Gadgets wdfWDTV_LiveHub

Published on December 6th, 2012 | by Greg


Western Digital WD TV Live Hub 1TB: Stream Away Or Store Onboard

Home media players come in two basic varieties: the kind with onboard hard drive storage for files, and the smaller boxes without. The latter limit you somewhat; you’ll need to stream everything, and that can be awkward or impossible for those with large media libraries and/or slow internet connections. We’ve used most every major media streamer, media player, and media server- from the Roku series and the AppleTV models, the inexpensive line from D-Link and to 3D-capable models like the iconBIT and more exotic and higher-end models like those from PopcornHour. And we have a new one to add to the collection!

The Western Digital WD TV Live Hub 1TB (available as well without the hard drive) offers an interesting twist on the formula, and we’re able to recommend it without hesitation to anyone looking for a bit more from a media player. For some users, the extra features will be overkill. For others, a video gaming console or even newer Blu-Ray players will offer many of the abilities. But the WD TV has many stengths, and foremost among them is simply making it fast, simple, and easy to access your media collection in addition to showcasing every major streaming service around. In fact, there are only two hold-outs that might be an issue, available on other devices: HBO Go and Amazon Instant Video (free for Amazon Prime members). And there is only one major hardware downside to this solid box, namely, the lack of built-in wireless.

The playing field has leveled somewhat in the last year or so. Netflix and Pandora were always widely available, but Hulu was harder to find on many devices, and Spotify as well. Now, most major media players support the heavy hitters, and there are only small differences in how they handle the services for the most part. Which leaves competition among the other services, and WD has out-of-the-box support for most all, including SHOUTCast, CinemaNow, Blockbuster On Demand, and a long list of others. We briefly tried out a few of the other fun extras, like the Facebook and YouTube clients and some of the games- but for most folks, including us, the sole reason to have a box like this is to access streaming and stored movies.

If you can’t or don’t want to compete on price, find a segment or niche to target and hit the bullseye. Western Digital did that with the router we recently reviewed, offering extra ethernet ports to effectively grab attention from those with lots of wired devices. It might be a small differentiation, but is nonetheless something that some consumers want or need. The same is true here- the remote is good but nothing new; the hardware itself looks similar to most other larger media players. But unlike most smaller players, there is a handy built-in and front-accessible USB port for accessing a thumb drive, meaning your friends can bring over their pictures or videos and you can play them back easily. And unlike many competitors, there is not only HDMI and optical audio output but also composite and component. The menus and user interface are pretty great as well- not quite as intuitive as Roku or AppleTV, but not far behind and quite snazzy- and this box has to offer many more options.

Playback from a computer or of downloaded files- from your laptop or desktop, PC or Mac- is the real reason to get a box with built-in storage. And is here where we can heartily recommend the WD TV Live Hub over other offerings, as it has perhaps the most robust file support and ease-of-use in a 1080p mid-priced media player. We threw lots of file types at it- no need to transcode- and found it handled everything with aplomb, including OGG. Of course, iTunes DRM-protected songs are off the list, though this is the case for every non-Apple media player. Below is a list of file types supported:

Video – 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, FLV (h.264)
Playlist – PLS, M3U, WPL
Subtitle – SRT, ASS, SSA, SUB, SMI

The exclusion of wireless capability is a bit curious, but the target audience is likely going to use wired connections (or a wireless bridge like the blazing fast 802.11ac model we reviewed a few days ago). Aside from that omission, this is a great media player that has been steadily improved since it’s launch, with strong firmware support and regular updates. There’s even a free app that can turn your Android or iOS device into a remote control, and an app for sharing your photo library from your mobile device with ease. Available now for $170, and worth the extra price for the added storage which will come in handy when you want to stop worrying about streaming drop-outs.

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About the Author

Greg dreamed up the idea for the Truly Network while living in Hawaii, which began with a single site called TrulyObscure. In 2010, when advertisers and readers were requesting coverage beyond the scope of that site, TrulyNet was launched, reaching a broader audience over a variety of niche sites. Formerly the head technology correspondent for the Des Moines Register at age 16, he has since lived and worked in five states and two countries, helping a list of organizations and companies that includes the United States Census Bureau, TripAdvisor, Events Photo Group, Berlitz, and Computer Geeks. He also served as the Content Strategy Manager for HearPlanet, a multi-platform app that has reached over a million users and has been featured in the New York Times, Hemispheres Magazine, National Geographic Adventure, Fox Business News, PC Magazine, and even Appleā€™s own iPhone ads. Greg has written as a restaurant critic and feature journalist for a number of national and international publications, including City Weekend Magazine, Red Egg Magazine, the Newton Daily News, Capital Change Magazine, and an arm of China Daily, Beijing Weekend. In addition, he has served as a consulting editor for the Foreign Language Press of Beijing, as well as a writer and editor for the George Washington University Hatchet, the school newspaper of his alma mater. Originally from Iowa, Greg is currently living in the West Village of Manhattan.

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