WD TV Live - the best Media Player Device Available?

09 May 2010

I've written a few times in the past about software like SABNZBd for downloading episodic content, and also about using my PS3 to play that content. For the past few months, I've been using an old PC with SABNZBd and PS3 Media Server to watch HD content on my TV, and it's worked a treat. Unfortunately, the PSU on the PC died and that made me begin my search for a yet-better solution.

Having switched to a MacBook Pro full time for my work, after becoming heartily sick of having to fiddle around inside yet another broken PC, I'd hoped to come up with a way of avoiding having to have a "proper" PC as a media center. Commodity PC's are noisy and unreliable. Something like AppleTV was suggested, but it's expensive and would need hacking around with to do what I wanted. A Mac Mini would fit the bill, but it's even more expensive.

A few days ago I stumbled on the WD TV Live from Western Digital. I'd seen media player devices like this before - dedicated hardware to play a variety of media types, but the trouble was that most don't support additional software on the box and so wouldn't let me use NZB downloaders like SABNZBd. And indeed, the WD TV Live doesn't do that either.

Or so I thought. Turns out the firmware for the WD TV Live is GPL - the code for it is open source. Some enterprising coders have taken this and formed custom firmware, and the one I've installed is WDLXTV-Live. Out of the box, this gives the WD TV Live an ssh server, a bittorrent client, an NZB downloader, a web server, an FTP server, Python, Perl and PHP, a load of stuff for network sharing, and a bunch of other stuff like customisation of graphics and the interface of the WD TV Live. You can also add in application bundles, a few of which are already provided by the community.

The WD TV Live has two USB ports, so I bought a hard drive caddy, pulled the disk out of my broken PC, and hooked it up to the WD TV Live for 1 terabytes of storage. The media player attaches direct to my 42" LCD TV, and plays movies, TV shows, music and shows photos, but also now pulls down NZB files automatically on a schedule. It's tiny, fanless, and looks good next to my PS3 and TV, and it was £95.

What more could I want?

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