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WD TV Live Hub

I got my tax refund this year and went on a home theater system shopping spree. One of the things that I purchased was a WD TV Live Hub for serving up my collection of ripped DVD movies and TV series. I chose this device on a whim and without any research. I was tired and short just one piece to bring my home theater together. I probably could have bought or put together my own media center for around the same price and with much more flexibility. This is a review of that crappy device that I bought.

When I got the box home I turned it on, updated the firmware, and started checking out some of the beautiful wallpapers they included, while I copied my media files from one external hard drive (that the Hub didn’t recognize) to a new larger one. It’s pretty sad to say, but one of the best things about this purchase, as you will see, was the nice selection of wallpapers that came with it.

I tried first to copy a file or two over the network, but found it was dreadfully slow and just wouldn’t do, at least not for the first full load of my files. The first thing I noticed, after plugging in my 2TB external drive, was that the Hub would not play files directly from the external drive. It proceeded to copy all the files again to the internal Hub drive. This saddened me for two reasons. For one, I couldn’t have 3TB of media files directly attached to the Hub, only 1TB. And two, I would have to wait even longer now before I could actually test the device.

The first thing that happened after all of my files were transfered was of course “Compiling media library…”. I knew this would probably take a while since these devices don’t have much processing power, I put a hell of a lot on it, and it was the first time the database was generated. I waited hours for it to complete. After it did not, I went to bed and found it still working on the compilation in the morning. I figured something must be wrong and rebooted it. After a couple of hours after that, it finally completed. I thought that was a bit extreme, but I trudged on. After using the Hub for a few months now, I’ve noticed that it doesn’t get much better. Even now I am recompiling the library from scratch, since for some unknown reason, after a recent firmware upgrade, it shows only forty-some movies out of my collection of around 400 on the Hub’s internal drive.

The next thing I wanted to do, looking at a grid of lifeless video file icons, was download content info and cover art for all of my movies. Sadly, I couldn’t do this for all of my movies at once. I expected at least this much however, since I had a similar experience with another media center software (though I eventually found a script to automate the process in that case). Options, Get Content Info, Up & Down arrows and/or a lot of manual editing of titles to select the correct entry, OK, OK again, wait for media library compilation and GUI update for anywhere from a few seconds to a few minutes… Multiplied by over 350 titles. It took a while. And then… My next point…

Suddenly, all of my movies are listed in a ridiculous and unexpected manner. All of the movies that start with the word “The” (which are named at the file level with a following “, The”) are now listed in the T’s. Aren’t these things supposed to be an upgrade to the movie watching experience and they can’t even sort titles correctly. This is a problem with a lot of systems though, so I’ll just rename the file title back… WTF? There’s no rename option. Eventually, I was able to find an unsupported method of working around this issue. After downloading content info for all of my movies I copied the cover art and content info XML files to my computer, removed all the movies from the media library and then moved the associated files back to the Hub. So, now all my movies are in the proper order according to my file naming scheme, they all have cover art and content info, but none of them are in the media library database. So what. I don’t use the search feature anyway, because I don’t have a wireless keyboard for it, and manual entry with the remote is painful. However, I’m thinking this may have something to do with why the Hub is showing only a subset of my movies now. Now every time I get content info on a new movie I get a compiling notification and it only shows a small subset of my movies for a little while, sometimes none at all, with a painful message telling me there are no movies in the folder. All of this turns a simple cover search for a few new movies from seconds to hours.

Probably the only other great thing about this device (besides the great wallpapers) is that it does in fact play almost any video file I can throw at it. The quality of the playback is pretty good too. Honestly, if this wasn’t the case, I would’ve taken the device directly back to where I got it and shoved it up their collective “Best” asses.

At least they must have gotten the music player right. What could be simpler? Nope. I couldn’t figure out how to play an entire folder as there was no option for doing so in the options menu. I figured out that you could just press the play button on the folder. However, if you want to play a folder that contains other folders with the actual files in it (e.g. Artist > Album > Song) you are rejected with a message that reads “There is no media in the current folder.” OK, whatever, I can just add a playlist under each Artist to play everything they have.

Let’s mix it up a bit; add some more music to my playlist. Hmmm, I can’t add artists or even albums to the play queue, only individual songs, one at a time. I spent a good amount of time adding songs to my playlist (might as well get comfortable to keep playing with this thing). I found the queue slowing down as I added more and more music to it. Even at just three pages of music in the queue, it slowed to a crawl. What seemed like hours later: finally got as much of a good playlist as I’m willing to wait for. OK, let’s randomize it now… Nope, missing that feature too. Really?

OK, maybe there is something simpler than a music player; a photo gallery. In fact, I don’t have too much bad-mouthing about the gallery if only because there is only a small set of features that I expect or really need, but I’ll give it a whack anyway. Same as in the music player, I found no way to play a slide-show of an entire folder. Luckily, same as in the music player, I figured out I could just press play with the folder selected. However, not the same as in the music player, I could press play on a folder to play all of the sub-folders inside. How about playing a slide-show of more than just one folder? This might seem like too much to ask, but I only got the idea because I noticed you could add a photo to the queue. Well, no way to add a folder to the queue, just individual images, so even selecting multiple folders doesn’t help. No prob, I’ll just go into each folder, select all, and add to queue. What’s this “Select Page?” No “Select All?” Oh well.

And one more thing I noticed while under the gallery. You never get to set a specific folder as the “Movies” or “Photos” folder. The Hub just searches the entire drive for any files of that type. So, if there are media files of type “Photo” in the “Music” folder (such as album art) the “Music” folder shows up under the gallery. I wish there was a way to hide these folders under certain activities, or better yet, just set a specific folder or folders that pertain to each activity (i.e. Photos, Videos, Music). I feel like I’m putting these files in folders for no reason at all.

There are a few interesting services to use, but I don’t use them much except for the odd YouTube search. As I said before manually typing anything using the remote can be painful, and I don’t have a keyboard for it. So, the only issue I have with services isn’t really an issue with the services so much as an issue with the “openness” of the underlying system: The only way to get anything working with this POS might require you use another, custom firmware. Unfortunately, even though much of the system is released under open source license, flashing to a 3rd party firmware permanently removes the ability of using some or all of the of these services. I’m reluctant to try flashing it with the 3rd part firmware as I’m not sure it would provide fix for any of my issues.

I also don’t have much to say about the games that are included in the newest firmware at the time of this writing. Mostly, because I think the idea is pretty dumb, but also because I think the games suck. I have an X-Box 360. Now I wish they’d add a new feature to hide or uninstall the never to be used games activity.

The WD TV Live Hub comes with only one interface theme. Though at the very least, you could make your own or download one… from your computer, not the Hub. The manual lies on this subject “There are several themes available in the User Interface Themes page and available for download at http://www.wdtvlive.com/theme.” The correct address is http://www.wdtvlive.com/themes first of all. There is only one theme on the system as of this writing, and the corrected link above only speaks of how to make your own theme, not where to download any new ones they’ve made, or even users’ sad attempts at theming. Thankfully, the link “WD TV Forums” on the page leads to a plethora of users bitching about their own Hubs.

The slide-show screen saver is a good alternative to the default WD logo, but if you have it on random in the settings, you are also putting every slide-show into random mode.

The network setup was pretty easy.

I spent probably a good hour of searching through the system and the manuals in utter disbelief at some of the features that were missing in the Hub. All in all, it was, in my opinion, the worst purchase of the day, and perhaps my life. This device is utter crap and I would recommend that if someone pays you to take theirs away, you run from it.

This entry was posted on Thursday, June 23rd, 2011 at 10:22 am and is filed under Gadgets. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

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