After plugging the Live Hub into my home network, Windows 7 quickly detected and mapped the Live Hub as a network drive. Dumping files onto the device over the network proved much easier than connecting an external drive, allowing me to skip the less-than-intelligent syncing process.
Once media files are on the Live Hub, they can be shared with the rest of your network. The Hub didn't have any problems feeding video playback on my main PC while playing a movie on the television in the living room. Local video playback remained smooth when I was copying media to and from the device over the network, as well. As one might expect, the Hub was also able to stream video content from my PC without issue.
If your home network's tentacles don't extend to the living room, the Live Hub also works with a number of wireless adapters listed on WD's site. My Linksys USB 300N card isn't mentioned, but I gave it a try in a fit of optimism. No dice. Compatibility with a wider range of wireless network adapters would be helpful for those who, unlike myself, happen to live in dwellings that offer more square footage than a handicapped washroom.
Temperatures and Noise Levels
Because the Live Hub contains a hard drive, cooling the unit is even more important than with earlier generations of the WD TV. Here's a look at the underside of the device, which has minimal venting and appears to rely on a single fan. In a nice touch, WD puts a couple of screw hangers on the bottom panel to allow the Live Hub to mounted vertically.
I spent quite a bit of time testing the Live Hub. When it comes to watching a lot of television in a short amount of time, my dedication to TR's readership knows no bounds. Throughout this extensive testing, the Live Hub's hard drive seemed virtually silent. I had to press my ear against the Hub in order to hear any drive noise at all. The fan did kick in from time to time, but I never would have noticed if I had not done some of my testing with my PC monitor. This setup put the Live Hub less than three feet away from me during testing, making the device's subtle acoustic profile easier to hear. With the unit beside my TV, and me about 15 feet away on the couch, the Live Hub is essentially silent. Even during the quietest moments of some movies, I couldn't hear it making any noise.
The Live Hub's minimal heat disspiation is key to its low noise levels. After several hours of constant use, the unit only feels warm to the touch. Even after more than five hours of playback, the device's exterior doesn't get too hot to pick up. I would put it somewhere with at least a little ventilation, though.
Interface and Navigation
The user interface can make or break a device like the Live Hub. Fortunately, Western Digital's UI is responsive, intuitive, and easy to navigate. My roommate, who is much more artistically inclined than tech savvy, had no problems negotiating the various menu trees, watching videos, browsing photos, or listening to music. When compared with the Media Center interface included with Windows 7, the Live Hub's UI feels equally straightforward but considerably quicker.
With a terabyte of internal storage capacity, organization is key to making one's media library easy to navigate. The Live Hub's embedded software sorts media into three main categories: video, audio, and photos. If you're syncing with an external drive or copying content over the network, existing folder structures will be maintained. It's also possible to seek out content using a search button on the remote. Hitting that button brings up an on-screen keyboard, and while inputting text is a little slow with the remote, the search feature otherwise works well. The search function is going to be especially useful for folks who load up the internal hard drive or have a vast array of content available via network sources.
In addition to being easy to use, the Live Hub's interface also offers a lot of flexibility. Users are free to use their own photos as a backdrop for the home screen, and they have the opportunity to do a lot more tweaking with custom themes. Western Digital is giving users access to a theme template as well as a number of samples. User-created themes can be submitted to WD, and the best will be available for download for all Live Hub users. That said, the default theme looks fine to me. The wallpaper depicts a rolling green field whose colors are bright and complement each other well, and the menus use a crisp font that's easily legible from across the room.
The robust interface also includes Facebook integration for folks who want to stalk their friends from the couch. Using just the remote, it's possible to log into your Facebook account, browse your friends list, view photos, and post on walls. I'm unsure whether people really want Facebook on their television, especially considering the tedium of text input with the remote. Fortunately, the Live Hub supports USB keyboards, which can also come in handy when logging into password-protected network shares and searching for specific YouTube videos. It would be nice if WD included USB mouse support to allow quicker navigation of the various menu options, as well.