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.