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While the Live Hub may mark the addition of a new form factor for Western Digital, the biggest changes come when you switch it on. Not only has the Hub had a complete UI overhaul from previous products like the WD TV Live HD, it also comes loaded with lots more functionality.
Stand out amongst these is the Hub's ability to act as a media server so video, music or photos can be streamed from the internal drive to any DLNA/UPnP-compatible TV or multimedia device on the same network. This includes PCs, consoles, tablets and even mobile phones. In practice there are limitations (it only streams HD video to one device at a time) and 1TB may not be large enough to replace a dedicated NAS, but it is far more flexible than Apple TV's reliance on Home Sharing. It is also compatible with iTunes server and can sync the contents of attached devices - be they HDDs, USB drives, cameras or video cameras - to the internal drive so they can be fired around the home.
Gaining less publicity, but with great potential, is the newfound ability to control the Hub over an http interface. This is accessed by entering the Live Hub's IP address into a web browser on the same network (change the 'admin' default password) and offers the ability to access media and reprogramme the remote's keys. Ultimately this could prove incredibly useful to third party app makers who could spin it into a tidy third party handset app. As it stands you'll primarily rely on the bundled remote, but the addition of a full 0-9 keypad with more tactile controls means this is no great sacrifice.
Neither is typing, because another smart move by Western Digital is the USB ports now support keyboards so a wired or wireless keyboard can be added to make typing a breeze. This is most useful when using the online services which include AccuWeather, Facebook, Flickr and YouTube but juicy rental services like Netflix and BlockBuster aren't available in the UK so they're omitted. Strangely Pandora does still show up in the menu, but it remains US only. This knocks some of the gloss of the offering, but no more so than the lack of Netflix on the already limited Apple TV. Compatibility with BBC iPlayer would have been nice though - perhaps we can dream of YouView one day.
As for actual video quality little has changed from previous WD TV players. This may sound harsh, but other than the continued absence of RMVB support, the WD TV units are a match for any media device - including PCs themselves. Obviously quality will depend on your TV (you have calibrated it, right?), but even high bitrate 1080p clips are smooth and no noticeable frame drops were found compared to the source material. HDMI 1.4 also means the Live Hub can happily playback 3D content, but sadly we lacked a 3D TV at the time to test this on.
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