Editors' note: As of December 2011, the WD TV Live reviewed here has been updated to add a variety of new channels, including Vudu, Flixster, XOS College Sports, and SEC Digital Network. Western Digital has also released compatible iOS and Android remote apps.
Following the success of the WD TV Live Hub, Western Digital has now introduced the diskless version in the new WD TV Live (2011). The new Live adds a couple more killer features, namely built-in Wi-Fi and support for the Spotify music-streaming service, to the already long list of services and file formats handled by its predecessors. And all for only $99--the same price as the Roku XS, the Apple TV, and the Logitech Revue (Google TV). It has one of the prettiest interfaces of all the streamers, even if it can be hard to use at times, but its main appeal over those other devices is its broad file support, an extra that should appeal mainly to people who make heavy use of downloaded video files. The only thing we wish for, aside from Amazon and Vudu support, is an App controller. The WD TV Live isn't yet the ultimate streaming device, but it comes pretty close.
The box shares the same footprint of 3.9 by 4.9 inches as the original WD TV Live HD (fall 2009) and WD TV Live Plus (summer 2010) but sheds their rounded "bookishness" for something blockier yet sleeker. It's also much lighter at 6.72 ounces, which is actually a negative in our experience; the collected mass of cables and USB keys can make it rear up like a seesaw ridden by one person.
Then there's the remote. That wonderful, hateful remote. It's decently ergonomic with indents underneath that enable it to sit naturally in your hand. All of the buttons are well-marked and, interface aside, easy to use.
Our problem was with the buttons. They're tall, rubbery blighters that take some effort to press quickly in succession, making inputting anything, especially long lists, tedious. We'd swap this out for a quality universal remote as soon as possible.
The addition of Wi-Fi to the WD TV Live is crucial, since its lack was the weakest point of the Live Hub. Western Digital has also made sure wireless setup is straightforward. When you turn the device on for the first time, you are greeted by a language screen, and are then asked to choose your wireless access point and input your password.
With the newfound wireless freedom, Western Digital has been sure to boost the number of services offered compared with the Live Hub, more than doubling them from 9 to 19. Joining Netflix and Spotify are the streaming services Hulu Plus, YouTube, Blockbuster, CinemaNow, DailyMotion, Pandora, TuneIn Internet radio, and Shoutcast, among others. The major missing items are Amazon Instant and Vudu, both of which are available on Roku. The WD's apps include Facebook (but not Twitter), Picasa, and Accuweather.
The Live inherits the Mochi interface from the Live Hub, and it's friendly even if the small "colored button" icons used for some navigation are a little indecipherable.
The reason you'd buy this over the Roku, though, is if you have a large library of digital files. The laundry list of supported types misses very little and includes notables such as FLAC, AAC, MKV, DivX, and even ISOs. The small Dolby TrueHD logo on the top suggests that the device will also play Blu-ray "rips" with full-quality sound (although we didn't test this).
Where the Live Hub had the real estate for a wealth of connectivity, the Live is more modest. It eschews its forebear's extras, such as a component output, for just HDMI, a composite AV breakout, two USBs (one front, one back), optical digital, and Gigabit Ethernet.