Top critical review
3 people found this helpful
Just "not quite there"
on March 16, 2014
Let me start off by saying that I REALLY wanted this product to work for my situation. I've got an iMac running PLEX on my network, but prefer to bypass the iMac altogether when streaming media from my network drives since I am generally running other software programs on the mac and like to keep it separate. I've been using a PogoPlug device for years now with no issues to access my ripped movies on my USB external hard drive. I've got a collection of movies (that I own) that I have ripped to my hard drive for my kids (as I got sick and tired of having to re-purchase movies that I already own due to the kids accidentally causing damage to the discs). Once I ripped my collection to the drive, we've absolutely loved having the "instant access" to our collection using our XBOX 360 as our front end to access the movies. HOWEVER... the XBOX is finicky in that you can only have your drive formatted to FAT or FAT32 which gives file size limitations and you have to rip the movie using specific settings in HandBrake in order to get it to come through properly. This is very limiting and if there are any "glitches" in the data, the video just stops and you have to restart the video at that specific point and fast forward through the "glitchy" part. PLEX simply streams the media on through the network fine (as I don't use the transcoding) but the issue is still there with the XBOX. We have a few older model ROKU boxes that basically shut down when you hit those parts using the PLEX app. My newer ROKU 3 box handles it much better by fast forwarding through it basically, but it's still not a "perfect" solution.
So... after much research, I decided I would try the WD TV Live Media Player since I was not interested in having to go full board with a media center PC or purchase an XBOX ONE. The specs seemed similar to my latest ROKU but had the advantage of being able to read off of the network directly and process pretty much any video file of any codec natively. For $79 on Amazon, I thought that it may not be the perfect solution, but it seemed like a good choice.
Got the unit in and setup was easy (as expected). The unit went through 2 or 3 firmware updates and then I set the initial settings and was pretty much ready to go. The interface is much more of a file structure / basic than what I expected, but it works. It certainly does not have the polish of the latest ROKU software nor the access to online streaming services (VERY limited on the WD TV Live). Nonetheless, I pointed it to my network drive (which it saw right away) and was able to start streaming my media immediately. I thought "this is exactly what I've been looking for". Went to a movie that I knew had a "glitch" in it and fast forwarded to that part and it handled it like a champ. Just went straight through with nothing but a small digitized image of the video for a second. So I threw a bunch of other video files at it in different codecs and formats and it was able to process all of them (some slower than others, but it worked). So... I thought to myself "I can live with the deficiencies in the interface and with the lack of content compared to the ROKU since this appears to have solved my issue".
Then, day 2 came. Started it up and noticed that it had "lost connection" with all of my network drives and media. So I pointed everything to it again and it seemed to be fine. Then, I tried to play a video and there was no audio. After 30 or 45 minutes of trying to figure out the problem, found the solution on a forum stating that you had to "disable" the AC3 audio if your receiver was capable of handling PCM audio. Weird issue, but it solved the problem. Showed my wife and kids how to use the device and went on with my day. That evening, my wife told me that the unit just stopped working and that it "lost connection with the network". So I checked my network drives and my iMac running PLEX and everything was up and running. I decided to bypass my PogoPlug and run the drive through my iMac and PLEX to see if that could be the issue. Same results after watching 30 minutes or so of video. I decided to reset the unit and see if it just needed to "clear things". Reboot went fine and I went through all sorts of process of elimination with the unit and my network. After an additional day and a half of working with the unit, I simply came to the realization that the only thing that had changed in my setup was this box and it just wasn't working reliably.
So... here are the PRO's and CON's, in my opinion:
- Easy to set up
- Reads pretty much any video file, INCLUDING VOB's and ISO DVD's with menu structure
- Has the ability to plug a third party device into it to watch live television
- Is small and unobtrusive with good connection options in the back of the unit (composite, component (using breakout cable provided), HDMI, optical audio
- Has a remote control app that can be downloaded from Google Play Store to input text
- USB input to access drives directly
- Not reliable in that it kept losing connection with my network devices, computers, and drives (and all stay on all the time)
- Interface is not as user friendly or polished as ROKU
- Lacks online streaming sources (with only Netflix, Hulu Plus, Vudu, and CinemaNow being your only real choices for movies)
- Clunky remote (had to use too many buttons to accomplish any given task, which is sort of an interface issue)
I decided to send this unit back as it just seems to be "half baked". My hope is that they will either fix all of the issues with the next model or ROKU will figure out a better way to handle local media so that I can just stick with the more superior line of ROKU boxes. I don't believe that this WD media player is a "bad" product, but it just wasn't a satisfying experience and when it just "stops working" in the middle of watching something due to losing it's connection with my network, that just equals failure on the product as far as I'm concerned. If they can get the interface right, fix whatever bugs they have with this thing, and get some additional streaming services on board, then they could give ROKU a run for their money and possibly win me over just on the basis of their support for so many more video file formats.