Saturday, September 22, 2012

WDTV Live has many problems

Today I sent WDTV Live device back to the store. It was an easy decision and I understand why it was returned the first time around. Below is incomplete list of problems that were encountered during the week WDTV was in my possession.

The avi files do not play well over DLNA or Samba share. To be honest, some files do play but most  stutter. The high bitrate mp4 files do not play well at all. Roku plays these same files without any hitch. The wmv files also hit and miss. Some do play really well, some do not play at all.

User interface is very clunky and slow. If the DLNA server crashes, the box completely freezes or becomes so unresponsive that it is useless. At this time the box must be rebooted to bring it back in to the working state.

Different video controls are available depending on the type of the video file which makes the UI inconsistent. The mp4 files and the mkv files can be positioned to a time point, the wmv and the avi files cannot. Files or all types can be fast forwarded but the max speed is only 16x and it seems much slower than that in practice.

Hulu application is much worse than the one on Roku. This is one of the most used services in our household because we do not have cable so it is important that Hulu app works. With WDTV  only few shows can be played and then application needs to be restarted in order for it to work. The ad insertion on Roku is almost like in broadcast tv. On WDTV the ads buffer separately and there is a significant pause before and after the ad. It makes duration of the show to be almost as long as over the cable. The only useful feature of WDTV Hulu app is that one can force maximum bitrate . The app on Roku is much newer version than the WDTV and that may explain the difference.

The "channel" selection on WDTV is  much smaller than on Roku and the box looses big in this respect. The server software for Roku is very simple, MyMedia being an excellent server. The server software I used for WDTV was the PS3 Media Server. This server is very reasonable but it gets huge after running for a while and has to be restarted. It also takes a bit of knowledge to configure this software correctly. Live transcoding mode supported by this server does not work well on my quad core Phenom so I have to transcode offline which negates some of the convenience.
At the end I could not figure out a format that would be well supported by both Roku and WDTV and as a result each file should be encoded in two formats. If you would like to watch content on both devices the size of your library would double.

Given all of the above my derision was to standardize on Roku boxes to minimize size of the library and improve over all experience. Too bad no company can figure out how to do networked media player correctly.

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