While the Roku player and Apple TV shine in getting over-the-air content from the Internet to your TV, the Western Digital WD TV Live Hub (*Est. $200) does that, too, and it adds impressive capabilities for organizing and playing back locally stored media.
File support is expansive. PCMag.com, which names the WD TV Live Hub an Editors' Choice winner, says, "The WD TV Live Hub can play nearly any video or audio file that isn't protected by an online music store's DRM measures -- you won't have any luck with your iTunes purchases, but shouldn't have a problem otherwise."
The WD TV Live Hub is DLNA-compliant, so it can go out and fetch any media from any networked DLNA device such as your computer or a networked external hard drive, or it can act as a central repository for media that can be accessed from any other device on the same network. It can also capture streaming video and other media from a small but growing complement of content partners, including Netflix, Blockbuster on Demand, Facebook, Pandora, Flickr, Live365.com, Mediafly, AccuWeather.com, Hulu Plus, Vudu, Spotify and more. One serious limitation is that Wi-Fi isn't built in. You'll need a nearby Ethernet connection for streaming, or a third-party USB wireless adapter. Check the Western Digital site first since not all are compatible.
Picture quality is widely considered to be excellent. John Marrin at Wired calls playback "razor sharp," though he cautions that video quality will vary with the speed of your network, not to mention how well the source was digitized to begin with.
The Western Digital WD Live Hub includes a built-in 1 terabyte internal hard drive that can hold, for example, the contents of more than 100 non-encrypted DVDs. If you need more storage, you can plug in an external drive, and the WD TV Live Hub can access and stream all of its content, as well. Another big feature of the WD TV Live Hub is an interface, dubbed Mochi, that's designed to make it easy for users to find and use media, both local and on the Internet. Critics say it largely fulfills its goals. Wired's John Marrin complains, however, that the WD TV Live Hub can't search across devices, for example, the device's internal hard drive, your PC's hard drive and a networked external hard drive. That can make searching tedious if you can't remember exactly where you stored a particular file.
Setup can be a little more complex than with simple streaming-only solutions such as the Roku media players or Apple TV. While most users have no issues, we also saw a number of unhappy owners who noted problems with getting the WD Live TV Hub to play well with the rest of their set-up or with playing specific file types. A few encountered serious issues following firmware upgrades.
Recognizing that the WD Live TV Hub might be overkill for many users, Western Digital has also released the WD Live TV (*Est. $100). Gone is the internal hard drive, meaning that the WD Live TV can't act a central server for your digital media, but added is something many might find even more useful: integrated Wi-Fi. If local file storage is a must, you have your pick of two USB ports that are perfect for connecting a portable hard drive, though doing that more than wipes out any cost savings. Otherwise, the interface and library of content providers is the same as the WD Live TV Hub, as is its support for a wide range of file formats for streaming from a computer or storage device elsewhere on your network. Like the WD Live TV Hub, support for OTT services is decent, but it's still pretty limited compared to some alternatives, such as Roku. That doesn't stop several reviewers from commenting that the WD Live TV is one of the best media streamers in its price class. We also saw mixed user reports, with complaints echoing those for the WD TV Live Hub.