WD TV Live Hub (1TB)
Western Digital Corp.
Price Range: $264.55 - $368.97
CNET Editors' Rating: 3.5 / 5
The good: Media streamer/server with 1TB of file storage built in; supports up to 1080p video playback; nice onscreen interface; streams a variety of Internet video and audio services, including Netflix, YouTube, and Pandora, via Ethernet connection; attractive onscreen interface; good HD video quality on channels and programming that support it; supports a wide variety of video codecs; two USB ports for connecting devices and storage drives; acts as a networked drive that's capable of streaming content to PCs (or game consoles) on your home network.
The bad: No built-in wireless; ever cheaper Blu-ray players offer many of the same Internet-viewing and home streaming options plus disc playback; most advanced options will require an expert user to fully exploit.
The bottom line: While it lacks integrated Wi-Fi and is more expensive than the Roku or Apple TV , the WD TV Live Hub's combination of snazzy interface and built-in 1TB hard drive will appeal to advanced users who have a lot of existing files they want to view on an HDTV or stream to other PCs on a network.
Design, Features & Performance (out of 10)
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|
While not officially listed, ISO files are also supported. That means--legality concerns notwithstanding--that ripped DVDs can be played back on the unit (either as ISO or MKV files, or using the DVD file system--directories full of VOB files). Moreover, the Live Hub can attach title-specific metadata to such files. If the movie name is in the file name, the system does a good job of guessing the title, as in the example pictured above. If not, it's easy to use an onscreen look-up to do so. (The Live Hub has an onscreen keyboard, but file hoarders will appreciate the fact that it also supports USB PC keyboards.)
Once the metadata is attached, you get movie summaries, cover thumbnails, and even rotating wallpaper images based on the movie (see above). Moreover, the playback of ISO and VOB files is identical to what you'd get on a DVD player--chapters, menus, subtitles, the works.
To reiterate: if you're breaking the encryption of a DVD or Blu-ray, the process of getting this content onto the Live Hub may not be strictly legal. But if you've already created backup copies of your movies on USB or a networked drive, this may be your definition of movie heaven.
As we said, video, music, and photos stored on the device can be streamed to any DLNA/UPnP-compatible products, including PCs and game consoles (though the destination device will need to be compatible with the file formats in question).
Just as importantly, the Live Hub is able to access other DLNA/UPnP servers, including PCs running software such as TwonkyVision. It's also able to access iTunes software running on networked PCs, so you can easily access your music collection (assuming your music doesn't still have the old iTunes DRM encoding). As with the movie thumbnails, album art is also supported.
The device comes with two USB ports that let you transfer content from cameras (including Flip Video camcorders), external hard drives, or other products to the WD TV Live Hub. Unfortunately, on the internal drive, you can't create or rename folders and arrange content in buckets, which would be nice if you have hundreds, or even thousands of files (a terabyte stores a lot of files). We had no trouble transferring files from both a Flip Video camcorder and an external hard drive, though it did take a while to copy over the files, especially the larger video files.
The channel selection is a mixed bag. It isn't as robust as Roku's 100-plus lineup, but it's arguably better than Apple TV's limited offerings. Most of the important ones are onboard, including the aforementioned Netflix and Pandora, as well as YouTube, Live365 audio, Flickr, and Facebook photos. We were also happy to see the Mediafly channel, which offers a huge selection of audio and video podcasts. You won't find the Roku's MLB.TV, NHL GameCenter, and Hulu Plus channels (which, to be fair, all require paid subscriptions), but we did like the inclusion of an AccuWeather channel. And the upgradable firmware means that Western Digital could always expand this channel list in the future.
In the end, despite its having a few shortcomings, we came away really liking the WD TV Live Hub. Indeed, if this product had integrated Wi-Fi, it'd be a 4-star product and a potential Boxee Box killer. Still, for those who've managed to put together a nice collection of video files and want to create a sort of movie jukebox that can also play Netflix movies and spin some Pandora tunes, this product will make a lot of sense. Yes, it's more expensive than some competing products, but those simply don't come with a 1TB hard drive. And for some, the inclusion of that networked drive will make all the difference.
Editors' note: For more detailed discussion of products that let you access online video, check out CNET's quick guide to Internet TV.
|Product Description||WD TV Live Hub Digital multimedia receiver|
|Product Type||Digital multimedia receiver|
|Dimensions (WxDxH)||6.1 in x 7.8 in x 1.2 in|
|Sound Output Mode||Stereo|
|Manufacturer Warranty||1 year warranty|
Average User Rating: 3.5 / 5
User Rating Breakdown
5 Star: 6
4 Star: 8
3 Star: 3
2 Star: 3
1 Star: 5
Plays almost every type of of video file .
Rating: 3.5 / 5
on November 17, 2011
3 out of 3 users found this review helpful
Pros: Reasonably easy to get media onto the hard drive and play from there.Good variety of connections (lack of wireless is overhyped issue - get a Powerline network kit).Plays every file type I've sent to it and in all types of containers (ISO, MKV, M2TS)
Cons: 1. Documentation is horrid - except for making connections.
2. Fast forward/reverse/skip to specific time are klunky, don't actually work a significant portion of the time, and frequently result in videos restarting or skipping to the next video.
Summary: I am a fairly experienced user. I have used several Archos devices, Boxee Box, Apple TV, Roku, Lacie (which was my favorite) and now the Live Hub.
Currently, the Live Hub is my favorite, but there is certainly room for improvement.
First, the good. I have not found a video format that is incompatible (I do not use MOV). They all play. Every container I use (M2TS, ISO, MKV) works just fine.
I have not had any problem with the quality of video files playing either - including 1080p encoded in h.264 with AC-3 audio.
I use a Harmony One remote, which controls the basic functions okay, but there are some specific buttons I've had to reprogram.
If you just want a device which is easy to attach to your computer as well as your TV, will play back a wide variety of media files - and do this very well, and especially if you want an internal hard drive...I've tried most of them and this is the best.
Netfilx playback is as good as it is through my HTPC - which is to say it is only limited by my slow DSL connection.
Now for the bad.
Attaching the device and getting media onto the Hub is relatively easy - though I had to get some of the management software off the internet (I don't know why it was not included on the Hub - it has a hard drive for goodness sake). And, I did not even know I needed the software until the hub, though recognized by my network could not actually be used. I went to a few online forums until I found a link to the right place at the WD site (I had gone there initially and searched for "Live Hub" but found nothing). Once the software was running, moving media to the device was easy.
When you boot it up you get this screen with several containers "Photos, Videos, Music, Settings", etc. One of these is "Folders"...clicking on that keeps giving me an error message that "No files are found." Since the documentation is so poor I have never found out what this Folder does, but not using it does not seem to affect the primary function of the Hub (nothing about this on the WD website, even the huge PDF you can download - which I found to be so poorly indexed it was worthless).
There is also no docuemntation to tell you how to get media off your network. Under settings you can tell the device to use the network, but though I have several terabytes of music, photos, and video on the hardwired network, it never has actually provided me a way to access this.
For purposes of seeing how well the Hub works I made digital back-ups of several DVD's I own including Blu-Rays (I do not encourage piracy...so any copies I make would of course be temporary and for educational purposes only). I put these copies on the hard drive and allowed the Hub to create a media library. It came up with a list of movies - but none of the metadata (which I had included with the movies) appeared ... not even the cover art which I had included in the folders.
I found out that the Hub requires that the video file, the folder, and the jpg of the cover have to have exactly the same name. All of mine had slight variations in the names, so I needed to fix this (there is apparently an individual who has created a program which automates some of the work, but I have not tried his program). So, I did all this renaming by hand. And, despite my making sure that all the names are exactly the same, the Hub sill is only able to find the covers for about half of my movies. I have looked at this repeatedly and know that there is no difference between the movies/folders where the Hub finds the cover art and displays it and the movies/folders wher the Hub does not. (By the way I did this manually through a networked computer - there may be a way to get cover art into the right place through the Hub, but I have not found it).
For metatdata (movie length, synopsis, actors, ratings, etc.) I already had info from IMDB for every movie. Though this was in an XML file, with the correct name, included in the correct folder, the Hub would not recognize it. So, I had to, one by one, go to the movie in the Hub interface, tell the Hub to search it's database (by the way, no documentation on how this is done anywhere - I just kept pushing buttons unil I got a message asking if I wanted to get content info), and then select the appropriate movie from the database. The Hub would then have the metadata, but will only display this in a specific view (called "Gallery") and even then - though the data was obtained through the Hub - about 50% of the time no information is displayed...And in the "Gallery" view, the cover art is almost never displayed.
Okay, no metadata and no cover art is fine - none of the other devices I used was very good at this either (except Apple TV, but it is proprietary and play limited file types) - I can play files if the name is listed...which the Hub does do.
The fast forward and rewind buttons (as well as the "skip to a certain time" function) do not do what you wish. Sometimes the fastforward will do just that, sometimes it will skip, sometimes it will skip to the next file. Most of the time the rewind button skips back and frequently it skips all the way back to the begining of the file. I have only tried to use the "Skip to a certain time" function a couple of times because...well...it doesn't do that. You input a time, and most of the time nothing happens. Sometimes, it restarts the file.
I really do like the Hub. I am hoping that future firware updates address these issues and provide a more intuitive interface. Also, WD would do consumers a big favor if they would just have someone who has actually used the device sit with the people who designed it and write a coherent, well indexed user manual.
Rating: 0.5 / 5
on December 18, 2011
2 out of 2 users found this review helpful
Pros: Yet to find any
Cons: 1. Takes ages to sync with external USB devices
2. Fatal system error every time I play a video
3. Takes ages to restart and compile media library
4. Cannot directly connect to a computer
5. Not compatible with commonly available wireless adapters.
Summary: I would not recommend this product even to my worst enemy.
Extremely flexible, but totally unusable
Rating: 2 / 5
on December 20, 2011
1 out of 1 users found this review helpful
Pros: Can play most audio and video file formats
Cons: A lack of detailed documentation and a confusing interface, compounded by software bugs, makes this unit basically unusable for me. Examples, files don't show up on system and I have yet to get file sharing to work with Windows 7.
Summary: This unit offers a lot, but without detailed documentation it is very difficult to configure and use, you will rely a lot on online support forums, where the data is often unreliable.
I have not been able to get file sharing to work with Windows 7, and syncing is somewhat of a mystery. I moved to the WD from an Apple TV which had a very simple, easy to use interface, but the WD suffers from usability issues. I used the Apple TV all of the time (despite it's limitations) but find that I just don't use the WD ... every time I do there seems to be a new issue to debug.
The interface to scroll through music is pathetically slow, and the Media Library is nowhere near as useful as it sounds.
There are so many quirks that you will find, you cannot setup a photo screensaver from a hierarchical folder system, the screensaver picks up all the album artwork as photos, not all the menu options from DVDs are available.
I have a solid background in home theater and computing, anyone who doesn't should absolutely avoid this unit.
Bitter taste after all
Rating: 2 / 5
on January 24, 2014
0 out of 0 users found this review helpful
Pros: It was one of the first cheap media players in the market. Not any more.
Cons: Randomly damages filesystem of attached devices
Summary: Using this device for the last 3 years. The device delivers what it's supposed to. The major issue is that it randomly destroys the filesystem of any USB hard-disk attached to it. This problem exists since more than one year and is already faced by many users. Not solved yet even not solved yet via any patches or upgrades. Already lost many family photo albums until I realize what was happening. If you search in the net you will find only a small utility done by an independent programmer to help you fix these errors one by one, after they appear.
Rating: 1.5 / 5
on September 21, 2013
0 out of 0 users found this review helpful
Can play DVD ISOs with menues - sometimes!
Cons: Often: "Format not supported" even though it played it yesterday.
Really really bad user interface
Compiling media library 24/7.
Doesn't group movies on genre or anyting.
Doesn't show movie title - only file name. Have to browse through the folders.