Sometimes a seemingly complex problem requires the simplest of solutions. Case in point is Western Digital’s WD HD Media Player, which provides a near fool-proof way of watching almost any video downloaded from the Internet on the TV. The device can also be used to view photos and as a music player.
The tiny box – about the size of a small paperback book, only thicker – does away with WiFi or Ethernet and all the potential hassles of a streaming over a home network. Instead, you simply connect it to the television (preferably a High Def one via HDMI) and insert a USB thumb drive or any other mass storage USB device in which your content is stored and you’re good to go. Of course, the WD HD Media Player isn’t the first product to take this non-networked approach to shuttling content downloaded from the Internet via PC to the TV, but here’s where it beats most of the competition. Throw virtually any file format at the device and it plays.
There’s one caveat, of course: Like almost any standalone media player that isn’t permanently connected to the Internet, the WD HD Media Player doesn’t support DRMed content that requires the device to ‘phone home’ for authentication before it will play. However, that’s unlikely to be an issue with the type of person who’s in the market for a ‘kitchen sink an all’ media player, such as the WD HD, if you catch my drift.
On that note, the WD HD Media Player supports all the usual suspects:
Music – MP3, WMA, OGG, WAV/PCM/LPCM, AAC, FLAC, Dolby Digital, AIF/AIFF, MKA
Photo – JPEG, GIF, TIF/TIFF, BMP, PNG
Video -MPEG1/2/4, WMV9, AVI (MPEG4, Xvid, AVC), H.264, MKV, MOV (MPEG4, H.264),
MTS, TP, TS
Playlist – PLS, M3U, WPL
Subtitle -SRT (UTF-8), SMI, SUB, ASS, SSA
For those with a keen eye, you’ll have noticed the inclusion of H.264 support and, crucially, MKV, an up and coming file format for high def video, such as Blu-ray rips, that is fast replacing the combination of DivX/Xvid wrapped in an AVI. In other words, the WD HD Media Player, as the name suggest, really excels when it comes to playing back high definition video. In our tests, we threw at it MKVs, Quicktime movie trailers in 1080p, and a standard MP4 (720p H.264) home movie that had been shot on a Sanyo Xacti camcorder. All of them played back flawlessly. That can’t be said of my current set-up, a combination of a PlayStation 3 and an aging core solo Mac mini, both of which struggle with certain file formats or HD content.
The WD HD Media Player’s User Interface isn’t bad either. It looks pretty and gets the job done efficiently. Using the supplied remote you can comfortably navigate even large media collections – it’s best to switch from thumbnail to ‘list’ view – by directory or in library mode where it will index your entire media collection, even if its spread over two USB drives via the two available slots so that you can view by media type – photos, music or video – rather than file structure.
My only real complaint with the WD HD Media Player isn’t the player itself but the 2GB file size limit imposed by the FAT32 format used by most USB thumb drives. Movies in full HD start at well over 4GB in size, therefore it’s best to use a hard disc-based USB drive formatted with NTFS (on Windows, for example) instead.
Oh and best of all is the price: around £80 here in the UK. Not bad for something that just works.