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REVIEW: Western Digital Live Hub

As the years pass, we accumulate more and more digital photos, videos and music. If your digital life is sitting locked up on your computer’s hard drive, chances are it’s not being enjoyed as frequently as it should. A growing number of devices are hitting the market that promise to free that digital content from the computer so that it can be enjoyed on your HDTV.

Western Digital’s Live Hub is just such a device. Designed to sit alongside your HDTV, the Live Hub ($230) pulls your digital content – your photos, personal videos, and music –  from a PC or network hard drive and displays it on the big screen. It can tackle a wide range of digital formats (a full list is here) so it will almost certainly support your camera or camcorder files.

This is a particularly useful device for camcorder owners, who usually have to burn their videos to a DVD or connect the video camera directly to the TV, to view their home movies. With the Live Hub, you can keep your camcorder video files on your desktop and watch them in crystal clear 1080p HD without fiddling with cables or discs.

The Live Hub does more than move content from one place to another. It contains a 1TB drive as well, so it can store your music, photos and videos if you don’t have a network hard drive or are running out of space on your main PC (you can view any content that you’ve stored on the Live Hub’s drive on a networked PC too). You can connect devices like cameras or Flip camcorders to the Live Hub through a front-facing USB port or one on the back.

Connecting the Live Hub

The Live Hub can connect to a home network through an Ethernet connection to your router or via Wi Fi with an optional wireless USB adapter (cost around$30). You can also use a powerline network adapter to connect the Live Hub to your network, which is how we connected it for the purposes of our evaluation.

The Live Hub connects to your set via an HDMI cable (not included) or A/V cables (also not included). Set up is simple enough and the Hub was quickly recognized by the network.

Good Interface

When it comes to media centers, the user interface is key, and the Live Hub has a very streamlined menu system that makes it easy to find the content you’re looking for. The initial set up will take some time, as the Hub finds your digital content on the network. If you’re adding files to the unit’s 1TB hard drive, that can also take some time. The file organization tools on the device itself are pretty limited, you can’t create folders or rename existing ones, but it’s not too difficult to find the content you’re looking for.

More Than Photos & Videos

The Live Hub can handle more than moving your personal data around. Since it’s connected to the Internet, you can access YouTube, Facebook, Flickr, Pandora Internet radio or stream movies from rental services such as Blockbuster on Demand and Netflix. You can also access an assortment of online content, such as podcasts and videocasts. This definitely gives the Live Hub some added appeal.

What We Liked

In addition to the large number of files it supports and the ease of use, the fact that the Live Hub has its own hard drive sets it apart from other media players on the market like the Apple TV. The Hub not only serves as a conduit for your media, it can double as a back-up device as well (and it’s very important to back up your digital photos and videos).

What We Didn’t Like

The lack of Wi Fi is probably the biggest knock against the Live Hub. Sure, you can get it with an optional adapter, but you’ll have to pay extra for the priviledge. To be sure, Wi Fi is not the best method for using streaming services such as Netflix, but it can definitely handle home video and photo viewing just fine, and with a lot less clutter.

The other drawback is the lack of cables out of the box – you’ll have to spring for HDMI or composite cables separately if you don’t already have them, adding to the overall price of the Live Hub. The Live Hub includes a remote, but nothing else.

Bottom Line: As your digital library grows, a device like the Live Hub is a great investment. It protects your photos and videos by serving as a second storage location, and it moves them around your home and puts them on the big screen, where everyone can enjoy them. Throw in the extra media features – the Netflix and Pandora access – and you’ve got a very versatile device beside your HDTV.

Author:Greg Scoblete

Greg Scoblete is the editor of Your Digital Life. He has been covering the photographic world for the past ten years for a variety of publications including PDN, This Week in Consumer Electronics and Digital Photographer.