Western Digital WD TV Live Hub Review - HotHardware

Western Digital WD TV Live Hub Review

4 thumbs up

Before we dive in to the WD TV Live Hub, it's worth mentioning that the streaming media box market is rapidly expanding. Apple just recently released its revamped Apple TV unit for a Benjamin, Boxee just came out with a new player, and of course Google is making a push into the living room with the so-far uninspiring Google TV platform. At $200, the WD TV Live Hub isn't the cheapest set-top box on the market, but as you'll find out in a moment, it's one of the more versatile options out there.

One of the few things that didn't impress us about the WD TV Live Hub is the bundle. It's not that we were expecting a multitude of goodies, but an HDMI cable would have been a welcome addition. Bad for us, good for Monoprice.com, our go-to source for cables on the cheap.

We do, however, really like the remote. It's not too big, the buttons are sized just right, the layout is ultra intuitive, and it comes with a pair of AAA batteries.

It's hard to tell from the picture, but the WD TV Live Hub is one svelte media box. You'll have no trouble squeezing it into your home theater rack, even if you're already cramped for space, and the brushed aluminum finish won't draw unnecessary attention to the box. Be warned, however, that this thing picks up fingerprints, especially the glossy front panel.

There's a power switch on the front left of the box and a USB 2.0 port on the right. The neat thing about the USB port is you can plug in a thumb drive -- or any external drive -- and gain near-instant access to all the files it contains. What's more, a menu pops up asking if you want to sync the files to the internal 1TB hard drive. This is an awesome feature, although we wish it weren't an all or nothing affair -- if you choose to sync your files, Western Digital will pull everything from your external drive, when maybe all you wanted to shuttle was your photos folder.

On the rear of the unit are a bunch of connectivity options. From left to right you'll find a power adapter input, optical SPDIF, HDMI port, another USB 2.0 port, Gigabit Ethernet port, composite A/V output, and component video output.

Let's talk a moment about that second USB port. Not only can you plug another external drive in the rear, but you can also use it to hook up a USB keyboard or an optional USB wireless adapter. And while we didn't test this, we imagine the WD TV Live Hub would also work with a wireless keyboard via a USB dongle.

Beautiful on the outside, and just as sexy on the inside. Stealing the show, of course, is the 1TB WD Scorpio Blue hard drive. For some, this alone might justify the cost upgrade over the Apple TV, especially when you consider this model hard drive (WD10TPVT) runs about $120 online.

Driving the entire system is a Sigma Designs processor clocked at 500MHz specifically designed to provide a "highly-integrated, high-performance, cost-effective solution for IPTV set-top boxes, hybrid set-top boxes, media players, wireless display receivers, and IPTV/cable/satellite thin clients." You can read more about this chip here, but the bottom line this System-on-a-Chip (SoC) is capable of processing high-bitrate files up to 1080p.

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Great review, and cool little box.

>> It's clear that Western Digital put a lot of effort into making sure its latest media set-top box would integrate seamlessly into just about any home theater/network setup (sans Linux).

That last little "sans" confuses me.  This thing is running Linux (which is why you can freely download the GPL'd source code here, and there are communities that make custom firmwares adding things like torrent clients and Shoutcast support).  Hmmm... wonder how well it would perform if I installed MAME.

Linux integrates with everything.  Big Smile

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That comment's based on Western Digital's list of supported platforms, which includes Windows and Mac -- plug it in and you're ready to go as soon as you hit the power button. We didn't test it with a home network built around Linux, and it may work just as well there too, but WD only lists Windows and Mac.

You'll also find that this newest box is less hacker-friendly than previous WD TV Live models, which is a bummer but not a deal breaker.

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Ah, I see. Well, it should work fine in a Linux-centric environment. I can't see it not talking to another Linux box also running TwonkyServer, or refusing to let you manage it from a web browser.

I'll bet I can guess why it's less hacker-friendly: NetFlix, right? Somehow I don't see the protection on this device working long against motivated Linux hackers with access to the hardware. If NetFlix would simply release a non-proprietary-Silverlight-only-DRMd client, they'd make life a lot easier for consumers.

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"Western Digital warns that you won't be able to play "protected premium content such as movies or music from the iTunes Store, Cinema Now, Movielink, Amazon Unbox, and Vongo,", That is unless you hook it to your HTPC  (which no I do not have yet personally, but theoretically) , and crack those drm etc  protection codex's which of course there are free tools all over the place to do so with, and no matter the format.

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No wifi is a bit of a deal breaker for me.

Also I heard a rumor that these (western digital) things can play DVD iso's... Can anyone confirm?

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I still dont see the point of all that bloat tech! Like 3vi1 said it is built for nextflix so they can control content. It would be more practical if they set it up to connect to your home wireless net work so you can stream from the computer.

It still makes more sense to just get one that is a media player only. I dont think I will ever need everything (including my toilet) to be connected for netflix purposes:P

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