WD TV Live Streaming instead., February 18, 2013
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This review is from: WD TV Play Media Player (2013 Model) (Electronics)
I was very excited to hear that WD was releasing a new set top streamer with the announcement of the WD Play last week. WD was among the first to release small set top streaming boxes back in 2008, and since then, have released several very strong, if tragically overlooked, streaming devices that cover a wide variety of home theater implementations. Being a proud and very satisfied owner of multiple WDTV Live Streaming devices, I ordered this as soon it became available to see what new things- if any- WD was bringing to the table in terms of streaming.

The WD Play is positioned as an entry level streaming product, costing less than the WDTV Live Streaming (whose listed price for all of 2012 averaged $90 new, but is now hiked to near MSRP of $120, right after the WD Play's release), and significantly less than the WDTV Live Hub. The WD Play is NOT positioned to replace either of those fantastic devices, nor would I recommend anyone doing so.

Unfortunately, I cannot recommend this device to many home theater users. I can ONLY recommmend it for people who solely want it to access apps such as Pandora, Netflix, YouTube, Hulu, and others like it. While WDTV Play retains a lot of media format compatibility as other WDTV devices, WD has inexplicably cut out support for mpeg and DTS audio. The former is forgivable, as it's an outdated and relatively underused format, but the latter absolutely is not. The interface for accessing networked media, or simply changing audio or subtitle tracks is crippled and very counter-intuitive. Perhaps most telling about this device is the physical remote. Gone are many of useful interface buttons found in other WDTV device remotes, and in their stead, are big prominent buttons for Netflix, Hulu, and Vudu. This is a product that I feel was needlessly dumbed down. Non-technical users that I've introduced to the WDTV Live Streaming haven't had any problems using that significantly more robust product. Oddly enough, WD continues to offer a good, technical smartphone remote app to offset the very limited physical remote, but I question the logic of this: Why have a technical smartphone remote for this device, when what you are accessing on the WDTV Play has been over simplified and targeted towards a supposed highly nontechnical user? Wouldn't a user that is technical enough to use a smartphone remote app be technical enough to use the interface options found in the Live Streaming/Hub, that were stripped out in the Play?

There are a lot of inconsistencies and shortcomings in this device. These inconsistencies are too glaring to ignore for the technical user, and are even questionable when it comes to the non technical user.

OUT OF THE BOX:
The WDTV Play is slightly smaller than the WDTV Live Streaming. It offers HDMI out, SPDIF/Optical audio out, 10/100 Ethernet, as well as fairly a fairly good 802.11n WiFi adapter. There is also a USB 2.0 port for uploading firmware updates, or for connecting a USB device to play media locally, albeit USB 2.0 has very slow transfer speeds for any serious media outside of small MP3s or standard definition video. They also include a composite A/V cable, but that is likely to be unused for the majority of people with modern TV's under 10 years old. Setting this up is a no brainer. This is a good thing. While there was an immediate firmware update which took 10 minutes, everything works right out of the box with no absolutely technical setup- beyond selecting a language- required.

STREAMING "APPS":
This is the strongest feature of the WDTV Play. Most of the most widely used apps are all immediately accessible from the "Home" page of the WD Play and more can be added or removed, similar to a Windows Live Tile interface. There are a good number of apps available, but the lack of access to Amazon Prime Video is a void that may lead others to other set top devices that support it. For what it's worth, I do have confidence that WD will eventually add Amazon Prime in the future. Set top boxes are a competitive market and WD will need Amazon onboard if they want to remain competitive. Apps run better on the Play than in other WDTV devices, and gone seems to be some of the more egregious lag and crashing that seemed to happen on the other WDTV devices when certain apps were left to continuously run. So there were some improvements on how apps were handled. I do also like the addition of a meter to show how much of the onboard storage has been used for apps (up to 256MB of apps can be installed). There is Facebook integration with this device, but I don't see any applicable purpose to that, other than providing companies a way of collecting your usage data.

INTERFACE & MEDIA SERVER STREAMING, ADVANCED USERS:
The WDTV Play has an very simplified interface. In the older WDTV Live Streaming and Hub devices, media was compartmentalized and organized in logical sections for Music, Video, Services (Apps), Weather, etc. It was simple, elegant, and easy for anyone to follow. The WDTV Play on the other hand, has everything presented on a single screen, as a jumble of different icons, presented in a way that's similar to a Windows 8 Live Tile interface. While pressing the Settings/Tools button on the remote allows arranging of the icons, I feel that the look is very cluttered. What may work for smartphones and laptops, isn't necessarily optimal for a TV interface. People will have some very mixed feelings about this interface. The naming of the button to access networked media and USB connected media "My Storage" is also a bit nebulous and there doesn't seem to be a way to manually input locations to search. "My Storage" seems to just automatically pick up DLNA servers, public network shares, and connected USBs and present them all on the same panel, which is very good for ease of access, but if you utilize specific usernames and passwords to access shared folders on your network (as a good, secure network policy should be set up), because WD Play is stripped of manual input options and only detects "Public" shares, you will have no way accessing it. (In Windows, these would be shared drives and folders shared with "Everyone"). A solution to this would be to set the publicly shared folders to share with "Everyone", but set to read only permissions. This of course isn't ideal there are situations where you don't want something shared broadcast over your entire network. IThis calls to attention the immediate deficiencies in the WD Play's ability to be a front end for networked media.

The hallmarks of a good networked home theater setup are as follows: Compatibility, Quality/Output, and Interface. The WDTV Play is severely lacking in all of these areas. Like the older WDTV Live Hub & Streaming devices, the WDTV Play supports DLNA. DLNA is the backbone of any good networked home entertainment system. Put simply, it allows someone to host a bunch of files on a computer/file/media server, and the DLNA compatible device, like the WDTV, accesses and plays files from it. The most popular setups rely on media server software like PS3 Media Server, Universal Media Server, Plex, etc to be installed on the computer hosting the music and videos, and "serves" it up to the frontend interface device, like the WDTV Play. Another popular setup is to use file sharing within the Operating System of anything you want to access. Unfortunately, while WDTV Play can easily access public network shares and DLNA media servers, compatibility is a bit crippled on this device. Despite the Play supporting a lot of video containers (ie: MKV, AVI, WMV, etc), WD decided to strip out mpeg video support and DTS audio (format of audio/video within the video containers themselves). While mpeg is outdated and has largely been superceded by the highly popular h264 compression format, DTS is VERY widely used. DTS is a high bitrate, very high quality audio format found in countless movies. The WDTV Play oddly recognizes and plays videos that use DTS, but audio output is silent. If you have a lot of videos that use DTS, you'd have to take a lot of time just to convert all of your videos just so you could hear them with this device. This is a dealbreaker for any serious networked home theater setups, considering most set top boxes support DTS, and most high end video uses DTS audio.

The WDTV Play can ouput 1080p video @ 60Mhz and surround sound audio, but because it lacks DTS audio support, the full home theater experience with this device is pretty limited. Compounding this is a very poor interface when accessing your media via "My Storage". In the WDTV Live Streaming & Hub devices, users could change the appearance of how files were displayed, with one of the best views being a vertically scrolling list of files on the left, with a preview window and media details on the right. The WDTV Play limits users to only ONE VIEW for interacting with networked media: a side scrolling list of files (like "List View" in Windows), with no front page details and no separate, dedicated preview window. There is an odd preview window, but it isn't in a fixed position (see picture) and overlays the file list right underneath whatever is selected. It actually changes position every time you scroll through your list of files. It's very unprofessional looking and I honestly thought it was a bug. Once you start playing videos, some other interface issues become very apparent as well. With the WDTV Live Streaming and Hub devices, you could use the dedicated remote buttons for "Subtitle" and "Audio" to cycle through available subtitle and audio tracks in a video, without blocking or interrupting what is being played. Now, because WD removed those buttons, you only have the new "Tools" button, which causes a menu screen to pop up and block the entire screen, in which you must scroll down and go through multiple clicks just to change a subtitle or audio track. This is off putting and tedious, particularly if you like watching foreign videos, or if you have a hearing disability and need subtitles.

CONCLUSION:
If you have a lot of video files with DTS audio: Not for you.
If you want to do DLNA streaming from your media server or file system: Not for you, the limited interface and compatibility issues will drive you nuts.
If you just want to have Netflix on your TV: You may want to consider it, but there are better, more feature rich devices out there, that don't have such a confused, inconsistent interface, including WD's higher end devices. (Smart shoppers can find the WD TV Live Streaming brand new for only a little bit more than the Play, or if they are comfortable with refurbs, for even less!)

The $70.00 MSRP of this device and all of the issues mentioned make this a tough sell. Considering how fantastic the older WDTV Live Streaming device is, and how that it can be had, refurbished, for LESS than this device, and how it has much more refined, unified interface, makes the WDTV Play very hard to recommend.

Until the interface on this device is made consistent and some interaction options restored (file view layout options, manual selection and input of network locations to search for media), there's not a whole lot to like here. For what it's worth, the WD has been very good with firmware improvements on other devices. If the WD Play firmware is improved, updates will be posted to the review as necessary.

OVERVIEW OF WD TV PRODUCT LINE:
WDTV Play -- intended as an entry level device, geared towards accessing Netflix and the like, not optimal for networked home theater setups. It is the least expensive, but limited in many ways.

WD TV Live Streaming Media Player Wi-Fi 1080p AVI Xvid MKV MOV FLV MP4 MPEG -- a jack of all trades that is great for accessing Netflix type apps, and is probably the best networked home theater streaming device available, with compatibility for practically everything. It is the best all around device for technical and non technical users alike and is competitively priced, can actually cost less than the Play if bought refurbished.

Western Digital 1 TB WD TV Live Hub Media Center, Full-HD 1080p - AVI, Xvid, MKV, MOV, FLV, VOB, MP3, WAV, MP4, MPEG, WMV9 is nearly identical to the Streaming, but adds large 1TB onboard storage, 10/100/1000 ethernet, and is intended for those who want to setup a no hassle plug and play streaming hub and/or don't have the technical know how to set up a media server or network shares using their computer. It is the most expensive option.
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Tracked by 6 customers

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Showing 1-10 of 24 posts in this discussion
Initial post: Feb 20, 2013 6:55:13 AM PST
Last edited by the author on Feb 20, 2013 7:27:07 AM PST
The Doc says:
Try reading the product description before you buy. The other WD devices can play the file formats you're griping about; it just takes some research before buying the right product. Don't use a negative review to prevent others from buying a great product when a little research would have solved your problem.

Furthermore, did it ever occur to you that all some people want and need is a basic media streamer? That's how this product is advertised and it meets that requirement with flying colors. I'm sorry if the "simplicity" obviously offends your enormous intelligence and technical prowess, but why are you buying and reviewing this product instead of one of the more advanced WD streaming/storage products? Don't try to turn the general consumer off of a great product simply because you find it "dumbed down." What you insult and disparage, many others would call streamlined, simplified, and user friendly. The product meets its purpose; don't ask more from it than was intended by its designers and manufacturers.

In reply to an earlier post on Feb 20, 2013 8:33:32 AM PST
Michael M. says:
If you read my review, I take a great effort to make a point of mentioning, several times, that this product's merits as a smart app player are its strongest utility and steer people who are looking for more towards the more robust WDTV Live Streaming and WDTV Live Hub products. This is not turning the consumer off of a product, nor is it insulting or disparaging. They're valid points that can help direct a consumer to a product that is a "best fit" for them. I don't think I am reaching to think that word of mouth recommendations for a "WDTV" will have people looking at this product and expecting more, when the other products can do better. There's no need to personally attack me and suggest some kind of 'tech elitism' for making those points.

The fact of the matter- if you check your order invoice- is that when this product was initially posted on Amazon, it was titled "WD TV Play Media Player Wi-Fi 1080p AVI Xvid MKV MOV FLV MP4 MPEG" when it does not in fact support MPEG video. That tacking on of formats at the end was misleading in the product's name. Importantly, there is also no specific mention of what it does not support, like DTS. That omission is important, because the product listing also advertises:

"Enjoy your media library, home videos, vacation slideshows, and favorite songs on your HDTV and sound system in your living room. Sit back and enjoy the spectacular picture quality of Full-HD 1080p.

Enjoy media from any source.
Stream videos, music, and photos from your USB drive and any DLNA/UPnP device on your home network. "

The product listing has now removed "MPEG" from the name, but the lack of DTS and the device's merits as a networked media player are valid points of critique, since they go out of their way to advertise those functions. A lot of people's media collections include formats incompatible with this device. Because they do advertise this product as a networked media player / DLNA streamer, and did not specifically indicate a lack of DTS audio support, critiquing this product as a networked media player is very appropriate. If they didn't advertise that functionality, then of course there would be no need to review it.

Everything I reviewed about this product is based on how the product was listed and advertised on Amazon. The points I make are valid and I think is more likely to help inform a decision, rather than hurt one. You don't have to agree with it, but no need to insult.

In reply to an earlier post on Feb 20, 2013 8:51:04 AM PST
The Doc says:
[Customers don't think this post adds to the discussion. Show post anyway. Show all unhelpful posts.]

In reply to an earlier post on Feb 20, 2013 9:26:25 AM PST
Michael M. says:
I slightly modified some verbiage in the initial summary to "ONLY recommmend it for people who solely want it to access apps such as Pandora, Netflix, YouTube, Hulu, and others like it"

On the more detailed breakdown of how it functions for streaming apps, It was already mentioned how well it functions on that end and how it actually runs apps better than the Live Streaming and Live Hub.

While my review is a bit verbose, for the people that do read it, I really don't think anyone will be misled by it. The review as a whole directs anyone coming to this product to handle personal media collections to the Live Streaming and Live Hub.

In reply to an earlier post on Feb 20, 2013 1:59:09 PM PST
Weili says:
IMHO Mr. McFall's review was very informative and objective. He obviously is more experienced than your average user so that's how he wrote his review. I am not sure why you took it so personally.

Posted on Feb 24, 2013 8:46:59 AM PST
Robin M says:
I have many networked media files, many with DTS soundtracks. The files are on a Windows Home Server with many shared folders.
I currently have many media playback devices on my network, I particularly like my old Asus O!play that can mount to the server shared directories and seem to play nearly every file.
Your review answered many of my questions, and as such, I was glad I did not get this device as it would likely not work out for me.
Thanks for taking the time to write your detailed review.

Posted on Feb 24, 2013 7:03:30 PM PST
Doc,

I understand your point. However any person that actually READS the review will see that M.M. recommended it for media streaming. The proof of "dumbing-down" is when a person reaches a conclusion based solely on the number of stars in a review without actually reading the review! If a person just wants a simple media streamer he will probably already find one in his Blu-ray player, smartTV, or can just buy one of the Roku boxes and be done with it. Don't even bother with products such as the WD Play.

I guess I am one of those "elitist" users who wants to know how well a so-called Media Player actually serves out my own music and photos. This continues to be the weakest feature in the product field since the first one was offered. Lousy interfaces, missing basics, and unreliable operation. Even if you are not elitist, don't you want to know when necessary/useful features are not present in a device?

WD is one of the few companies that have consistently tried to meet this need, and has succeeded more often than the others. So when they offer a new product claiming this capability, I want to know if it is better or worse than it predecessors. (my opinion is that WD should concentrate their efforts here, where most other manufactures will not, and that is on a fully functional PnP/DLNA playback device)

As far as "dumbing down" is concerned, it is a problem that is rampant in too many product offering these days (witness Windows, Apple, etc) where all of us are forced to do it 'their way' because the masses are unwilling to learn/understand how to use/operate a device properly. (there's my elitist attitude again!).

I hope M.M. will not be discouraged from doing all of us the service of intelligent and informed reviews of products that other reviewers screw up so badly (i.e. CNET's review of this product).

In reply to an earlier post on Feb 24, 2013 8:58:14 PM PST
Michael M. says:
I was a bit perplexed at CNET's review of the Play as well. I questioned how much time they actually spent with it. That CNET's reviewer's opinion of being able to rearrange icons and have a list of favorites = having a lot "configurability"... I think I literally facepalmed when I read it. When there are no fewer than 4 dozen 1080p capable devices out there that have Netflix, Vudu, and Hulu, and most households likely already having at least one device that does it.... I was shocked that they glossed over the compatibility and networking/network streaming issues, since those features tend to make a product stand apart from the rest.

In an ideal world, the only people buying this product would be limited niche target market people like Doc, who will go out of their way with post-purchase rationalizations to justify their decision to buy something...people content with something doing a bare minimum, and no desire to seek any more than that... but when it comes to emerging markets for gadgets, it's still largely dominated by tech savvy adopters like you, I, and others here, who want the absolute most out of their devices (for their money) and have usage scenarios that don't quite fit so seamlessly with what marketing would intend. People familiar with much of what's out there, and want something that does something new, or does quite a few things exceptionally better than others. So I tend to frame my reviews around the perspective of getting the most out of something, or finding an interesting/overlooked application of the product, without overlooking the intended purpose.

In a sense, I almost feel as if the WD TV Play was designed by focus groups. You have the Live Streaming and Live Hub, which are fantastic devices loved by most owners, but because the marketing for the devices wasn't as strong as Roku, Apple, or even Netgear, WD attributed the less than ideal adoption rates to problems with the product, rather than problems with the marketing. The feel of the Play, in relation to the Live Streaming and Hub, is as if they took a bunch of focus group type ideas about streamlining, which looked just great on paper, and then made it a reality..despite those notions of "streamlining" having poor execution in real world scenarios. Some of the options they stripped, like changing file organization views...really, really senseless, since a lot of those options were things that are universally understood.

Posted on Feb 25, 2013 5:50:21 AM PST
dogger says:
This is a great review and the exact information I was looking for. I see you seem to be a bit of a WD fanboy but I'm debating between a higher end Roku and a WD TV Live. Was really hoping the cheaper Play would fit the bill but I'm also worried that the specs list out Dolby TrueHD but no Dolby Digital. I've heard that TrueHD is not backwards compatible. Could you tell me if standard AC3 (5.1) tracks are supported?

In reply to an earlier post on Feb 25, 2013 9:40:43 AM PST
Last edited by the author on Feb 25, 2013 9:47:59 AM PST
Michael M. says:
Yeah, I would say I'm a major WD TV Live fanboy. There's a lot to love about that box. No problems for me to point out shortcomings when they do pop up though, across WD's product line. (Biggest shortcoming in the Live Streaming, imo, is interface lag, occasional crashing/memory leaks with apps like Netflix when they're left running for extended periods, and passive cooling which might not be sufficient in preventing device from overheating...but the vast audio/video compatibility and networking options offset it)

I had no problems playing regular Dolby Digital/AC3. Dolby TrueHD is a slightly different lossless format, like DTS, whereas DD5.1 is lossy. BUT! All of my media is handled and processed through DLNA software (Universal Media Server) before being served up to the boxes which is setup to remux AC3. When I get home from work, I'll test native playback on some files I have with DD5.1 and Dolby TrueHD audio tracks and report back with a definitive answer.

In the meantime, there's a fantastic comparison of streaming devices at this link:

http://blog.streamingmedia.com/the_business_of_online_vi/2012/05/compare-the-latest-streaming-devices-and-content-platforms-all-in-one-chart.html

The chart is up to date as of 9/2012 and the author is going to be updating it again pretty soon. It compares a ton of features and compatibilities of many devices. Excluding the more expensive Xbox360 and PS3, the WDs having the widest range of format compatibility.
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