New set-top box

For the past couple of years, our home TV setup has been as follows:

  • Original Wii for Netflix
  • Ubuntu on an Acer Revo 3610 (Nvidia Ion chipset) running XBMC for playback of videos stored on my Synology NAS

Generally speaking this has worked great, the only main hassle has been that I used the proprietary Nvidia drivers downloaded from their website, so every time I updated the kernel I needed to remember to reinstall the drivers manually. Also, if anything went wrong I was required to fix it. ("Daddy, the TV's broken again!")

Also, the original Wii only has 480p output, so that's the best we could expect to get for Netflix, which was kinda crappy on our full 1080p TV. We have 3Mbps DSL, so should at least be able to get 720p streaming.

I've been offhandedly pondering putting both of these functions onto one box, and recently with the announcements of the Xbox One and PlayStation 4 had contemplated whether I should use them, particularly for Netflix in HD, and discussion on Google+ with some friends earlier this week came out of this. I thought about waiting for the new consoles, or getting an Xbox 360 or PlayStation 3 for that matter, either would get me HD for Netflix. But it seemed a bit silly at this point to invest in an older generation of console, especially since they're still $250+ for models with a hard drive. And I'm not certain if or when I might finally get one of the new consoles, it could be next year sometime, I'm not going to buy one as soon
as they come out.

Then the discussion turned to more traditional set-top boxes. One of my friends has the older model Boxee Box, which was pretty good in it's time (though expensive), but has now been discontinued, and I'm not interested in the new Boxee "cloud DVR". Another friend has a Roku box and a Plex server -- while I have no interest in running a Plex server, I read that the Roku box could stream from the Synology NAS (or any web server) over HTTP, which was a potential solution.

After an appointment yesterday, I went to BestBuy and browsed.

There was one option there that I'd looked at before but not thought of recently -- the WD TV Live. Several years ago I had an old WD TV box (the non-networked version), before I started building my own XBMC boxes, and had liked it quite a bit for playback from a USB drive. The quality was generally quite good and it'd played every file format I pointed it at. I did a quick browse on the web about comparisons between the WD TV Live and the Roku, and it seemed they were similar but had different approaches, and the WD approach fit my needs better. The WD TV Live will play from a standard network share or DLNA server as well as various Internet services, as well as from a USB drive. It has wireless and wired network capabilities, and I definitely wanted a wired connection. And the price was exactly the same as the higher-end Roku 2 (with wired network).

So I bought a WD TV Live.

Brought it home, plugged it in, updated the firmware, signed in to Netflix (after figuring out how to get up the onscreen keyboard), and all was good. It recognized my NAS both as Windows shares (SMB/CIFS) and Linux shares (NFS), and playback on either seems to work entirely as expected. It gets a bit warm during use, but significantly less than the Acer Revo, and it's smaller, quieter, and pulls less power. I'm quite pleased.

It seems this is the end of my time with XBMC, at least for now. I have Netflix in at least moderate HD on the TV, I have another spare small PC to use for something, and I might as well unplug the Wii as it will only rarely be used. :)