The feature-packed WD TV Live Hub is the clear all-around winner, even without its 2.5-inch, 1TB drive. But it’s not perfect.
Let’s look at what Western Digital did right, first. Given the choice, we’d much rather play an HD video file from local storage than stream it across our network—especially if our network is wireless and is being used for other tasks at the same time. Adding a 3.5-inch, 1TB hard drive to the Nixeus device will add at least $65 to its price tag; adding a 2.5-inch drive to the Patriot device will cost even more. The WD TV Live Hub is street-priced at just $200.
Some of the WD TV Live Hub’s specifications should be consumed with a large grain of salt, but we still think it’s the best network media player on the market.
Unlike the other two boxes we tested, the WD TV Live Hub is capable of streaming Netflix video without the need to run PlayOn on another machine on your network. You can also use it to rent or purchase movies from Blockbuster On Demand (although you’d be nuts to buy DRM-laden movies from a company in the throes of a Chapter 11 bankruptcy). The WD TV Hub is compatible with a number of other online services, too, including YouTube, Mediafly, Pandora, Live365, Facebook, and—Western Digital promises real soon now—Hulu Plus.
The WD TV Live Hub is the only device among these three that supports analog component video output in addition to HDMI. It also has front and rear USB 2.0 ports, an optical digital-audio output, analog stereo RCA outputs, and a composite video output. The WD TV Live Hub will pass a Dolby Digital TrueHD bitstream through to its HDMI port, but Western Digital claims its licensing agreement with DTS bars it from doing the same with DTS-HD Master Audio bitstreams (DTS, according to Western Digital, limits this functionality to Blu-ray-class devices).
Transferring very large files takes time even on a wired network, but we were sorely disappointed in this device’s file-transfer performance given that it’s the first media player we’ve seen to boast Gigabit Ethernet. It took nearly two hours to copy a 9GB DVD ISO from our Windows Home Server machine to the WD TV Live Hub’s internal hard drive, indicating a data-transfer rate of just over 10Mb/s.
The WD TV Live Hub supports all the important media containers and codecs, it supports the most important online media services, and it includes a 1TB hard drive at a price that’s hard to beat.