I’m not a big fan of the .mkv format, but it seems like I keep winding up with more and more videos with that file extension. Unfortunately, the only thing in my house able to play those files is my computer. Most .avi files I can stream to the PlayStation3, allowing me to play it on one of my TVs. Attached to the other TV, a SDTV, I used a VGA to composite adapter to allow a laptop to show video files on the standard TV. This worked well but had its detractions. The laptop I was using was seeming pretty slow and it had all the annoyances of a Windows computer that doesn’t get used that frequently – updates just keep popping up. Also, configuring the TV as a second monitor was a tedious task any time it was unplugged and used elsewhere.
To add greater flexibility to where I can play videos, what types of videos I can play, make playing those videos more convenient, I set these requirements:
- Must have composite and HDMI outputs
- Must have remote control
- A set-top box without frequent updates to install
- Be able to play .mkv, .avi, and most other commonly encountered file formats
- Ethernet connectivity to stream from my NAS and take advantage of the ethernet cables I just installed
- Streaming online content would be an excellent plus
After shopping around with those requirements and reading lots of reviews, I decided upon the WD TV Live Hub from Western Digital. They actually offer two very similar products the WD TV Live Plus and the WD TV Live Hub. I ended up getting the Hub because I thought it would be a better first time experience. The big difference between the two products is that the Hub has a 1TB hard drive included and can act as a media server.
I really liked the sleek look of the Hub and it dropped in price over the course of a few days I was reading reviews of it on Amazon. Overall, I’ve been very happy with the WD TV Live Hub. It’s met and exceeded all of my requirements.
- Powers on in ~ 3 seconds
- Plays .mkv files, .avi files, and everything else I’ve thrown at it without a problem, including subtitled anime
- Has a gigabit ethernet port
- CIFS share navigation
- Has a fan
- Wifi is an optional accessory
- Building a library database can take a long time
I have had the Hub for over a month now but only recently did I find out it had a fan. When it was still hot Summer time, I had a ceiling fan running at night which masked the tiny noise of the Hub’s fan. However, when it got cooler outside and I stopped using the ceiling fan, I woke up a few times in the middle of the night to this steady noise. Half-asleep, I deduced it was the Hub, stumbled over and unplugged it. The fan is not loud but in the dead of night, it is loud enough. To get the quick boot up time, the Hub actually only goes into a sleep mode. However, if you hold down the power button for about 3 seconds, it will completely shut down including the fan. Powering on the device from being fully shut off takes about a minute, longer than waking from sleep mode but still a lot faster than booting up the laptop and getting it ready to go.
The online services are a great feature. Netflix, Hulu Plus, Pandora, YouTube, Facebook, Blockbuster, Flickr, and others are available to stream instantly. It also supports Flingo, a service that enables you to watch a number of other streaming sites like Crunchyroll (without ads). You can view an episode listing from your computer, click the Flingo bookmarklet, and the episode will be added to your queue on the WD Live if you’re on the same network and the Hub is on or in sleep mode.
You can also use the device to show photos or play audio. It supports a number of formats for audio files (MP3, WAV/PCM/LPCM, WMA, AAC, FLAC, MKA, AIF/AIFF, OGG, Dolby Digital, DTS) and the standards for images (JPEG, GIF, TIF/TIFF, BMP, PNG). I have not tried either of these out but it’s a nice feature to have.
There were a number of reviews I read that complained of files stuttering during playback. I have not experienced this, even with large files so I’m going to blame it on their network speeds and probably using wireless. Playback has been great when streaming videos from the LAN or the Internet. Partnered with my NAS, this setup is great for on-demand video. For those with slow wireless networks, the hard drive or USB drive access is a great feature to utilize by copying the files ahead of time, the videos will be local and play smoothly. It might also be worthwhile to look into powerline networking to improve your connection speed if running network cables isn’t an option.
While the hard drive isn’t that big of a deal for my setup with network storage, I can imagine a few scenarios where it would be awesome to load up the hard drive and take the Hub along either on the road or when visiting family. It’s just a great way to get files to the TV. Instead of bringing a bunch of cords to ensure I’d be able to connect a laptop to the TV and certainly better than just dumping large files on a computers, this is a nice portable package.
The composite, component, and HDMI allows me to show videos on any screen I have. The interface looks great on my HDTV. It fills the screen, the text is readable, and the videos look good. Using the composite cables to connect to my SD TV, the interface is good enough. You’re able to tweak some settings like output ratio, and scaling the image. With a 4:3 output, I scaled the image back to 90% and it worked well for the standard TV. Navigating files requires a little squinting to see the text from across the room but videos look great.
Reading the User Manual can answer some of those less than obvious questions with the WD TV Live Hub and allow you to get the most out of it.
I have been beyond happy with the WD TV Live Hub. It does everything I’ve asked of it. I’m considering moving the Hub to my front TV and buying a WD TV Live Plus for the TV in the bedroom. Since the Plus doesn’t have a hard drive, I believe it is also fanless making it silent in the dead of night. If you’re looking to buy a set-top box for streaming either local content, Internet streaming videos, or both I would certainly recommend the WD TV Live Hub or Plus. Recent firmware updates have added more services and fixed the few bugs that were out there.