Finding the right media player

There are days when even I would just like to buy something that works out of the shelf without tuning or re-inventing the wheel. Today was one of those days... and the object of my desire was media player with extensive content.

The requirements

I am a big fan of defining a clear scope - so here are the requirements
  • Standalone with minimal electric consumption (still shocked from my last electrical bill)
  • Support for at least Spotify, Youtube, Netflix and network shares (NFS/SMB)
  • Can be remotely operated using wireless keyboard and/or Android device - nobody really wants to type in those movie/song names without proper real/virtual keyboard. Just ask Apple TV users with the minimal remote :-)
  • 1080i/p resolution (my 47" LG TV and full HD Optoma projector deserve only the best) with HDMI port (of course)
  • There is no need for movie rental app; more about this later (this is actually important!)
This time I wanted to go with the mainstream gadgets so the top contenders were:
  • Apple TV (3rd Gen)
  • Western Digital Live TV (3rd Gen)
Now don't get started about Roku and other US goodies; we don't have them here in Finland... yet. Anyways if something is not sold here it is for a good reason usually; like Roku's offering wouldn't be any good here (BBC player, US specific content, etc wouldn't work without heavy tweaking)
So it is Apple TV or WD Live TV for now. Raspberry based XBMC won't do as it is lacking Netflix etc.

And the winner is...

Actually I had tried the WD Live TV (3rd Gen) and Apple TV (2nd Gen) earlier this year but the experiences were so crappy that I returned both gadgets... so after some serious Googling I was more than convinced that WD with latest firmware was the way to go as Apple TV has well.... just Netflix and iTunes to offer (unless you have airplay at home).

First though something why iTunes is irrelevant to me:

  • I have three kids; last time I checked iTunes it didn't have Finnish dubbed kids movies (subtitles won't do!) therefore making it useless for 60% of the users at our household. Netflix on the other hand will provide a huge amount of unrestricted localized (dubbed and subbed) content for the price of two rental movies from iTunes... and the selection is good enough and enough growing.
  • iTunes prices are higher compared to the local streaming video rental companies like cdon.fi
  • The local video rental store is 1km away and it's a family ritual to go grab a blueray (quality people!) title, bucket load of candy and Saturday night pizzas - family quality time :-)

Also something to notice: WD can stream any content (pictures, music, videos) in any format from any device (Windows, Apple, Linux, Android) using almost any protocol (SMB, NFS, etc). I always try to avoid vendor lock.

So off to the local electronics mecca called verkkokauppa.com and a little bit of good ol' shop'a'holism. WD Live TV is priced 99€ (vs Apple TV 109€) which is very reasonable.

Unboxing











Basic tweaking - setting up the gadget

  • WLAN was easy to configure and works like charm (fast!)
  • Updating the firmware was very fast and smooth
  • Logitech K400 wireless keyboard worked immediately with WD live like it was created just for this gadget (the integrated mouse doesn't work but then again the WD UI is not designed for it anyways). The USB receiver fits the small gadget perfectly and leaves the second USB port for other usage (like USB memory, external HD, etc). Please notice that the keyboard layout is US and it seems that there is no way of changing it - so some special characters may not be in their usual places on non-US keyboard 

User experience

  • Very fast and fluid UI
  • Excellent picture on Netflix (using tweaked Buffalo WLAN 802.11n AP with DD-WRT firmware)
  • Exhausting selection of services like: AccuWeather.com, AOL HD, Comedy Time, Dailymotion, Deezer, Facebook (I prefer Google+ though)  Flickr, Flixster, Launchpad, Live365, MLB.tv, MyTV, Netflix, Picasa, RedBullTV, Digital Network, SHOUTcast radio, SnagFilms, Spotify, Tunein, Vimeo, watchmojo, CollegeSports, Youtube and YuppTV (the selection varies between countries)
  • A lot of extras like RSS feeds, Games (Funspot, PlayJam), weather, etc
  • I definitely recommend wireless keyboard considering the whopping amount of services this gadget offers
  • The remote control fits very well to hand. It is not the most beautiful one but functionality overcomes the flaws in appearance. In perspective I personally almost hated the way Apple TV remote didn't fit my mid-sized (size 9) palm at all not to mention having only few buttons
  • Power supply (12V 1,5A) equals to max 18W which is rather high... Real consumption seems to be 4W (power off), 5W (idle) and 7W (full HD streaming from Netflix using 802.11N WLAN). So the power supply has plenty of reserve :-)
  • Linux User: Go to Setup --> Network Settings and enable the Enable Access to Linux Share Servers to gain access to NFS shares (this is disabled by default for unknown reason)

WD with Android

There is the manufacturer's own WD Remote which will take some time to learn - not really that intuitive and definitely not Nexus 10 optimized (looks decent on low-res 7/10" tablets though).
Then comes the really sweet part; thanks to my boss Pertti for recommending app called iMediaShare. With the iMediaShare app (you can stream a bunch (understatement) of content directly to you WD Live TV via WLAN.
There is also a bunch of other highly rated apps from third parties but I will skip them for now.

WD with iOS

With WD Live TV search string the selection sucks compared to the Google Play selection. iPad listing shows only WD TV Live Media (by ZappoTV 2,69€) which is the same one that is available among others in Google Play. iPhone listing has three apps... I guess iOS users prefer Apple TV by default - their loss :-)

Conclusion

This one's a keeper - go, get it, now, yesterday, what are you waiting for, do it, just do it :-)
Apple TV doesn't even come close to what this gadget offers and the design isn't that bad (pun intended for those fruit fashionistas).

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