In October we reviewed the second generation Apple TV. It was beautiful, intuitive and ultimately restrictive beyond use to all but the most dedicated iTunes supporter. Today sees the brand spanking new Western Digital WD TV Live Hub set before us and it couldn't be more different...
Let's run through the basics: Apple TV had shrunk from 200 x 200 x 28mm and 1.1Kg to 99 x 99 x 23mm and 270g, it stripped away the 160GB of native storage and runs a purely streaming service based on video rental or streaming content from home computers. HD playback is limited to 720p and codec support covered just: H.264 video encoded in M4V, MP4 or MOV, AAC audio, MP3, Apple lossless, AIFF, WAV plus JPEG, GIF and TIFF.
Contrast this with the WD TV Live Hub: proportions have increased from the 125.5 x 100 x 40mm of its predecessor, the WD TV Live, to 198 x 155 x 32mm while the weight has doubled from 303g to nearly 600g. This is because the Hub has added a whopping 1TB internal drive so its bread and butter is playing back locally stored content. It plays back content up to the Full HD resolution of 1080p and codec support is vast covering *deep breath*:
Video - AVI (Xvid, AVC, MPEG1/2/4), MPG/MPEG, VOB, MKV (h.264, x.264, AVC, MPEG1/2/4, VC-1), TS/TP/M2T (MPEG1/2/4, AVC, VC-1), MP4/MOV (MPEG4, h.264), M2TS, WMV9
Photo - JPEG, GIF, TIF/TIFF, BMP, PNG
Audio - MP3, WAV/PCM/LPCM, WMA, AAC, FLAC, MKA, AIF/AIFF, OGG, Dolby Digital, DTS
Playlist - PLS, M3U, WPL
Subtitle - SRT, ASS, SSA, SUB, SMI
Yes these are two fundamentally - and arguably ideologically - different approaches, so who has it right? In fairness both have pros and cons, but as the scores at the top of the page reveal you'd go for the Hub every time. That said there do remain some inconsistencies and oversights which stop the Hub being a truly faultless product.
None of these are obvious from the outset. Unbox the Hub and you'll be greeted with a beautifully made media player with a tasteful matt black lid that's jam packed with ports. Along the back you'll find optical SPDIF out, HDMI 1.4, a USB 2.0 port, composite A/V out and component video out. There is also a Gigabit Ethernet connector, which is always handy for fast file transfers (over and above your more usual 100Mbps connector) and uninterrupted streaming. On the front you'll find another USB port, but WD has missed out a card reader and - most surprisingly - WiFi, something we'll discuss in greater detail later.