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REVIEW: WDTV Live Hub Media Center with 1TB Hard Drive

Discussion in 'Computers' started by Adam Lenhardt, Jan 25, 2011.

  1. Adam Lenhardt

    Adam Lenhardt Director

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    REVIEW: WDTV Live Hub Media Center with 1TB Hard Drive

    I purchased my current desktop with the idea of using it as an all-in-one media hub. It has an HD tuner card in the back, runs Windows 7 Media Center for DVR functionality, with VLC Media Player used for everything else. Ever since I perfected my setup, though, I've longed for a way to bring the content on my computer to the living room environment.


    After spending the evening with the WDTV Live Hub (WDBABZ0010BBK-NESN), I'm becoming convinced that I've found my solution.


    PART 1: Contents and Setup
    This tiny box (only 6.1 inches wide, 7.8 inches deep and 1.25 inches tall) takes up hardly any space. Seated next to the household Wii, the two devices together take up less than half the space of the VCR that used to reside there.



    On the front, the unit features a power button and a USB slot for jump drives and other removable media. On the back, the unit features an optical audio out, an HDMI port, a USB slot for external harddrives, an ethernet slot, composite video and audio out, and component video out.


    Before plugging in the unit, I connected a $6 10-foot HDMI 1.3a cable I'd bought from Monoprice a while back and a 5-foot Cat5e patch cable I had lying around. The HDMI cable went directly into the television, while the patch cable was connected to a Netgear 5-port switch behind the television already feeding the internet to the Blu-Ray player and the Wii.


    The unit sent a picture to my television immediately upon being plugged in. It found my router and established a network connection without prompting, putting a time and temperature stamp in the top right corner of the menu. The time was accurate to the minute, albeit on the wrong coast. I have no idea what area's weather it was reporting.




    Before I had a chance to click on anything, the unit informed me that a new firmware update was available. It told me current version, the new version, and gave me the option to update or cancel. After selecting update, the firmware downloaded and restarted. After the WDTV logo came up, the firmware installed itself and then kicked me back to the menu.


     
  2. Adam Lenhardt

    Adam Lenhardt Director

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    PART 2: General Features
    I was pretty impressed with the graphical design of the operating system. It's designed to be used on a television, so the font size is large (and adjustable), and the different options are color-coded in easily discernible ways. The grass and sky background provide a little organic texture to what is otherwise a purely utilitarian interface. Besides "New Firmware", the options are: "Services," "Videos," "Music", "Photos", "Files" and "Setup".


    "Setup" allows you to adjust audio/video output, alter the appearance of the graphical user interface, change video settings, change music settings, change photo settings, change network settings, change the unit operation, change system settings, and find out details about the Mochi operating system.


    I've only made two changes so far. First, I turned off the analog stereo out and switched to digital pass through, because my TV handles the decoding itself and not all audio formats are compatible with the unit's analog audio out. Second, I corrected the time zone so that the time in the top right corner of the menu would be correct. Both settings were logically located and accessed by drilling down through the bare minimum of sub-menus.


    "Services" provides online functionality for nine affiliated services with the device. You can access AccuWeather.com, Blockbuster On Demand, Facebook, Flickr, Live365.com, Mediafly, Netflix streaming, Pandora, and YouTube through this menu. I doubt I'll have much use for these services, since I already have Pandora and YouTube through VieraCast on my Blu-Ray player, and the other services are easier accessed through the internet. Still, it's nice that they're there, and having a high-definition streaming source for Netflix is a potential big plus as the Wii's Netflix streaming is limited to the unit's 480P.


    "Photos" provides access to all of the photos on the unit through a 3 x 7 grid, making 21 photos available at a time. Individual photos can be selected for fullscreen viewing and additional options.



    "Music" provides access to all of the audio files on the unit organized by playlist.



    "Files" provides a listing of all the files on the harddrive, regardless of file type.

    "Videos" provides access to all of the video files on the unit, organized by folder. I will be exploring the video section in further detail in Part 3: Adding Content and Part 4: Playing Content, which I'm hoping to get up tomorrow. So far this thing has been able to play everything I've thrown at it.
     
  3. Al.Anderson

    Al.Anderson Cinematographer

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    I've only had bad luck with the WD TV Live. I purchased one about 6 months ago, it worked fine for a month, then froze up during a firmware update. WD said my problem could not be fixed in the home and had me send it in for a replacement. The replacement (which immediately wanted a firmware update) only plays the first 30-45 seconds of any media and then freezes. It was no longer worth my $100 to be be aggravated this much and I replaced it with a Seagate FreeAgent+ which has been working perfectly.
     
  4. JEEVO

    JEEVO Auditioning

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    Nice thing about the WD TV Live / Hub / Plus are the DLNA / UPnP capabilities. I am using the ZappoTV app (free from the iPhone app store) as a mobile media center and controller for my WD. This really expands to possibilities what you can do with this box!
     
  5. Adam Lenhardt

    Adam Lenhardt Director

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    PART 3: Adding Content
    Streaming with Windows 7's "Play To" feature


    The WD TV Live Hub doesn't current support Windows 7's Media Center .wtv file format natively. However it does support Windows 7's "Play To" feature. To use, I right-clicked on the recording I wanted to watch, and selected "Play To > WDTVLiveHub". After a moment, a Windows Media Player window appeared on my computer screen and the program started playing on my television.


    [​IMG]


    The downside is that playback is considerably more limited than playback on files stored locally within the device. I could pause the video, but I couldn't fast forward or rewind it. This would make any programming with commercials very tedious to sit through. The video quality also seemed inferior to playback of locally stored files.


    Adding files over the network connection


    Fortunately, the unit can play just about every other file type natively, including the earlier generation Windows Media Center .dvr-ms file format. In order to convert that .wtv recording to the .dvr-ms format, I right clicked on it and selected "Convert to .dvr-ms Format."





    Once the conversion was complete, getting it onto the unit was easy. I copied the file like I would any other file, opened the "WDTVLIVEHUB" option under the "Network" list in Windows Explorer, opened the "WDTVLiveHub" share folder on the device's harddrive, and pasted the file.





    Moving to the living room, I brought up the "Videos" menu on my TV, and found the video I'd just copied listed on the first screen. I selected it and hit enter, and it immediately started playing. Video quality was flawless, with no choppiness, blocking or distortion. The file in question was encoded at 720P with a frame rate of 60 frames per second, recorded off my local ABC affiliate using Windows 7 Media Center.





    Adding files via USB thumb drive.


    To test the USB thumb drive functionality, I copied three files onto a 1 GB SanDisk thumb drive: A trailer for "Iron Man 2" encoded as a 81.3MB MKV file with 1080P H.264 video and AAC Stereo audio, a trailer for "True Grit" encoded as a 179MB QuickTime file with 1080P AVC video and AAC Stereo audio, and a GE commercial encoded as a 49.8MB AVI file with 1080P Xvid video and AC3 5.1 audio.


    After copying the files onto the jump drive, I plugged it into the front of the WD TV. The unit recognized the drive immediately, and asked if I wanted to sync the files with the system. Upon selecting OK, the unit began copying the files to local storage. The transfer rate was a bit over 13 MB/sec, considerably faster than the transfer rate over the network connection. After syncing was complete, a new folder appeared in the Videos panel, labeled "usb_sync". Clicking on that folder brought me to a new folder named "disc-0_3B69-1AFD" that contained my videos.


    The first video up was the Xvid AVI file, and it was where I ran into my first problem: there was no audio. Switching the unit's audio output from "Digital pass-through" to "Stereo" solved the problem. I am not sure if the problem is with the unit or with my TV.





    The second video up was the H.264 MKV fil, and it played flawlessly in both audio modes.




    The third video up, the H.264 QuickTime file, also played flawlessly in both audio modes.

     
  6. DaveF

    DaveF Moderator
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    To watch your media center tv shows, you must manually convert each one to the old format? And even then, you can't use fast forward or reverse when playing? Having a full HTPC already, what's the comparison with what youve done, and moving the htpc into the living room and buying a modest PC for the office?
     
  7. Adam Lenhardt

    Adam Lenhardt Director

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    No, I can watch the .wtv videos directly streamed from the Windows 7 PC, but can't fast forward or rewind. OR I can manually convert each one to the old format, and have all of the playback options available including fast forward or rewind. So yes, it is inconvenient and a pain in the ass. But it's not quite as inconvenient as you read it to be.



    It depends on one's purpose. The HTPC component of my current desktop is a small part of its overall use for me. The desktop is the center of my digital life; recording and watching shows is just one thing I do on it. The hefty specs for the machine are required for purposes other than just video.


    If watching your Windows Media Center recordings on an HDTV is your primary goal, the WD TV box is not the device you're going to want. It's not designed to be that, and it's not especially good at being that. Either get an XBox 360, which works as a Windows Media Center Extender, or -- as you say -- put your HTPC in with the rest of your media components.


    I wanted the ability to watch videos from my computer on the big TV when I wanted to, and the WD TV box does that. It's not ideal in everything I'd like, but it's a solution I'm happy with for $200. Having to convert the WMC recordings to the old format is an inconvenience, but it's really only an extra click and an inconvenience I can live with for the amount I plan on doing it. The important thing is that once the recordings are on the device, the playback is flawless.


    I just hope I have better luck with the quality control than Al did.
     
  8. DaveF

    DaveF Moderator
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    I wonder if there are scripting utilities for Windows that can watch for the TV files and automatically convert them to the other format, removing that manual step.
     
  9. Adam Gregorich

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    Thanks for the review Adam. I put a link on the front page. You mentioned that:


    With the XBOX being about the same price and allowing you to stream TV, photos and music from your PC, What does the WD media center do that an XBOX can't (other than have a lot of local storage)? In otherwords why buy the WD over an XBOX?
     
  10. DaveF

    DaveF Moderator
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    I can't speak for Adam, but some thoughts that come to my mind are: Xbox requires $50/yr Gold membership for Netflix streaming. I speculate that it plays fewer video formats than the WD. Xbox has a lingering reputation of lousy reliability and being loud (both now fixed, I think) that might away some people.
     
  11. Adam Lenhardt

    Adam Lenhardt Director

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    Dave nailed it. The XBox 360 handles Windows Media Center content better, but it's limited to a handful of formats. So far, the WD TV box has played everything I've thrown at it. Most files it plays flawlessly without doing anything, a few have required a tweak or two in the settings.


    I don't plan on using the WD TV to archive content, but the 1 TB hard drive is useful as a holding tank. Local storage always beats streaming for reliability. With the WD TV, I can copy over several hours of content in one shot, and then have a marathon without worrying about the video choking if someone else on the home network is downloading something. Copying files in Vista and Win7 is literally as easy as drag and drop.


    I'm also wary of subscription fees. Part of the reason I never got a DVR for the television itself is because I didn't want to be locked into a subscription with Tivo or my cable provider. I've gotten my television OTA before, and probably will again. As of right now, it's my understanding the the XBox 360 can be used as a media extender without a Gold membership. But who knows if that will be true in the future?


    And finally, I'm always hesitant about buying a device for one of its secondary functions. The XBox 360 can be used as a media hub, but it was designed to be a game console. The WD TV was designed to be a media hub. I like that I can get to what I want to watch in under five remote clicks from turning the unit on.
     
  12. Ken_McAlinden

    Ken_McAlinden Producer
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    I received one of these for Christmas and have been very happy with it. The breadth of formats supported is very impressive. One minor annoyance I have come across is that while it played the 96 kHz 24 bit 2.0 stereo FLAC files I threw at it, it would not pass the audio signal at its native resolution over a digital connection. Being able to stream audio, video, or pictures to/from any computer in my house and audio and pictures to my U-Verse boxes offers a lot of versatiliy and fun - and a 1TB HD is a 1TB HD. Hopefully, they will upgrade the Netflix interface to allow for searching and add more internet services in the future.
     
  13. Eztarget

    Eztarget Auditioning

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    How does this unit handle playing audio back through an AVR? I assume you just connect it to a port on your AVR and use the AVR to play back audio?
     
  14. Adam Gregorich

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    Note, I don't have one, but until someone who does chimes in, it looks like according to the pictures that you could use a toslink (digital fiber connection), HDMI or analog 2 channel, so at least one of those connection types will work on ANY AVR sold in the last 20 years. If you are listening to material encoded with surround sound you will want to use the toslink or HDMI. If its stereo content the analog connection would be fine. HDMI would be the way to go if you were going to be streaming both audio and video. Most surround receivers have an HDMI connection. If you were planning on buying a new receiver I would look for one with a minimum of three HDMI connections as your cable/sat box, and blu-ray player would also need one each.
     
  15. Ken_McAlinden

    Ken_McAlinden Producer
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    Adam may not have one, but he is correct. I should have mentioned that the specific situation I encountered where it would not pass the 96kHz 24 bit FLAC audio as native resolution PCM was over a toslink connection to an older Sony A/V receiver. I have not tried it over HDMI yet. I may plug it into my primary HT this weekend to see how it does.
     
  16. Roj Suwan

    Roj Suwan Auditioning

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    I'm in Thailand and having had problems with it since first bought. Singapore WD staffs suggested a few tips all of which I've followed but problems persisted and gotten worse such as- suddenly stop playing back, does not display on TV screen when turned on although the power is on, refuse to playback the same file which it had been playing earlier, skipping, etc. Finally, having lost much time on fixing it and thus my confidence in this product, I mailed a few times to Singapore asking for money back or trade in for other model to which they've never reply since. Anyone looking to buy it better think twice.
     

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