Tuesday, 25 August 2009

Media Players: Western Digital WDTV HD Media Player v. Freecom WLAN 450

Western Digital vs. Freecom in a straight fight

I’ve owned a Freecom 450 WLAN media player for a year or more now, and it’s brought us much joy. With a 1TB drive installed, it’s been storing and playing all the family’s photos, music and movies since it was bought. However, there are things I didn’t like about it:

1. When showing photos, the HDMI signal flicks on and off, which is pretty annoying when it’s happening all the time;
2. The formats for playing video are limited;
3. It’s a chunky box, not too portable and a little whirry despite the fanless SATA drive configuration.
4. The GUI’s a bit bobbins. You can download new skins but I wasn’t risking that – I’ve seen some of the skins designed by hapless enthusiasts!

Also, updating the drive via USB was becoming a bit of a chore. I didn’t use the WLAN capability as I didn’t want to leave PCs switched on throughout the house to stream media through. I began thinking about getting myself something new a couple of months ago. Something simpler, shinier, cheaper...?

Then out of the blue, someone (Joby actually) put the Western Digital WDTV into the frame. I viewed the videos online, checked out the price and took the leap.

I bought from good old Amazon, using the free “deliver it when we feel like it” option and waited for 4 days. Then on Monday this arrived!

I was at work, so all I could do was excitedly post a picture of the box on twitter  and wait until I got home...

.. At home, we had a trip to Ikea planned but the temporary disappearance of our cat out paid to that (thank you Socks, oh and we’re glad you came back at bedtime, of course) so I could play with my new toy.

Firmware upgrade. I didn’t know how long my box had been in storage at Amazon, so I’d downloaded the latest firmware from the WD site to the root directory of my WD Passport. The WDTV doesn’t have any internal drives, you just hook up any USB drive and away you go. The player saw the upgrade it automatically and asked for an “ok” confirmation to install. The process took a while and seemed to have hung at 47%. I was just about to phone the freephone helpdesk when the bar inched along a little and finished it’s doings. The player rebooted itself and off I went!

Size. In size, the box is much smaller than I was expecting. This is a good thing. The transformer is built into the plug top so you don’t have an extra box to lug around, which is great. The main box is palm-sized, then you have your USB drive to think about, but it sits so nicely in the smallest of gaps. The photo on the left shows it behind the Freecom box, with my WD Passport attached.  On the right you can hardly see it, tucked sneakily in on the bottom shelf next to our 5.1 home cinema kit.

Playing. It seems to play all the media I have. The slideshows are great, with jerk-free transitions, if you discount some of the jerks in my photos :o) 
Video plays very well, including mp4 which my Freecom box couldn’t cope with. I’m really impressed with the music quality and the way it’s presented on screen. The GUI is intuitive and my only misgiving is that it doesn’t play music while there are pictures showing, which was my favourite bit about the Freecom unit.

***Edit! Actually this is wrong, it was user error, and I'm the inept user.  Thanks to a comment by Brian (thanks, Brian!), I now set the music playing and then view the photos, and all is good.  Just remember to put the music on "Shuffle, Repeat" to make sure it doesn't finish before you've finished looking at photos.  I use this with the slideshow view of pics when we have guests round, it's lovely moving wallpaper. ***

In short, for about £70 delivered I love this new shiny black toy. If I were you, I’d buy it if you have any media stored on a USB drive. It’s quick to set up, easy to use, excellent quality to play and looks the business with your other AV gear.

Tell ‘em Phill sent you!


  1. Very nice BUT whats the average speed when commuting, how is it vs a Ribble ?

    WHAT ?? Its NOT a bike ?

    Shame on you "4 L's"

  2. Sorry Gaz,no it's not a bike. But if WAS a bike it'd be the sleekest, most compact Carbon fibre machine, with no unneccessary gizmos. And it would be as fast as a fast thing on fast pills. Legal ones though, of course.

  3. Not a bike? Whats wrong with you man ?

  4. I don't know. I even went out for a JOG yesterday. That's right, on my feet, no bike. It's weird I tell you. Not big and not clever. But I have to do it, for the trees you know.

  5. Oh for the love of the tree huggers, You have changed man, running without a bike, hugging trees and not dura ace......A Disgrace....

  6. Glad to be of service.
    Thinking about getting one myself as am sick of having the pc and xbox on to stream all my porn to the bedroom (the iphone screen is too small to watch porn on - especially my favourite - Snow White and the Seven Dwarves)

  7. "only misgiving is that doesn't play music while there pictures showing"

    Mine does. Firmware upgrade needed? Or try sequence of play, First play your music, then view photos.

  8. Aaaah! Now I'm interested. Firmware should be up to date, so I'll try that approach. Thank you!

  9. By jove, he's got it! You can play music then look at pics. I shall flail myself accordingly and edit the post! Whoopee.