WD TV Live Hub Brings The Network Home

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Western Digital moved into the IPTV set-top box space a couple of years ago with the diminutive WD TV Live and Live Plus devices, enabling the requite Netflix streaming and DLNA networkability, but the latest edition to the WD Live family — the WD TV Live Hub — offers the line’s most robust experience yet.

The product, which is available now for a $200 suggested retail, features a colorful and customizable graphical user interface; a built-in 1TB hard drive, allowing customers to store all kinds of video and audio content on the device both for playback and backup purposes; and provides access to streaming content service providers, including the newly added Blockbuster on Demand.

A wide variety of audio and video file formats are supported, including the 1080p HD formats, MKV, MP4, MOV, WAV, lossless FLAC, MP3 and WMA, among others.

Video, music and photos (also with multiple file support) stored on the internal hard drive can be streamed to any DLNA/UPnP-compatible product, such as the Xbox 360, PlayStation3 and networked PCs, making it a de facto network-attached storage device, in addition to an Internet entertainment portal.

Content can also be streamed to iPads, iPhones and Android-based smartphones using special apps.

The new interface enables changing screen backgrounds or themes, like a PC desktop, and the Live Hub comes with two USB ports that let users transfer content from cameras, external hard drives or other products to the internal hard drive.

As with the past TV Live Plus product, service support includes Netflix streaming, YouTube, Flickr, Mediafly and Pandora, but it now adds Blockbuster On Demand. Facebook integration is also included for users who want to upload photos or videos in addition to viewing news feeds and reading friends wall posts.

But the need to use an onscreen softkey pad for data entry makes the process clumsy.

One shortcoming of the device is the lack of built-in Wi-Fi connectivity. As with the previous WD TV Live devices, users wishing to connect wirelessly to a network in the home must purchase an optional (and compatible) third-party USB Wi- Fi adapter. (Check the WD website for compatible Wi-Fi access products.)

In addition, the sleek, flat device includes a wide range of output options, including HDMI, composite video and component video. On the audio side, standard RCA stereo jacks in addition to an optical SPDIF port and the HDMI port offer surround-sound output to compatible home theater products.

In a review of the product, setup was generally easy, although in the test unit, any way, the component video output menu selection proved to be sticky, requiring a number of additional steps that ultimately required a call to the highly responsive service support line.

Alternatively, users can connect the device to the web via an Ethernet cable.

One of the biggest pluses of the device is the 1TB storage of central storage the device offers a home with multiple PC users, gamers and smartphones. The allows tapping into a central storage bank of media content (music, videos and photos) without the need to fill up smaller hard drives on individual devices.

It’s also a great tool for backing up precious files, such as digital images and even data, to safe guard against hard drive failures with devices elsewhere in the home. And at $200, it’s not much more expensive than a backup hard drive without all of the other features.

Western Digital also has arranged for a more robust version of the Netflix movie software, allowing users to select movies to watch from Netflix’ extensive online selections, without first having to make selections to a personal Que. Other systems require going through the Netflix account using a PC to make selections to the Que before being able to view content on the screen.

The LiveHub is also an HDTV media server that can be easily accessed by other DLNA-enabled devices in the house. These can include anything from connected Blu-ray Disc players to Playstation3 and Xbox 360 gaming consoles.


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