WD TV Live - First Impressions


Demise of the Boxee Box

My Boxee box has been the key component of my home entertainment setup for the past few years. I've recommended it to family & friends numerous times. Unfortunately, Boxee continues to disregard & alienate it's most loyal customers. Now, with the Samsung acquisition underway & official news of more abandonement, I have decided to cut my losses & move on.

Considering Alternatives

There are quite a few streaming devices on the market right now. Obvious options like Apple TV & Roku are compelling, but don't meet my current usage needs entirely. I don't want to lose the ability to stream my personal media library, and I'm not interested in jumping through the hoops to make it work. I'd also like access to apps such as Netflix & Pandora.

My media library weighs in around 4TB and lives on Network Attached Storage in a variety of popular formats and codecs (h.264/x264, mp3, aac, flac, etc). My ideal device needs to play a wide range of formats/codecs, have access to popular apps/services, a decent user-interface, make minimal noise and offer a decent remote control app for iOS.

Competition Lineup

Roku 3

  • excellent user-interface
  • variety of popular apps and services
  • limited codec support
  • no access to network content, shares, etc
  • HDMI output only
  • nice iOS remote app

Apple TV

  • exceptional user-interface
  • high quality apps & services
  • AirPlay
  • iTunes access & shared content
  • extremely limited codec support
  • HDMI + optical audio output

WD TV Live

  • clean, customizable & user-friendly interface
  • variety of popular apps & services
  • massive format & codec support
  • personal media library feature
  • full access to network shares and content
  • HDMI, optical audio & component output
  • fully functional iOS remote app

Winner: WD TV Live

The WD TV Live is the clear winner for me due to it's clean interface and ability to play a wide array of media formats and codecs. The user-interface well designed, but I still prefer the overall aesthetic of the Roku 3 and Apple TV. One of the key strengths of the Boxee Box is the media library functionality that automatically displays metadata from IMDB & other external sources. The WD TV Live doesn't exceed the Boxee Box in this area, but it works & it's the best offering at this time. Also, I really like the ability to send optical or analog audio to my hi-fi audio setup in lieu of HDMI.

On first boot, the WD TV Live presented a clean interface and since I was connected to the internet via ethernet it immediately notified me of a firmware update. During the firmware update process I installed the iOS remote app and it automatically detected the device after it rebooted. I did run into an issue with the HDMI cable I was using with my Boxee box, so I swapped it out for another I had on-hand. I'm not sure what the issue was there. Connecting to my network attached storage was quick & painless. I tested several files of various formats i.e. .mkv, .mpg, .mov and .flac with no issues. The iOS remote app is quite useful & solves some other Boxee Box issues like not being able to control the volume level while in the Netflix app. Overall the remote app makes entering complex usernames and passwords trivial, except for some minor issues with the keyboard input while logging into the Netflix app. Something was up with the copy/paste but I'm not sure if this was an issue with the iOS remote app, the Netflix app or some combination.

Final Thoughts

Overall, I am quite happy with my choice and my expectations have been exceeded. I realize that my technical knowledge and use case is not typical. That being said, I'm not sure I'd recommend a WD TV Live to my parents but I definitely would to anyone that is a current Boxee Box user or someone looking for power-user type features not offered by the competition.

Buy WD TV Live on Amazon.com

Update: July 15, 2013

After a few days of average use I've decided to post a follow up with more details. Overall, I'm still mostly satisfied with the WD TV Live, but I did run into a pretty big snag after the second day of use. During the initial setup I added several network shares to the Media Library feature which includes over 300 HD movies and over 80GB of music. Once the indexing was finished the WD TV Live slowed dramatically, the UI was barely usable and apps like Netflix ran poorly. Also, the Netflix app would freeze the unit when queueing up videos, which required a reboot to get working again.

I have since disabled the Media Library functionality entirely. I can still navigate my network shares—find movies & play albums, but it's going to take me awhile no longer miss the Boxee Box interface.

Update: July 21, 2013

I've spent several weeks with my WD TV Live and the experience keeps changing. I've had to completely disable the Media Library feature in order to gain extra system stability. Unfortunately that doesn't seem to have solved everything. I believe there are real perfomance issues with the Netflix app as it continues to hang at different times, especially when queueing up TV episodes back to back. I am fortunate to be a Verizon FiOS customer with a 75/35 Mbps connection, so I definitely don't have bandwidth issues. The Netflix iPad app doesn't experience these issues, my gut is telling me these are platform specific problems.

I really want to like the WD TV Live, but inconsistent performance and stability tarnish it's reputation the more you use it. To be fair, the Netflix issues could very well not be the device's fault because I've noticed similarities on other devices like Roku. I'm probably going to boot my Boxee Box up again and give it another chance.

Update: July 25, 2013

I returned the WD TV Live back to Amazon today. Over the past few weeks I've spent more timef trying to get the WD TV Live to work than I have actually enjoying content. I've decided to give Apple TV another shot and see if I can live without all the features and functionality I've grown accustomed to. Apple's AirPlay functionality works well and is proving more useful than I anticipated. All that being said, I still think there is room for competition in this space. If there was a box that provided the "app-like" experience of Apple TV, the Media Library and codec support of Boxee I'd gladly pay $200 or more for it.