Western Digital, one of the few companies to offer a streaming-media player with a built-in hard drive (the WD TV Live Hub), is taking a different approach with its new entry-level model, the WD TV Play. Given its hockey-puck design, $70 price tag, and selection of streaming content, the WD TV Play seems to be targeting those who might otherwise be considering a Roku.
Although different cosmetically, the WD TV Play seems a lot like the slightly pricier WD TV Live streaming box, which supports a slightly wider array of file formats. Although the WD TV Play lacks the breadth of services offered by Roku—most notably Amazon Instant—it does have most of the bases covered: Its streaming movie/TV services include CinemaNow, Hulu Plus, Netflix, and Vudu, plus the Pandora and Spotify music services. It also has two features, YouTube and a SlingPlayer app (for accessing content on other TVs in your home, or even anywhere on the Web, provided you have a SlingPlayer set up in your home), that Roku lacks.
The WD TV Play can also access photos, music, or videos stored on a USB flash drive or from any DLNA-compliant devices, including a computer or networked storage (such as WD's My Book Live cloud-based locker service).
The WD TV Play uses a configurable app-based interface with a home page that can be personalized; the system can be set up so that a favorite app runs automatically when the unit is turned on. You can also create shortcuts to your most-used apps on the My Favorites page.
The box supports 1080p video, and includes both wired Ethernet and built-in Wi-Fi for connecting to a home network. Of course there's an HDMI output, plus a composite A/V output for connecting older gear, an optical digital audio output, and a USB port.
WD TV Play ships with a small remote control that includes dedicated buttons for Hulu, Netflix, and Vudu. But you can also download a free app that lets you use compatible Apple and Android mobile devices as an advanced remote control via Wi-Fi, provided they are on the same network.
Certainly there is no shortage of choices for those looking for a streaming media player. The WD TV Play (now available at www.wdstore.com) joins other recent streaming media players we've tested, including new Google TV-based systems from Sony and Vizio.
The WD TV Play seems to be a compelling contender, especially for those looking for a lower-priced player that has most of the best-known streaming services, plus the ability to pull additional content from networked computers and the cloud. We're looking forward to getting the WD TV Play into our new streaming-media labs for thorough testing, so stay tuned for our evaluation.
For more on streaming services and devices, see our streaming video buying guide.
—James K. Willcox