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Old February 18th, 2013, 11:16 PM   #1
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Switched from Roku to WDTV Live - How did I live without this!?

I've been using the Roku 2 since about a month or two after it came out. Had the high end model in the living room, and the original low-end (since beaten by a $50 model) in our bedroom. If all you want is a cheap and effective gateway to your Netflix/Hulu content, look no further, the Roku is perfect.

Last year I started a project. I was converting all of our DVDs/Blu-Rays to digital copies. The plan was to stream them from the home network. The Roku has absolutely no native support for DLNA or even the ability to see network attached storage. We had a 3TB HDD plugged into our router via USB just going to waste. There were two "solutions." I could plug in a HDD (2TB or less) directly to the Roku. This was ok except that our bedroom model didn't have a USB port, and even if it did, it meant copying HDD contents from one to another anytime that I added more movies to the collection. The other solution was to set up a web server and keep my desktop running 24/7. This wasn't an ideal solution either.

In addition, if I wanted my rips to look like anything other than a file list, I needed to use Thumbgen to make thumbnails, background artwork, meta data, etc. For a single movie, this wasn't too bad. For a complete season, this was an all-night project...for one damn season. I finally gave up. The Roku was a basic device that simply needed too many work arounds for advanced content. That's fine for most, but I'm a bit more demanding.

So I switched to the WD TV Live. The first thing that I noticed was that the Netflix/Hulu apps were similar to the PS3 counterparts. They allowed for higher quality streams, the ability to monitor stream quality (Netflix) or even change it (Hulu), among other features. They weren't as basic as the Roku versions. The WD TV Live saw my network share without a hitch, even letting me assign a specific folder (or folders) as my media library. This means that we don't have to keep going through folders as we did on the Roku (which, by the way, required a $15 app just to get that far). Once a video is ripped to the share drive, I don't have to go to Thumbgen and make up all of that stuff I mentioned previously. I simply go to the WD TV Live, select the episode, hit options, and say "get content info." It pulls everything and stores it locally, and it looks identical to the work that I put into Thumbgen (because it pulls from the same source, but compiles it automatically).

WD TV Live's interface is essentially a lite-version of XBMC. If you've ever used XBMC, you'll feel at home but you'll feel like something is missing. That's just fine. Theme support is there, though I'm still learning how to import them. That is next on my to-do list. Plays just about any file format out there, for the most part. Wouldn't play a very high-bitrate MP4 that I had made for the Roku, but I did some weird things with that encode just to make it work properly on the Roku. Plays 1080p MKVs just fine.

I haven't purchased the addons yet, but it works just fine with Hauppauge USB to coax adapters for OTA or basic cable, to include basic DVR functionality. That's our next purchase for it. Also can be used with Slingbox, though I'm debating if I want to go that far.

Overall, it's early, but I'm liking it. If you ever considered making an XBMC-HTPC but didn't want the cost, get a WD Live. They come in three flavors; Play ($70), TV ($100), and Hub ($200). The Play is more like a Roku, has a different UI, and lacks the more advanced features. The Hub is just a TV with built-in 1TB HDD. If you don't want to network share a HDD, just get one Hub, and then use that to "broadcast" via DLNA to the TV/Play boxes throughout your house. For me, I'm just going to put one TV Live on each of our two TVs and call it a day.
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