WD TV Live Hub media streamer
WD TV Live Hub review: A nifty little Western Digital network media streamer with a built-in 1TB hard drive
- Built-in 1TB drive, analog and digital video outputs, small footprint, clean and easy to use interface, good file format support
- Remote control could be better, online features need refining
The WD TV Live Hub media streamer is a good unit overall, and very versatile. You can stream content to it from your computers, or you can store content on its internal hard drive and stream that to other devices. It works on both old TVs and new ones and it supports a huge range of file formats. It also lets you use some Web services (such as Facebook and Flickr) on your TV, but the apps for these services could use some refining.
Price$ 299.00 (AUD)
Western Digital's (WD) TV Live Hub is a Full HD media streamer with plenty of features, a relatively simple interface, and support for all popular file types, as well as some no-so-popular ones (.ogm anyone?) The heart of the TV Live Hub is a 1TB hard drive on which you can locally store all your media, but the Hub can also play media off a directly connected USB drive or from network-attached storage and computers on your home network. It can also stream content to DLNA devices such as the PS3 and even act as an iTunes server.
WD TV Live Hub: Connections and watching content
The WD TV Live Hub is versatile enough to be connected to old televisions in addition to new ones, but you'll get the most out of it if you hook it up to a Full HD TV with HDMI. The rear of the Hub has HDMI, Component and Composite (video and audio) connections, but you'll have to supply the cables yourself. Because the TV Live Hub isn't a wireless device, you'll have to connect it to your home network using its Gigabit Ethernet port. Running a cable from the Hub to your router may be impractical, so you may want to purchase either Ethernet over powerline adapters or an Ethernet to Wi-Fi adapter. We used an Ethernet to Wi-Fi adapter from Buffalo (the WLAE-AG300N) for our tests and it performed swimmingly.
If you don't have a home network, the easiest way to initially get content onto the WD TV Live Hub is by plugging an external hard drive into one of its two USB ports; one port is conveniently located on the front of the unit. (The USB ports can also be used to transfer video from a video camera to the Hub.) You have the option of playing content directly off any USB drives that you plug in to the Live Hub, or you can opt to copy the content from the USB drives to the WD's internal 1TB hard drive. When you navigate to the player's video, photo or music menus, it's easy to select whether you want to play media off the internal hard drive or off an attached drive and you can also elect whether you want files to appear in a list mode or as thumbnails. The interface ("Mochi") is much nicer than the interface on the Western Digital Elements Play Multimedia drive, for example; in fact the Hub is a much better product overall.
The interface is a little more cumbersome in some areas though. For example, if you want to play content off a network location, you have to tell the unit that you want to look in that location by pressing the 'source' button on the remote and selecting 'network' — it doesn't have a 'network' item already in its menu. We found the best way to get content onto the Hub was to first browse to the Hub's network location from our computer (it shows up as a location in the Network folder in Windows 7) and simply drag and drop files onto it. The second easiest way was to tell the Hub to synchronise with our selected folders (the Hub will sync when it is in standby mode or when the screensaver is on) and then just browse to the Hub's internal hard drive to access whatever new content was available.
The Hub played all the files we threw on it and you can read a list of its stated format support on our specifications page. Playback of standard definition and Full HD videos was smooth during our tests, and we didn't have any issues with the quality of the picture and the colours when testing on our 40in Samsung Series 6 LCD TV. You can easily skip forward or back in a video file without having to wait for the file to buffer if it's on the internal hard drive, and resumed playback is also supported — it remembers where you left off in each video that you view and gives you the option of starting from the beginning.
WD TV Live Hub: Online content
In addition to playing content off hard drives and network locations, the WD TV Live Hub also has some Internet features. You can connect to Facebook, Flickr, YouTube, and also check the weather (via AccuWeather). Its menu also has shortcuts to services that aren't available in Australia, such as Pandora; we wish the interface would display only locally available services.
Viewing Flickr photos is a little unintuitive. You can't hit the arrow buttons to move back and forward in a photostream; you need to hit the play button in order for the player to cycle through all the photos. You can't upload Flickr photos to your account, unfortunately. Watching YouTube videos is easy enough, but you might find that some YouTube channels can't be played back on the media streamer due to restrictions that have been put in place by the content provider. It's very frustrating if your favourite YouTube channel can't be viewed through the streamer. Much like the situation with Flickr, you can't upload videos to YouTube through the Hub. Photos can be uploaded to Facebook, but, frustratingly, you can only upload one photo at a time.
A mid-sized remote control is supplied with the WD TV Live Hub, but its buttons feel too 'squishy' and it doesn't have dedicated buttons for useful functions such as changing the aspect ratio, nor does it have shortcuts to the video, music and photo menus. The four coloured buttons on the remote can be programmed as shortcuts to your content though.
The overall ease of use of the WD TV Live Hub is good and we had fun playing with it. It offers support for a broad range of formats, playback is smooth and there are many ways to play content through it. We like the fact that we can just drag and drop files onto it through our local area network, and also that we can just plug in an external hard drive if we want. Furthermore, the unit's ability to scan network folders and copy their content to the internal hard drive is very convenient (but we're definitely not advocating it as a backup device).
The only negatives are the remote and the online features — some which still require a little more work in their usability, and some which can't be fully enjoyed due to content restrictions. But it's a case of the good points of the WD TV Live Hub outweighing the bad ones and if you want a streamer with its own internal storage, then we say go for it.
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