Editors' note: As of a December 2011 firmware update, the WD TV Live Hub reviewed here has been updated to add a variety of new channels, including Vudu, Flixster, XOS College Sports, and SEC Digital Network. Western Digital has also released compatible iOS and Android remote apps.
Editors' note: As of an August 2, 2011 firmware update, the WD TV Live Hub reviewed here can now also access Hulu Plus (subscription required) and Shoutcast Internet radio (free).
In the digital-media box market, it seems like Apple and Roku have been getting the most attention lately, but companies like Seagate and Western Digital are trying to differentiate their boxes from the rest by offering tie-ins to their companies' portable hard drives. However, in the case of the WD TV Live Hub, Western Digital has taken things a step further and built a networked 1TB hard drive right into the unit itself.
With that embedded hard drive, this box is bigger than the Apple TV and the latest crop of Roku players, but it is still relatively compact, measuring 1.25 inches tall by 7.8 inches wide by 5.9 inches deep. It's also attractively styled, with a glossy black finish and simple, understated looks.
Included in the box are a remote control and a set of composite (red, white, yellow) AV cables. You get outputs for component video, but most people who own an HDTV with HDMI inputs will choose to buy an optional HDMI cable to hook this guy up. An optical audio output is available for those who want to use component video cables and run digital audio out to an AV receiver.
The first thing you'll notice when you fire up the WD TV Live Hub is the simple, elegant onscreen interface that offers pretty zippy performance. In terms of the interface, Western Digital has come a long way from its first digital-media box, and we were impressed by the overall look and feel, though things get a little more complicated once you start adding a bunch of files to the system.
You can go with one of the default themes or choose to customize screen backgrounds or themes with your own images. If there's an issue, it's that some of that elegance disappears once you start drilling down into the menus for your files. Alas, you can end up with a lot of text file names without the nice thumbnail images you'd find, say, on an Apple product--or within the "controlled" environment of the Services section on this product.
The 1TB hard drive does make this a more expensive purchase than the Roku Player or Apple TV, and it should be pointed out that those units offer Wi-Fi connectivity while this model doesn't. (You can add any one of several compatible USB Wi-Fi dongles to the Live Hub.) However, that hard drive will appeal to a certain type of customer.
Who is that? Well, it's someone who has a lot of multimedia content stored on his or her computer and wants to throw it all onto one box and be able to connect it to a TV and play files directly from that box. Of course, WD TV also has some nice streaming services available, such as Netflix and Pandora, and an assortment of other "channels" that includes YouTube, Flickr, Facebook, and Blockbuster On Demand. But the real differentiator here is the integrated hard drive that doubles as a networked drive that can be accessed by other PCs (or game consoles such as the Xbox 360 or PS3) in your home network.
Live Hub supports playback of a wide variety of file formats, including audio and still-image files, but the user who will gravitate toward this box will probably be most interested in storing and viewing video files. In that regard, the playback capabilities are the same as what Western Digital offers with its WD TV Live Plus box. We threw a lot of files at the Live Hub and it played back all our test files without a hitch. You get support for 1080p video formats in such "containers" as MKV, MP4, and MOV. The casual user won't know what we're talking about, but techie types are well versed in the various video compression schemes and formats.
Here's a look at the file formats supported:
|Video||AVI (Xvid, AVC, MPEG 1/2/4). MPG/MPEG, VOB, MKV (H.264, x.264, AVC, MPEG 1/2/4. VC-1), TS/TP/M2T (MPEG 1/2/3. AVC, VC-1) MP4/MOV (MPEG4, h.264), M2TS, WMV0|
|Image||JPEG, GIF, TIFF, BMP, PNG|
|Audio||MP3, WAV/PCM/LPCM, WMA/WMA Pro, AAC, FLAC, MKA, AIF/AIFF, OGG, Dolby Digital Plus, DTS|
|Playlist||PLS, M3U, WPL|
|Subtitle||SRT, ASS, SSA, SUB, SMI|