Introduced just a couple of years ago, the WD TV line of HD media players has really come into their own as solid, jacks-of-all-trades media boxes. Seeing the oncoming glut of competition and rival systems such as the Google TV and Apple TV products, WD knew that they had to step up their game. Enter the WD TV Live Hub, but is it enough?
What’s in the box:
The WD TV Live Hub will retail for $199.99 and is currently an exclusive at Best Buy and BestBuy.com. The exclusivity agreement won’t be permanent, obviously, but WD was mum on how long they think the partnership will last.
Build and design
The biggest difference, physically, between the WD TV Live Hub and previous WD TV players is its physical size. Thinner, but a little more than twice as big, the Live Hub is a fairly sleek box that will fit into just about any home theater setup.
WD chose to go with black plastic for the Live Hub, just like the rest of its players. There’s only a strip of the glossy finish that borders the unit, however, with the majority being comprised of a matte plastic that looks to imitate a brushed metal look but falls a little short.
The front is sparse, with a power button - that will likely never need to be used - on the left size and a USB port for importing media on the right. The middle section has a light-up WD logo that appears when the unit is active - given its propensity for blinking during network activity, however, Western Digital thankfully included an option that lets users disable it entirely.
On the back of the system is where all of the main inputs lie, with HDMI, Gigabit Ethernet, optical audio, stereo analog audio, composite video, component video and a second USB port. The USB ports are both 2.0, which is basically fine since chances are rare that the bus transfer speed will ever really pose a problem on this media player.
The reason that the Live Hub is so much bigger than previous incarnations of the WD TV lineup is due to the 1 TB drive that Western Digital pops inside. Likely the 1 TB Scorpio Blue, it’s worth noting that the hard retails alone for $119.99. All the additional electronics and features only cost $70 more. That’s really not a bad deal.
Networking and playback
While the Gigabit Ethernet port is a definite plus in terms of enabling Internet connectivity, it’s a shame that WD couldn’t find room in the budget to add Wi-Fi. Most home users still don’t have Ethernet jacks available in the living room, or even bedroom TV spots. While WD is happy to rejoin with the fact that the WD players can use a number of wireless dongles (although whether the Live Hub can use them at this time is up in the air), or even that they conveniently provide a Powerline home networking kit, it’s something that a number of their competitors include out of the box.
To see more pictures of the user interface, be sure to check out our gallery.
Thanks to its built-in storage and always-on connectivity, the Live Hub can actually act as a NAS for the household, sharing any content stored on its internal hard drive or via the USB ports. That’s a pretty powerful addition. It even has an internal webpage for content management, including a fully-functional remote control app in the browser (presumably included so that users could even store the player in an entirely separate room). It'll also stream to other WD TV Live Plus players, as well as some STBs or game consoles thanks to the UPnP/DLNA protocols.
Much like the older WD players, the WD TV Live Hub can play, well, just about any (non-DRM) format you can throw at it.
|Videos: AVI (Xvid, AVC, MPEG1/2/4), MPG/MPEG, VOB, MKV (h.264, x.264, AVC, MPEG1/2/4, VC-1), TS/TP/M2T (MPEG1/2/4, AVC, VC-1), MP4/MOV (MPEG4, h.264), M2TS, WMV9|
|Photos: JPEG, GIF, TIF/TIFF, BMP, PNG|
|Audio: MP3, WAV/PCM/LPCM, WMA, AAC, FLAC, MKA, AIF/AIFF, OGG, Dolby Digital, DTS
|Playlists: PLS, M3U, WPL|
|Subtitles: SRT, ASS, SSA, SUB, SMI|
While the quality of the files played back is no different than in previous iterations, the WD TV Live Hub has a significantly faster interface than before. Remote control button presses are usually (with the reasonable exception of Internet content) instantaneous, and everything feels much snappier. Also, since the Live Hub has so much more functionality than prior generations, WD was smart enough to include background playback - you can set any audio file to play, whether local, network or Internet, and it'll play in the background as you navigate the different plugins and features.
In addition to being quicker, the interface is also prettier. WD seems to have put in a lot of effort to sprucing up their relatively basic WD TV UI, and it shows. The included theme, Mochi, is colorful and friendly, and includes an attractive background image taken by one of the photographers with which WD often works. A basic blue “classic” WD TV theme is also included, and custom backgrounds can be installed.
Like before, the Live Hub can access network shares from networked computers, servers and NAS devices. It even provides the functionality to delete and edit content stored on the network straight from the Live Hub.
It does have a few bugs, however...the remote control can be programmed with its myriad of buttons to “speed dial” certain applications or video folders. "One press can take you straight there!" At least, that’s how it’s supposed to work. In practice, we couldn’t get the remote control to actually remember on any of our attempts.
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