The term "multimedia" has been around since the sixties, but with the advent of the world wide web it's come to mean a mix of different forms of digital media: for example, web pages and video.
With this new form has come an explosion of audio and video files that are easily accessible via a computer, but they are not as easy to watch in a more comfortable and suitable setting — ie, on your television.
To aid this transition has come a series of media streamers or "media centres", which are designed to play pretty much any format the web can spit out via your TV.
When it comes to these devices Western Digital has a great track record, and its bleeding-edge WD TV series now has a new flagship, the WD TV Live Hub. It's a media streamer with its own on-board storage.
Design and features
The WD TV Live Hub is the most advanced media streamer we've seen yet: it incorporates a 1TB hard drive, and is designed to replace a separate storage device or NAS. In addition, you can plug your external hard drives into it and use it to centralise all of your media.
The other significant change singular to the Hub is the development of a new interface. It's perhaps the most friendly we've seen on any media player and makes it quick to browse through your entire media collection. There's no acceleration as such, but the WD allows you to skip through 16 names at a time. Some devices only allow one name at a time, which is quite laborious.
Unlike pretenders such as the Apple TV, the WD supports a lot of different files, including most notably lossless FLAC and high-def format MKV. You also get MP3, WAV and AAC on the audio side, DivX, MPEG-1/2/4 and MOV on the video side and JPEG, GIF, TIFF for the picture part. Missing are Apple Lossless and WMA Lossless, plus DRM purchases from the iTunes store (protected AAC) or similar.
In addition to DLNA support, the Live Hub also allows you to access several internet platforms including YouTube, Flickr, Facebook, Mediafly (podcasts) and weather. At present there are no movie-on-demand services, though Western Digital says it is in talks with local providers.
The Live Hub includes lots of different connection types including HDMI, component, S/PDIF and AV-out. On the data side you get two USB connectors (front and back), which will also accept a wireless network adapter, plus gigabit Ethernet.
The WD ships with a full-size remote where in the past the company has only provided credit-card-style models. The wand feels comfortable in your hand, even if the buttons are a little squishy feeling. It's fairly straightforward to use, though.