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Easiest way to play MKV videos

Perhaps the most impressive bit of hardware I have purchased since my first solid state drive is Western Digital’s WD TV Live  box. It all but removes the need for having a computer under your telly.

The unit itself isn’t exactly new technology, it’s been around for a few years but prices for the WD TV Live is now around the 75 quid mark including VAT and since it can play MKV files without any trouble at all, it’s almost a no brainer.

As there’s no hard drive in the WD TV Live, it’s up to you to provide the storage. There’s a gigabit Ethernet port and two USB ports. The device supports some USB WiFi adaptors (link to a full list of supported devices) but most useful of all is the ability to plug in both FAT32 and NTFS drives and play videos directly. If you have a 2.5-inch hard drive, chances are the USB bus can provide enough power meaning you don’t even need to plug it in).

Aside from playing x.264/h.264 files in MKV containers, it supports DTS and AC3 passthru. For lossless music playback, there’s FLAC support. I have even managed to transcode a Blu-ray image of Inception into a high-profile x.264 with DTS-HD audio passthru into an 45GB MKV file, which the WD TV Live had no problem in playing.

The underlying OS is a custom Linux variant but you can even install Debian if you want, though I can’t be bothered as it seems WD has done a great job in making the device do all I need and is easy to use.

I’m probably going to end up getting one upstairs so I can listen to FLAC audio without the need to run a desktop. Congratulations to Western Digital for making such a decent bit of kit, it certainly follows on from the firm’s hard drives.