Review: WDTV Live Hub – The Good The Bad The Ugly

• November 21, 2010

I had been using the WDTV Live box for quite sometime before I decided to replace it with a full blown HTPC. Some of the major issues I had with it was a lack of support for Blu-Ray formats. The user interface was sparse, but functional. I hated the fact I was going to replace it with yet another HTPC and an XBOX 360 seemed overkill and expensive. Granted an HTPC isn’t cheap, but repurposing can keep it inexpensive. Still it irked me that there still wasn’t a nice simple box for this room. All I really wanted was for it to stream files from my WHS and be simple enough for my kids to use.

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The Good

The form factor is a bit more grownup in size. I suspect a lot of it is due to the internal 2.5” 1TB HDD. There is a power button on the left and a USB 2.0 port on the right. There is a large selection of rear I/O connections and should satisfy most needs for display and audio output.

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Gone is the toy sized remote. It’s been replaced with something beefier and more user friendly.

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With a new updated GUI and internal 1TB HDD I thought the WDTV Live Hub might be an answer to the streaming box geeks have been looking for, a simple content delivery device. The biggest change from previous offerings in the WDTV line is the new interface nice and intuitive. Navigation to each of the hubs is easy and everything is presented in a functional consistent manner.

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Thumbnails make an appearance finally and do not slow it down a bit. Even while caching my large library performance was great.

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The hardware chosen to power this unit is great. The menus do not show any lag when scrolling or selecting items. Once a feature is selected it launches immediately. The only lag I could find was when trying to access any of the services. I suspect this is less a hardware issue and more of network/internet latency issue.

Web content menu works really well. Netflix played without issue and menus were responsive enough to not be annoying. You Tube again was a positive experience. I didn’t have time to load anything else, but I suspect similar results.

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The amount of formats supported is large and every one looked and sounded spectacular during playback. Functional chapter skipping, FF/REW was supported in all formats I tested. It even played my HD home videos without issues. Only the .3gp Videos from my Cell phone had problems. It played but looked and sounded pretty horrible. Playing files locally, via USB or over the network didn’t matter, performance was stellar from all sources.

From left to right top down –

DVD.iso / BD.mkv / DVD.mkv

.avi / .mp4 / .mts

.3gp / .mp3 / .mp3

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The Bad

While overall the unit is an improvement. There are a few minor problems. Looking at it from a practical standpoint. This isn’t going to be the centerpiece of a home theater. It’s more practical use is going to be along side a secondary TV in a bedroom, den, etc… Most bedroom/secondary setups I’ve run across are little more than a TV hanging on a wall. Having the ability to mount this on the back VESA mount of a TV or or even wall mount it would have been a nice touch.  Which brings me to the remote. With something of this size I would really would have preferred to see an RF remote. I recognize the price point of a feature such as this may be putting it over budget, but Really? Can we move past the 80’s tech of Ir and use something a bit better for remotes already? Line of sight put a damper on those of us who would prefer not to have a stack out in the open. Sorry slightly off topic…getting on with it

It’s a brand new product and was just released this last week. Yet when I plugged it in a new firmware update was needed. I’m am happy that they’re are active and pushing out support. My concern is this seems to be standard operating procedure of electronic appliances as of late. As a consumer I’m a bit wary when I purchase a product and it needs to be fixed the moment I plug it in.

The WD logo on the front functions as the activity light for Hard disk activity. While fairly bright its not obscene, but is easily too bright in a dark room. There is a shutoff feature buried in the menu settings

The internal HDD is a decent amount of storage, but for video I can see this filling up if you want every title in your collections served up. The HDD is not upgradable without cracking open the internals and voiding warranties in the process.

The Ugly

The new interface while pretty, is still convoluted requiring digging down into directories to find content. Then climbing out to get to the top. Tedious at best. While this is somewhat mitigated by using the local HDD, how hard can it be to offer direct navigation to a folder?

Blu-ray support still absent. If you are looking to use this for BD .iso or BD native directory rips your SOL. While it will playback .mkv rips of HD content beautifully, if your setup for it. Nor does it support HD audio, but since video doesn’t work this point is moot. It’s possible I had a corrupt test file, but the test file plays fine on my HTPC.

I was having trouble getting recorded TV to play. Maybe these issues will go away with some hacking, but shouldn’t require it. Maybe a future firmware update will enable better compatibility. Since I’m looking at this from the average user point of view this, like Dad, this is a fail for now.

The End

Overall it’s good product and WD addresses some short comings of their previous generations. There are some issues and glaring omissions. But overall the improvement is welcomed. I would recommend the product as long as you intend to keep it off your network stores. Great device for loading up mom n pop with some content. The GUI is not at all intimidating and all users (read wife n kids) were able to figure it out without much help.

It’s tough call in a tight market. Clearly not a winner, but not a total miss either. You’ll need to carefully weigh out the benefits before you plunk down the money. For half the cost you could get a Roku XD|S with pretty much the same features, except the internal HDD. Or for the same $200 you could get the same functionality and then some from an XBOX 360.

In the end, for me, its going back…

Michael M. (No-Control)

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Category: BYOB Hardware

Comments (11)

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  1. Ken says:

    Dude, The Remote is Bluetooth, not IR. Also, the favorites functionality allows you to jump directly to any folder/File/App you want. If you allow time for the library to build and also pull movie and music info from the web, it will allow you to categorize all your content. It appears you haven't thoroughly explored this equipment before writing your review. I've had this Hub for the past few months and it does basically everything I need for allot less than an HTPC.

  2. Keeper says:

    Add another HDD via USB.. how hard that can be unless I am missing something and I agree on a NAS server, I have a 8 TB (6 usable) Disk Station from Synology feeds the whole home, monitors (camera) and does more including feeding to WDLTV. 1 TB is for those heavy 18GB BD rips…that what I use it for

    • @ShadiEideh says:

      my Synology 411j is on the way with 8TB worth of disks…i was looking to moving my video library to it and stream to my WDTVLive..can you explain how you're feeding content to it from the Synology NAS ?

  3. Chappy says:

    Heh. The remote is /totally/ an IR device, so line of sight is needed to control it. Range is about 6 or 7 metres.

    I would like to see an 'info' button, so I can see the tech specs of the media file I'm playing, and if you have a movie collection of 1,000's on a NAS somewhere it can be a little slow navigating around, but it's easy to do.

    Small, silent, plays everything (You want to play BD ISOs? Really??). Oh, wait, some trouble with multichannel (5.1 etc) AAC soundtracks. Otherwise, nearly perfect.

    I've recommended it to all my not-quite-so-techy friends, and have given one as a birthday present, and one as a wedding present. They're all happy too.

  4. Tony Leonard says:

    Th is WDTV Live Hub is the best thing since sliced bread, it does offer direct access to folser!!!. As for getting the same kind of experience from an X-Box 360, you can only wish for that…

    As for storage, it sees your whole network, theres no limit there, it streams at gigbit speed. As for the interface, you can customize your graphic covers, folder cover and see it in various ways, it supports backdrops for all your movie selections and media can be directly downloaded from the net…

    As for the remote, why would you have to hide the box anyway… Did you mention ther is a web remote, you can even use a cell phone app as a remote.

    You should have spent more time enjoying it instaed of critisizing you played with for 5 minutes…. Crappy review

  5. This is the best media server available period. It play virtually every file I can throw at it. It also serves media via SAMBA file sharing over a home network. My entire media collection, whether it is in XVID, AVC, DIVX, format with almost any extension (avi, mkv, mov, m4v, mp4, mp3, divx, m4a, ogg) plays flawlessly and can be accessed from any computer, tablet, or smart phone in my house. This reviewer either needs to learn patience or stop the mind altering drugs that are causing his lapse in judgement.

  6. down tv says:

    Make stylish your living area by mount a LCD TV with synamic mounting.

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