Netflix, Pandora, YouTube, Facebook. Facebook?
Yup. The Live Hub does Facebook, too. It’s actually a pretty neat version of the popular social networking site. Optimized for large screens, it lets users read status updates, check messages, look up friends, view photos, videos and more.
One really neat feature to the Facebook integration is in its upload aspect. Users with basic camcorders like the Flip series can come home immediately after an event, plug the unit into the Live Hub and upload media straight to their Facebook account. It’s a clever bypass of the computer, which is great for when customers just don’t want to bother.
As mentioned, the WD Live Hub includes a number of well-known and not-so-well-known Internet services, including AccuWeather.com, Blockbuster On Demand, flickr, Live365.com, Mediafly, Netflix, Pandora and YouTube.
Unlike with the Facebook integration, which is pretty much stellar for implementing Facebook on the television, some of the other services feel pretty hit and miss. The flickr add-in seems like it could be useful, but there wasn’t a way to log into personal accounts, making the “My Contacts” and “My Tags” menu options a little more useless.
YouTube was tight, but then people have been putting YouTube on the TV for some time now, so it’s not so much of a surprise. The Netflix application was the real star of the show. Aside from watching Netflix on the computer, this was hands down the best implementation of the streaming video giant’s service that we’ve ever seen.
In addition to seeing users’ Instant Queues like with most Netflix streamers, the Live Hub lets you see all the different categories of streaming video, from Television to Action and Adventure movies. It even shows the Netflix user-generated categories based on film ratings, such as “Critically-acclaimed dark comedies”, or terrifyingly enough, “Scary Viral Plague Movies.” The only downside to the app is that the back button doesn’t work to get out – users have to hit Home, which is a bit confusing.
The biggest downside to the Live Hub’s Internet access is how Western Digital decided to treat Internet content like podcasts and video podcasts. Here is an always-on, low-power device that offers users a built-in terabyte of storage. It seems like the perfect device on which to subscribe to such content – just flick through some menus, add your favorites, and let the Live Hub actually be a live hub, by automatically updating and downloading the latest content.
To see more pictures of the user interface, be sure to check out our gallery.
Sadly, it seems like such abilities are being relegated to the Mediafly integration, which is unfortunate. While WD has made their end of the Mediafly service easy to use, the actual Mediafly site is a mess. It’s hard to navigate, confusing, multiple entries are loaded everywhere and sometimes it’s almost impossible to find what you’re looking for. Given that the WD TV Live Hub can have radical new features introduced via firmware, it’s always possible that WD might change their stance, but it’s hard to say.
Power and noise
The WD TV Live Hub is remarkably power efficient, using just 8.8 watts of energy when sitting idle at the gorgeous user interface. Playing a video along a network share bumped usage up to just 10.7 watts of electricity. It’s definitely a lighter option to traditional home theater PCs.
The Western Digital WD TV Live Hub is the best player yet from the company. It’s faster than ever, sleek, integrates really powerful Internet content and manages to make Facebook on the TV actually useful. While there are a few bugs to work out, overall, the Live Hub promises to be exciting and useful piece of home theater equipment.
Had it come out a year ago, it would have been king of the hill, and really the only option. Nowadays, however, the market is becoming increasingly crowded. The Apple TV, for example, only costs $99 and provides users access to any FairPlay DRM content (which can’t be played on non-Apple devices for the most part). The Live Hub includes software to make available users’ iTunes libraries, but the AppleTV runs iOS, which means it will very likely get the ability to run third-party apps before too long. As will the GoogleTV-powered Logitech Revue, which costs $100 more but provides substantially more functionality.
The WD TV Live Hub is a really nice piece of TV equipment. Not outstanding, but nice. With a few tweaks – easily made via firmware updates – it could be a very powerful little box. It may never have the ability to run applications (and WD became pretty cagey when questioned whether they’re working on a GoogleTV-powered WD TV Live player…which means yes) but what it does, it does well, and that’s not so bad.
- Plays any non-DRM content
- Powerful network features
- Outstanding Netflix streaming
- No built-in Wi-Fi
- Hard to add 3rd party Internet content