Western Digital WD TV Play Media Player
AT A GLANCE
Excellent sound and picture quality
Unit powers on whole home theater and switches inputs
Easy direct-access buttons on remote for Netflix, Hulu, Vudu
No Amazon VOD app
Poorly executed Facebook app
As long as it supports all the services you use, you’ll find the WD TV Play will deliver consistently high video and audio quality and a nice user experience at a very good price.
With all the media players available to me, a Western Digital player has always been my go-to streamer. I know the quality will be good and that I can connect it and be ready to go in minutes. The newest model, the WD TV Play, offers the quality and usability of its predecessors at a lower price. Although Western Digital chose the WD TV Play name to distinguish it from earlier models, little else has changed besides the home screen, and perhaps an increase in audio and video performance.
The WD TV Play has a new grid-style menu. Earlier WD TV Live models used a carousel menu along the bottom of the screen that organized content into categories: Services, Music, Video, Photos, Live TV, RSS, Files, and Games. The WD TV Play menu is clean, uncluttered, and customizable to easily move your most frequently used channels and apps to the Favorites screen. Arrowing left from the home screen brings up a list of icons for channel categories—TV and Movie, Photos, Sports, Games, News and Social, Your Files, and so forth—to easily access different content.
One of my favorite WD TV Play features is the weather icon on the home menu. The temperature and “real feel” temperature are displayed as if to say, “It’s a good day to stay inside and stream some videos.” When you click on the app, there is a lifestyle tab with a long list of ratings that will tell you if it’s a good day to play golf, go to the pool, walk your dog comfortably, or mow the lawn. There are also health forecasts. It may be a good day for kite flying or fishing but a bad day for migraines.
The WD TV Play’s remote is smaller than previous WD TV controllers. For fast access, there are dedicated buttons for the popular Netflix, Vudu, and Hulu Plus services. Western Digital has a remote app that can use your smartphone’s keyboard for logins and search terms. The remote app has a carousel of all the channels on the WD TV Play so you can open them directly from your phone without going through onscreen menus.
Like previous player models, the WD TV Play has an Ethernet port, HDMI and optical audio out, as well as a mini-adapter-to-composite A/V port with included cable to attach to older TVs. The previous WD TV Live model had two USB adapters (front and back), but the WD TV Play has only one USB port to connect to flash drives or external hard drives. Network connection is made with the Ethernet port or by extended-range Wireless N Wi-Fi.
Western Digital has only a few of the most essential movie and TV streaming apps: Netflix, Hulu Plus, Vudu, Flixster, and Cinema Now. Missing from the list is Amazon Instant Video, which could be a deal breaker for Amazon Prime members or others who have Amazon libraries. The Cinema Now app has a unique, fun interface that’s like a slot machine—a vertical carousel—to select from recent movies, most popular, your library, or genre. The Snap Films app is a good addition for professional independent films and documentaries. I found a film about futurist Jacques Fresco and his designs for utopian communities. And the WD TV Play has SlingPlayer to stream live TV from a Slingbox.
Web videos include the mass of Flingo Launchpad channels—from Ted to TMZ, to the White House to Field and Stream—along with Vimeo and AOL HD. The YouTube app pairs with your smartphone to play videos you find in the YouTube phone app on the WD TV Play.
The WD TV Play’s one major failure in content is the Facebook app. My newsfeed appears, but without the accompanying photos and videos. If Western Digital is going to put Facebook on a media player, it should have the visual content.
The WD TV Play is a star when it comes to audio and video performance. Music streamed through the Spotify app was so clear that I could enjoy listening to music for hours through my quality Definitive Technology home theater speakers. This is the first media streamer that has affected me this way.
A firmware update has remedied earlier problems that the Play had with startup and navigating in Hulu Plus. But the WD TV Play’s major flaw is a line-of-sight remote control that you have to point directly at the unit. It’s hit or miss whether the remote will work when the WD TV Play is in a media cabinet behind glass. If you have problems with the placement of your unit and the remote, I recommend using the WD TV remote smartphone app.
The WD TV Play has HDMI CEC (Consumer Electronics Control). When paired with an A/V receiver and/or a TV that has HDMI CEC enabled, turning on the WD TV Play turns on the TV and receiver and changes both to the correct input. I noticed there was consistently a two-second delay after pressing the power button before the WD TV Play turned on. This issue, combined with the occasional unresponsiveness of the remote, made me question whether the unit received the power-on command. I’d often hit the power button again, which turned off my whole home theater system. I’ve since learned to count to five and be patient.
When playing videos from a connected thumb drive, I was able to play any file format from MKV to AVI. However, MKV titles that were saved to a computer on my home network did not appear in the list of videos, which usually indicates that the file type won’t play. If you have file types that don’t appear in a source’s library, I suggest you copy them to a drive and connect it directly to the WD TV Play.
The WD TV Play is a solid choice for a media player. At under $100, it’s a good value and performs beautifully. The straightforward menus and remote should be easy for anyone to use. Plus, on nice days, it may encourage you to go out and play.