Thursday, March 29, 2012

My Book Live Duo Review

Everyone is saying that the Cloud is the future. But let's face it, Cloud services aren't quite there yet. Sure, you can place all your docs in Google docs. You can listen to music and videos from streaming services or from YouTube. But when it comes to putting the gigabytes worth of YOUR movies/music/photos, this Cloud thing hasn't quite arrived yet. Enter the My Book Live Duo from Western Digital.

I'll oversimplify what it does because talking about networking can give me headaches: you connect the 4TB drive to your router, you put your stuff in it, and voila! You've now created your own Cloud with 4TB or up to 6TB (TERAbytes, not gigabytes) worth of your stuff.

Does it work? Yes it does. But -- and there's always a "but" -- for certain tasks, you'll have to micro manage the data in your Live Duo, and this can be tricky. If you're not afraid to venture into network settings or convert your media files into iPad-friendly formats, this could be the device for you. And right now, it's one of the few options available for sharing large amounts of data to the Cloud. Everyone else just isn't there yet.


Basic setup is pretty simple. Connect to router. Install software on your computer.

Your Live Duo will now show up as a shared drive on the network. Copying files over the network isn't lightning fast. No scientific tests on this blog, but let's just say that file transfer feels a tad slower than USB 2.0. It's fast enough to not be an issue.

The drives are swappable.

You copy files into the appropriate folders: Shared Music, Shared Photos, Shared Video, or Software. Of course, you can always create your own folders, but using the prescribed ones will make sharing easier later on.

On the Local Network

Any computer on your home network will be able to see the Live Duo as a shared drive. Our home has two laptops, one iPad, one PS3, and one media streamer. They all saw the drive, no problemo. More on each later.

Streaming Music and Video

The Live Duo was able to dish out the music with no problems. In fact, all the music you dumped into the Shared Music folder will show up on iTunes. This is a godsend as dumping thousands of songs -- which you will probably do -- can be browsed easily through iTunes.

Of course, you don't need to use iTunes. VLC was able to see the Live Duo as well and streams music without even breaking a sweat. 

It manages to do this because the Live Duo is a UPnP device -- short for Universal Plug and Play. Any device with UPnP certification will be able to talk to another UPnP device, such as the media streamer at home.

Streaming movies from the Live Duo to the media streamer again proved to be an effortless joy. The drive was just there, and the streamer played everything I threw at it -- high def, standard def, exotic file formats, you name it.

Oh, and ditto for photos too. So far so good...

The PS3 meanwhile choked on everything. It saw the Live Duo on the network perfectly fine but refused to play anything due to some mysterious network problem which I couldn't fix. It does the same thing to files streamed from the Mac, so I'm not surprised. PS3 UPnP streaming never really worked, don't ask me why. I've stopped wondering.

Remote Access

Head on over to the Live Duo settings (which you access from the web browser), and you can turn on Remote Access. This allows you to access your 4TB cloud, er, remotely. So you can be out at work, at the mall, or at Starbucks and still have all your stuff.

Mostly, this works. You access your files through the methods mentioned above. It's like you never left home. It's also like you have a 4TB drive with you except you're not dragging around its considerable bulk.

When it doesn't work -- or when it's not quite working as you wish it would -- it's not really the Live Duo's fault. The problem lies with the painfully slow network service at your office, the paranoid firewall at your work place, or the glacial pace of free Wi-Fi, even paid Wi-Fi, or 3G. 

The usual caveats apply, and these will be familiar to anyone who uses the Internet when on the go: streaming Hi-Def movies means waiting, copying large files means waiting, you know the drill… This all puts a wet towel on the joy of having a 4TB Cloud, but has little to do with the Live Duo. Just saying.

Does it tarnish the promise of the Live Duo? Not if you know what you're getting. You can expect to show off your pics or listen to music without a hitch, but good luck transferring large files or streaming some HD.

On an iOS device

I got particularly excited with the idea of streaming music and movies from the Live Duo to iOS devices. You can do this by downloading a couple of free apps from Western Digital: WD 2go, and WD Photos.

WD Photos is, of course, the app for accessing your photos. This is a barebones affair. It succeeds at showing your photos, but there are some limitations. RAW files are unreadable. Navigating through a giant pile of photos can be difficult. You can sort according to name and by folder and filter by date, but it's not intuitive or effortless.

WD 2go also lets you view photos and the interface is even clunkier. In addition, you can listen to music and watch videos. You'll encounter similar problems here. 

FLAC music files were unreadable. That shouldn't bother most people who listen to MP3s, but I found it frustrating. Not all videos were readable too. iPad-friendly formats like MP4 come out fine. The pirate-friendly MKV format is, naturally, unreadable. So if you want to stream to your iOS devices, you'll want to convert all your videos first, which can be tiresome.

On iOS, gone is the smooth integration with iTunes or VLC. Doubtless, there are ways to make this happen -- as it goes with all things computer. Getting the Live Duo to be seen by the iPad's Music app and Video app would be great for starters, but doing so would require extra work if it's even possible. Even better would be getting the Live Duo visible through the Air Video app, but no luck. That doesn't work either.


Backups are something that Western Digital knows a thing or two about. You can setup the Live Duo to backup your computer automatically. You can also do the same with Apple's Time Machine. I didn't bother with this feature because I can't think of a better way to waste bandwidth. Still it's nice to know that it's there.

In Conclusion

I liked the My Book Live Duo. Having my own 4TB cloud is a very tempting offer for me, and it just makes sense to connect your storage to the Internet these days. Just be aware of what the device does and doesn't do and you should be fine.

Here's the bottom line:
As a network drive, the MyBook Live Duo is unassailable. File sharing, streaming, backup all worked great.
As a remote access drive, your enjoyment is limited by your network speed. But otherwise it worked as expected.
As a device for iOS streaming, it was a little disappointing. Apple's iTunes Music Match, which paves the way for iTunes Cloud streaming, and Google Play are also poised to be big. So it's difficult to recommend this now for this purpose.
As 4TB of Cloud storage, no one else is talking in numbers so big. If you desire terabytes worth of storage, look no further.

The My Book Live Duo is a great device for anyone who has to have everything in the Cloud. It's great when everything is seamlessly integrated (particularly with iTunes, VLC and UPnP devices), but "It just works" doesn't always apply. You may have to delve into the dark arts of network configuration. You'll probably want to convert your videos into common formats. It's also best if you properly name and organize all your files. We've grown used to apps (like iTunes and iPhoto) doing this sort of micro-management for us that it can be shocking to have to do this on our own.

If you're the kind of person who doesn't mind doing any of the mentioned tasks occasionally,  there's no reason why you shouldn't get the Live Duo. As I said at the start of this review, the Cloud is the future. The Live Duo is one of the first products that can give you that future now.

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