Western Digital Elements Play Multimedia Drive (2TB)
Store all your videos, music and photos on this 2TB Western Digital media player
- Large story capacity, easy to use, can play media off an attached USB drive, can play a huge range of formats
- No USB 3.0, no eSATA, very small remote control
This is a great value 2TB Western Digital media player that can display virtually any video format on your TV. We wish it had an eSATA or USB 3.0 port to facilitate faster transfers, and also that it had a better remote control. Considering the price, we can live with these omissions.
Price$ 299.00 (AUD)
The Western Digital Elements Play media player has a built-in 2TB hard drive that allows you to store videos, photos and music, which you can then playback through your big-screen TV or home entertainment system.
It's very simple to use and it has an understated design that's devoid of bright LEDs. Apart from its very subtle blue power indicator, it will blend in almost seamlessly in a dark home entertainment cabinet when surrounded by other components. While it's running, the WD Elements Play is practically silent and it doesn't get very warm at all; it has a small vent that keeps the drive cool.
On the rear of the device are an HDMI port, composite video and analog audio ports and an optical digital output. That's not an extensive list of output options by any stretch of the imagination, and if you have an older TV without HDMI, you'll have to use the lower-quality composite connection. However, on a low resolution TV, videos and photos won't look too bad (although the menu will be hard to read).
A mini-USB port also resides on the back of the device, and this is the interface through which you can populate the internal hard drive with your files. It's a USB 2.0 connection, so it will take a very long time to fill the 2TB disk. At a transfer rate of 27 megabytes per second (MBps), which is typical for an external USB 2.0 drive, it could take over 40 hours to completely fill the drive. The chances are you won't be filling the entire drive in one hit, but even for transfers up to 100GB, a faster interface such as eSATA or USB 3.0 would be a welcomed addition — especially for those us with PCs that can handle the faster connections.
The WD Elements Play only has basic capabilities: it plays videos (including Full HD files) and music, and it can display photos. It doesn't have network streaming functionality, so it can't play files off a media server nor allow you to view Web content on your TV; it's strictly for locally stored content. For network connectivity, you'll have to look at a media streamer like the ASUS O!Play HDP-R1 or the A.C Ryan Playon!HD. The lack of network connectivity can be a problem if you regularly want to update the device; you'll either have to disconnect it and take it to your PC or attach an external hard drive to the USB port on the right side of the device. You can watch files directly off an external drive or you can copy files to the WD's internal drive. The latter method can be very slow, with transfer rates as low as 6MBps.
Media support is vast and the WD Elements Play will play back Xvid, DivX, MPEG-2, MPEG-4 and H.264-encoded files in the popular AVI, MP4, MKV or MOV containers. If you plan on ripping all your DVDs and storing them on the Elements Play, you don't even have to re-encode them: the player will recognise VOB files. If you rip a DVD as ISO an image, then you can take advantage of the DVD's menu system and play it as if it were a disc you just popped into your DVD player — deleted scenes, commentaries and all. However, it's not easy to access the menu system because there is no provision for it on the tiny remote that Western Digital supplies.
The remote control that ships with the WD is small and easy to misplace. It also doesn't let you do much apart from navigate and access the system's menus. We'd like it to be bigger and have a few more dedicated buttons — it could use a dedicated button for changing the aspect ratio, an info button, as well as a volume function.
The media player's interface is simplistic: the main menu shows icons for videos, music, photos and settings. When you click on videos or music you are greeted with lists of your files. We recommend using subfolders to store all your files (which you can simply drag and drop to the Elements Play when it's connected to your computer), because if you just plonk them all in the root folder of the hard drive, you will have to do a lot of scrolling to find the ones you want to play. Photos are not listed but instead displayed as thumbnails. You can press the play button to start a slideshow and the skip buttons can be used to move to the next or previous photo. One of the slideshow effects it supports is pan and zoom, which is similar to the Ken Burns effect.
File playback was smooth for the most part; standard-definition Xvid files played back without any problems. However, when the media player was connected over composite some H.264-encoded files stuttered consistently and ended up out of sync with the audio; ripped DVD files also skipped frames from time to time. We found that for some files (such as ripped Region 1 DVDs) we had to change from PAL to NTSC manually in order for them to play without skipping frames. When connected over HDMI, the player auto-selected the correct format and we didn't notice any problems with the playback.
Overall, the Western Digital Elements Play is a simple solution for playing ripped DVDs and downloaded videos on your big-screen (or even small-screen) TV. However it's also a little cumbersome, as you have to either hook up a laptop or external hard drive to transfer files to it, or take it to your PC to fill it up. Because it has a large storage capacity , you could even use it as a backup drive for your PC. We do wish it had a USB 3.0 or eSATA connection to facilitate faster file transfers. We also wish it had a better remote control. As far as file support is concerned, though, the Elements Play is superb and will play just about any file you throw at it.
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