As more and more consumers demand access to their music, videos, television, and internet everywhere they go, devices are popping up to help them. Some devices, like the SlingBox, allow mobile users to
watch and control their TV from their mobile phones, while other products such as the Apple TV and Google TV bring streaming movies, web apps, and the internet to the television. In this mad rush to the
living room, manufacturers are quickly adding internet access to everything - Blu-ray players, TV's, and stand-alone set-top boxes - almost guaranteeing that the average consumer will soon be able to
access facebook on their television, one way or another.
I am not really sure that the consumer is asking for all of this since most already own cable boxes that provide on-demand movies and I have yet to hear anyone say "I wish I could view Facebook on the
television," but either way, these are features that most of us will have access to in the very near future.
Personally, I have yet to jump on the Internet TV bandwagon, mainly because I just don't watch that much television any more, but a recent product announcement from Western Digital (the hard drive company)
caught my eye. It is a set-top box, called the WD TV Live Hub, that offers all of the features mentioned above (streaming movies, music, and facebook access) but goes further by integrating a large 1TB
hard drive and the ability to act as a networked media drive. While the WD Live TV Hub can play back photos, music, and video from USB devices, various internet sites, and from a computer on the network -
the feature that caught my interest as a cinematographer and photographer is its ability to play 1080p high-definition video and photos directly from
its built-in hard drive. Let me explain why this has peaked my interest and whether it lived up to what I was expecting.
As an event cinematographer and budding filmmaker I need a way to reliably display my work at different venues. Typically this means connecting my laptop to a projector or handing over the video file on
a thumb drive or hard drive for playback through someone else's laptop. If you have ever shared your own high-definition videos you most likely have had a situation where your video either wasn't compatible
with their system, was too large (bandwidth/Mbps) for smooth playback, or just didn't look the same as it did on your computer. Even when playing back my video files on my own computers, video playback
is not always reliable, thanks to other background processes that may be running on the computer at the same time.
Why not use a computer?
A couple of weeks ago I had the opportunity to show a short narrative film to a group of 125 photographers, videographer's, and cinematographers. I brought a few versions of the film with me and pre-tested
the highest quality version using their Apple MacBook before the event. After viewing the first 30-45 seconds of the film I was satisfied that their wouldn't be a problem, but when it came time for
the showing the film started to hiccup somewhere around the 2 minute mark. We tried changing settings on the notebook as well as swapping out the video file for a smaller version, but to no avail. At this point
I was both embarrassed and very disappointed, but didn't give up. I ended up connecting my iPad to their projector and played the trailer for everyone since I didn't have the full
version of the film on the iPad. It was this experience that made me realize the importance of bringing my own player to ensure smooth playback.
This is where the WD TV Live Hub comes in.
Taking it Mobile
Video Formats Supported
- AVI (Xvid, AVC, MPEG1/2/4)
- MKV (h.264, x.264, AVC, MPEG1/2/4)
- TS/TP/M2T (MPEG1/2/4, AVC, VC-1)
- Quicktime: MP4/MOV (MPEG4, h.264)
- WMV9 (VC-1)
The WD TV Live Hub is a stand alone media center designed to playback music, video, or photos from the internal hard drive or over a wired (or optional wireless) network connection. Since this is a stand alone
media player there are no background tasks waiting to mess up your presentation. When using a computer you'll have to worry about whether or not the computer has a fast enough processor and graphics card or enough
memory to handle smooth video playback. The WD TV Live Hub handles almost all popular video formats (see list on right) and was easily able to handle an edited and exported 38MBps H.264 video file that I
rendered with Adobe Media Encoder from footage captured with the Canon 5D Mark II and Canon EOS 7D. It was also able to handle the native files directly from these cameras - something that most computers have
While Western Digital is marketing this as a media server for the house, I like it more as a mobile / portable media player. Physically, it is smaller (7.8"w x 6.1"d) than my iPad, only 1.3" thick, and weighs
maybe 7 or 8 ounces, so it's a breeze to carry around. I can connect it to virtually any projector or flat panel TV using the HDMI 1.4 out, component video out, or composite video out. It also
features an optical audio output jack. With my films, photos and music stored on the built-in hard drive I never have to worry about the existence or quality of an internet connection.
Note: I would doubt that there is any shock protection around the internal drive, so putting this into a small padded (Pelican style) case would make a lot of sense if you plan to travel with it.
As a Media Server
When the WD TV Live Hub arrived the first thing I did was connect it to my home theater system only to learn that in order to connect it to the internet I would need to run an Ethernet cable to it. For some
reason I assumed that the unit had built-in Wi-fi, but after investigating it I learned that Wi-fi is an option. Luckily, adding Wi-fi is a simple as plugging in one of many compatible
third party USB Wi-fi dongles, so I immediately headed over to Amazon and ordered a
compatible Wi-fi USB dongle made by ASUS
and waited a couple of days for it to arrive.
Note: If at all possible you should run a wired Ethernet cable to it since Wi-fi reliability can vary greatly due to a weak signal caused by walls, interference,
or distance from the router. This would only be of concern when streaming internet content, since most of your own videos, photos, and films will likely be played
from the internal 1TB hard drive. As a note, when streaming a Netflix movie I had to restart the movie once over the Wi-fi connection, but after that it played smoothly
all the way through.
Once connected to the internet it was time to power it up. You can turn it on using the on/off button on the front of the player or using the included remote control. Navigation is handled by the remote
control as there are no controls on the unit itself, aside from the power button. The unit displays the WD logo while loading up its custom designed interface, called Mochi. Mochi, is a new, simpler user
interface designed by WD specifically for this media player, though it will most likely find its way onto other WD media players via a firmware update. Because it's XML-based the interface is easily
customizable by third-parties. In fact other users have already created custom themes that can be copied over to the drive and selected from within a menu option.
The Mochi interface is very simple and easy to use. It is broken down into five categories (Setup, Services, Video, Music, Photos) which you surf using the navigation pad on the remote control.
The unit also supports a USB keyboard, ideal for those those who prefer using a keyboard for entry. Since this review is focused on using the WD TV Live Hub as a mobile media player I won't go into
too much detail of the features in each category.
The setup screen is where you enter your home network settings. For many it will be as simple as plugging in an Ethernet cable or connecting a Wi-fi USB 'dongle', selecting automatic, and entering your
home network's password. Your router will use DHCP to automatically assign an IP address to the media server. For others, who for one reason or another may not be using the DHCP capabilities of their
router, you'll have to manually assign the IP address, SSID, Subnet mask, Gateway, and DNS addresses.
Entering the IP addresses manually isn't too difficult using remote control along with the on-screen keyboard, just be careful not to hit the "back" key when you go to press the left arrow on the navigation pad. If
you do, you'll jump back one screen and will have to re-enter the information again if it had not yet been saved. This happened to me a few times and really started to irate me by the third time. They
should never had placed the back button directly above the left-arrow button. It's too easy to hit it by mistake, especially as you move around the on-screen keyboard when entering in IP addresses,
username's, e-mail addresses, or passwords.
One nice network feature is the ability for the Live Hub to remember up to 5 different network settings, making it more usable as a portable media server. This makes it easy to switch back and forth
between different networks and different locations. Another great feature is the ability to sync from your camera, a USB storage device, or a network folder. Just set up a folder on your hard drive for
auto sync and anytime you save or place media in that folder it will automatically get synced to the media server's drive.
Accessing Your Media
Videos, Photos, and Music can be played back on the WD TV Live Hub over a network connection; directly from a USB connected device (thumb drive, camera, hard drive, etc.); from another DLNA/UPnP-compatible
device; or from the internal hard drive. You can move or copy media to the internal hard drive through the network or directly from a connected device. You can also use the WD TV Live Hub as just that - a media center to allow all users
on the network to access and play media directly from its internal hard drive as long as they have access privileges. Since the WD TV Live Plus is a DLNA/UPnP-compatible media server it's content can
streamed to mobile devices such as the iPhone®, iPad™ or Android™ devices using third-party applications. I tested this out using the "Fusion Stream" app for the Apple iPad and was able to instantly
access all videos, photos, and music stored on the WD TV Live Plus. "Fusion Stream" from SmartStor is available free for the iPhone and iPad "for a limited time" (as of December 28, 2010) so grab it while you can.
As a network connected device it's a shame that Wi-fi was not included as standard. My gut feeling is that WD left out Wi-fi in order to help maintain a positive user experience. Wi-fi signals are just
unreliable for streaming high-bandwidth video content. That said, there are times when running an Ethernet cable to the Living room or wherever you plan to use the WD TV Live Hub is either impossible,
messy, or inconvenient. Do most of us really have the time and money to run an Ethernet cable through walls, attics, basements, and up through another wall just for the purpose of streaming
media to your TV? I personally didn't care too. Luckily, attaching a Wi-fi USB 'dongle' is simple and very cost effective. I picked up an ASUS USB-N13 Wireless-N Adapter from Amazon for $23 (including
shipping), which was on the list of tested Wi-fi devices over at the WD website.
Out of Box Experience
The out-of-box experience needs to be improved as well. Western Digital doesn't include any of the cables (network, A/V, or HDMI) you'll need to connect it to your TV or Home Theater System. Then, when you
do finally get hold of the cables you'll need, you then discover that you'll need an optional Wi-fi dongle, unless you plan to run an Ethernet cable to the device. In my opinion the unit should definitely
have integrated Wi-fi and include at least an HDMI cable and a set of A/V cables in the box.
Web Apps / Services
While the value of this product, for me, is in the video playback from its internal hard drive, many of you will be interested in the internet Apps that are built-in.
The WD TV Live Hub features many of the same web / internet apps that can be found in other internet TV devices. Blockbuster and Netflix apps allow you to rent & download (Blockbuster) or stream movies (Netflix)
to your television, assuming you're a subscriber to these services. The YouTube and Flickr apps allow you to stream millions of uploaded videos or photographs to your TV. The Mediafly app streams both audio and
video podcasts to your TV, the Pandora App let's you set up and play custom music channels through your television, the AccuWeather app provides on-demand weather info for your local city, and the Facebook app
allows you to view posts, leave comments, view photos and videos, and even upload photos & videos to your Facebook page. They all worked exceptionally well, but the interface for many of the apps
seemed like they were designed in 1995. With 1080p (1920 x 1080) output resolution I just assumed these apps would look more like they do (or would) on an iPad. Aside from the aesthetics I
was impressed with the overall audio & video playback quality of the apps and look forward to updated versions of each of these apps and hopefully the inclusion of more apps in future software updates. Despite
connecting the WD TV Live Hub using an optional Wi-fi USB dongle, I only experienced streaming issues twice. Once when streaming a self-created 1080p video through my network and another time while watching a
movie from the Netflix app. If I was using a wired Ethernet connection these streaming issues wouldn't had surfaced.
The WD TV Live Hub is so lightweight and quiet you would never believe that there is a roomy 1TB hard drive inside. Add to this its ability to playback virtually any standard and high-definition video format and
it's easy to see why I think that this is the ultimate mobile media player for videographers and filmmakers. Wedding videographers can easily connect it to a projector via the HDMI port for presenting
their same-day-edits (SDE), while filmmakers can take it on the road to show their films. The advantages of using the WD TV Live Hub over a notebook computer are spelled out in the review above, but it
basically comes down to playback reliability. Since this is a dedicated media player (and not a jack-of-all-trades PC) you won't have to worry about player compatibility, background tasks, memory issues,
graphics card abilities, or any of the other problems that can surface when using a computer to play back HD video files.
The WD TV Live Hub is also the only Internet TV device I know of with its own hard drive. This allows you to store all your videos, photos, and music in one location, making them accessible to any computer
on the network. This also means that your media will play without the hiccups that can occur when streaming over a network. As a DLNA-compatible network device, its content is also accessible to any
DLNA/UPnP-compatible TV or multimedia device such as Blu-ray disc players, X-Box 360, Sony Playstation 3, iPad, iPhone, or Android devices. You can even set it up as an iTunes server, so instead of
duplicating songs on each computer just load them into the WD TV Live Hub and free up valuable drive space on each of the connected computers.
I highly recommend the WD TV Live Hub for anyone who needs reliable media playback when giving presentations. Its wide media compatibility, 1080p output, and direct playback from its own spacious 1-Terabayte (1 TB)
hard drive makes this the ultimate mobile media playback device. Internet TV Apps are new and will improve with each new generation of product. However, If your only interest is in streaming movies from the
web or adding some web apps to your TV you could save money by going with a model that doesn't include the internal hard drive, such as the lower priced WD Live, WD Live Plus, Apple TV, or Roku XD or XD|S.
However, if you love the idea of storing (or backing up) your music, photos, and video on a media hub that can be taken anywhere and is accessible to all devices on your network (Desktops, Laptops, iPhones,
iPads, Android phones) the WD TV Live Hub is not just a great choice, it's one of the only choices available today.
Other Interface Images
On Screen Keyboard
Change Button Function of Remote Control
Western Digital sent us this unit for review purposes. While we prefer getting a review unit directly from the manufacturer, there are times when we go out and purchase a product for review. Either way
our views and opinions are only based on findings made during testing and never based on how a review unit was obtained. Also, when you visit a retailer from a link on our website we often will get a small
referral fee or comission. This referral fee, while very small, does add up over time and helps us to keep bring you the latest news and product review. Our reviews often take over 20 hours to complete, as
they are based on actual testing.