Of course, US and Europe people reading this might say “really? Do you still have to go to rent a movie yourself? At a store?” and the answer is: (unfortunatelly) yes!
Then, you discover you can download the movies over the Internet, but you have then to watch them at your computer or suffer the hassle of having to move your laptop/netbook next to your TV set in order to watch it. Also, if you have a sorround system, it might not work properly with your computer as you need to get a special cable in order to convert sound from jack type connector to RCA type… finally you get frustrated and again, you go to Blockbuster, as you think it’s the easier way to watch a movie decently.
Well, I have to tell you, that’s not the case, there are certain devices which can let you enjoy high definition, blueray quality movies that you get from the Internet (let’s not talk about how to get it, I don’t want to enter in deep waters of legality and let’s assume you just obtained the movies legally) and they won’t cost you an eye or an kidney (like some other devices like the AppleTV does).
Personally, I have tested 2 of them, and that’s what I am going to review here:
Western Digital TV (WDTV) Box:
This box was one of the first ones out there. When I got it, it costed me only $100.00, and honestly, I feel it really worth that if not
more. This little and stylized small box comes with 2 USB inputs which you can connect any USB storage devices, such as pendrives and external hard disks, and it will play its content which you can decide to get out through regular RCA cables or through HDMI to get high quality digital video in your TV.
There is too much to say about this box, as it’s one of the most commons in the market. There are 2 versions, one regular non networked (but that can be adapted, and we will talk about that in a bit) and a second one which already comes with integrated WiFi for networking purposes (WDTV LIVE).
Basically, this box does the job, it runs with a modified Linux version which makes it ´hackable’. There is a custom made system to install instead of its original one which adds more features than the ones that comes originally. You can read more about the features and improvements that you can get, such as: DVD reading, FTP and Torrent systems inside the box, and even wired and wireless networking using an USB dongle. More on this site: B-Rad system .
Now, this box has a downside, it can’t handle all audio’s encodings, which means if you have a DTS audio video you will not be able to hear it (not even with custom made firmware). Today, DTS is a very common thing on audio so, it’s kind of an issue.
A lot of people have different opinions on this box. I also have mine: it’s a very nice box! It has some minor downsides: a not so fancy interface (very asian styled), a little slow processing videos (it can take around 3 or 4 seconds to recognize the hard drives or even each of the video files). Now, in my opinion it’s superior, because it handles any video type and any audio type in the videos, even DTS.
Also, it has integrated wired and wireless capabilities, it can even show Internet TV and Internet Radio, which is not so great in quality or performance, but still even when it’s not a decisive factor for deciding over it, it adds some value to it. As the WDTV it has RCA and HDMI output and have USB ports to read external hard disks and/or pen drives.
As it comes with network capabilities, it has a menu that supposedly can let you share media among your local network. I tried to use it and unfortunatelly it wasn’t possible and I couldn’t get it connected with a Windows nor Linux machine through my LAN (it detected my LAN devices, but seems to have issues with the Samba configuration inside, which makes it to not be able to log in on remote devices).
It might be important to mention that both boxes can also read and reproduce music files and images, which is an extra stuff you might want to use it (for example as your own music player for your reunions or just to show off your last vacation’s pictures) but basically videos is the main reason and feature and what makes these boxes to compete. Also, both boxes can reproduce standard subtitles files such as SRT and SUB and both boxes come with remote controllers which actually do the job. For both of them you need to get your own HDMI cable as they come without it (and really bad factor for both manufacturers to not include all cable options in their original sets, specially because HDMI output is really a big and nice factor).