Many people are constantly searching for the right companion to go along with their nice HDTV.
For many people, that companion is usually a gaming console or some sort of media player. And on the rare occasion, that device is a home theater PC.
As hard drive sizes have increased and the shift towards digital media has begun, we are beginning to see an ever increasing amount of streaming media players on the market.
The only problem is that the majority of these streaming players is that they are only capable of playing media off of other devices or sources of content and as a result cannot become the center of the household when it comes to digital media.
The only device that is currently available that enables users to both stream off the networks as well as play locally is the Western Digital TV Live Hub.
This device basically combines the capabilities of all of the digital media devices that came before it into one compact package. Currently, none of the competition allows you to locally store your digital media onto a hard drive inside of the streaming device. As a result, sometimes playback can be choppy or glitchy.
The Western Digital TV Live Hub is effectively the convergence of what most of the devices should be able to do and what most consumers would like to have in their homes. Some consumers only want streaming, which is fine, we recommend sticking to the less expensive devices out there for those purposes.
But for a truly immersive and useful entertainment experience, the Western Digital Live Hub promises quite a bit. Today we will be determining whether or not the WD TV Live Hub (shortened name) is an effective streaming device and how its additional features make it better or worse than others out there. Before we dive into the actual product, we want to go over a few of the specifications that the WD TV Live Hub sports.
Western Digital Live Hub in bullets
- 1080P Video Streaming via HDMI 1.4
- Gigabit Ethernet
- USB 2.0 x 2
- HDMI, Component, and Composite out
- 1TB 2.5" HDD
- 1.3" (32mm) x 7.8" (198mm) x 6.1" (154mm)
- supported video formats: 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
- supported image formats: JPEG, GIF, TIF/TIFF, BMP, PNG
- supported audio formats: MP3, WAV/PCM/LPCM, WMA, AAC, FLAC, MKA, AIF/AIFF, OGG, Dolby Digital, DTS Playlist - PLS, M3U, WPL
- supported subtitle formats: SRT, ASS, SSA, SUB, SMI
Upon getting the WD TV Live Hub, we noticed that Western Digital opted to go for the more eye-catching red packaging that they had used in the past with their My Book Live.
Every side of the actual box is extremely informative and gives the consumer as much information as possible without actually cluttering the box. It also notifies you regarding all of the supported file formats, inputs and outputs and any certifications it has as well.
The front of the box is bi-lingual and shows both the name of the product, the hard drive capacity inside as well as a screenshot of the main menu screen. On top of that, it also shows approximately how many hours of HD video, music, and photos can fit onto it.
It also tells the consumer that the device is Full HD 1080P and goes through the most recognizable Internet services available on the WD TV Live Hub. The back of the box simply goes through yet another screen shot of the menu interface showing how you can customize it and it also gives a snapshot of the device along with the most recognizable services available for it.
One side of the box goes through and breaks down the supported file formats as well as the certifications that the device has. On top of that it also gives a snapshot of the inputs and outputs to allow customers to see what kinds of connections they can or can't use.
This has been a very useful feature that has been included in almost every single streaming device we've seen. The nice part is that this device is big enough to accommodate those connections without any adapters.
The other side simply goes through the user interface once again as well as breaks down some of the streaming features. Once we opened the box, we noticed more protective cardboard followed by the manual and quick start guide.
Directly below that was the actual WD TV Live Hub inside of a plastic clamshell to give it additional protection from shipping damage. Beneath that, were the power inverter, remote, and included batteries
For the WD TV Live Hub, we wanted to see how effective it was as a streaming device as well as how its features made it better or worse than other devices out there. As a result, we will be primarily focusing on these two aspects in our experience with the device while still hitting all of the necessary points regarding this device.
The first and foremost feature of the WD TV Live Hub is its interface. In many cases, an interface can make or break a media streamer's ability to be a competent consumer device. The WD TV Live Hub has one of the most intuitive interfaces we've seen on a media streaming device and the fact that it can be customized to your own personal preferences adds to that. At first, when we got the device we noticed some lag in the interface, but after a few updates the interface was visibly snappier.
As far as the actual setup, the device couldn't have been easier to setup. All that was required was to simply plug the device into the network and setup my Netflix account which took all but a few minutes. The majority of the settings are automatic and flowed perfectly with the home network and mobile devices. That very day we already had the WD TV Live Hub streaming directly to a mobile phone on the WiFi network.
The great thing about the Live Hub was that it could be used by anyone including someone with very little to no technical knowledge. This is assisted by the improved remote that Western Digital included with the Live Hub; this remote has so many more useful buttons on it that it makes the other streaming devices seem archaic and troublesome to use.
The one thing we really wish this device had was a QWERTY keyboard. There are so many added features in the Live Hub that it almost turns itself into an HTPC and that means the need of a keyboard. The good thing, though, is that the WD TV Live Hub does support the use of some wireless USB keyboards through the two USB ports that it has.
The applications that have are included on the Live Hub include Facebook, Netflix, YouTube, Pandora, and Blockbuster on Demand. The only new features that the Live Hub brings to the table compared to previous models from both WD and competitors are the addition of Facebook and Blockbuster on Demand. While the addition of Facebook is definitely a welcome improvement, we found its actual performance to be sluggish at best and useless at worst.
The time that it took for the Facebook application to load simple pages was so long in some instances that it would've been better off not to use it at all. The addition of the Blockbuster on Demand, though, is something that is both interesting and welcome.
The WD TV Live Hub basically sells itself as a bastion of anti-DRM supporting file formats like MKV, yet it also sports a service like Blockbuster on Demand. The addition of this service is likely going to improve the usability of this device for the general consumer as Blockbuster continues to close more stores and move more towards an online model. Furthermore, it promotes the use of the device as a content delivery engine and not just a media player.
The good things about the applications on the WD TV Live hub are that the Netflix application loads faster and looks better than it did on the Xbox 360 which is a very welcome improvement considering it is part of a Netflix happy household.
Meanwhile, applications like Flickr and Pandora worked flawlessly as they should and didn't really deviate much from other streaming devices. As a disclaimer, we also want to mention that some of these added features may have been included or will be included in some previous streaming devices like the Live Plus via firmware updates.
The only glaring problem that we noticed during our use of the Western Digital Live Hub was that its gigabit network port is not quite performing at a gigabit when transferring files to and from it. When tested, 20GB of video files took 40 minutes to transfer to the Live Hub… while the same file transferred over the exact same network to a different device took 27 minutes. There is a definite performance loss somewhere when it comes to data transfer over gigabit. Yes, this will still be faster than 10/100 but no it is not true gigabit speeds.
The Western Digital TV Live Hub actually has a lot of value even when considering the $199 sticker price. This device is traditionally more expensive than almost all of its other competitors, but when you consider that most of them are priced around $100 or more and lack a 1TB HDD and quite a bit of functionality, that disparity quickly disappears.
The price of a 1TB 2.5" HDD alone is $120 retail and adding that to any streaming device would already break $200. Furthermore, one of the most effective ways to see the value of the WD TV Live Hub is to combine the prices of the two devices that WD offers that the Live Hub really combines into one device.
Those two devices are the WD TV Live Plus and My Book Live. These two devices purchased separately would have the same functionality as the Live Hub but would run up a cost of $250 and would simultaneously take up much more space. As a result, the Live Hub not only saves money but it also saves space.
While the Western Digital Live Hub may have a few quirks, it is still clearly quite capable of doing what it was set out to do. Western Digital has been rolling out constant updates to the Live Hub, so we don't doubt that any problems will be resolved ASAP and will be a perfect device.
When it comes to being an effective streaming device, there is no doubt in our minds that the Western Digital Live Hub is above and beyond what most people would expect from such a small and simple device.
Furthermore, Western Digital also delivers content extras that their competitors simply don't have. In the end, our experience with the Western Digital Live Hub was a good one and we would highly recommend you get this device if it meets your media needs.
As a result of our experience (even considering the minor issues) with the Western Digital Live Hub, we are awarding the WD TV Live Hub with our Editor's Choice for home entertainment.