HDHomeRun: Record OTA HD Programs without Installing a Tuner Card

Page 1 | Page 2 | Page 3

What is it?

Here is the "official" description from the 9th Tee web site:

Watch over-the-air digital TV from all computers in your home network
Dual tuners - watch multiple channels on same or multiple computers
IR Receiver - use most standard remotes to signal your PC

Compatible with:

  • VLC - watch TV on Windows, Linux, Mac.
  • MythTV - DVR for Linux and Mac.
  • SageTV - DVR for Windows, Linux, and Mac.
  • Coming soon: Windows Media Center.

Detailed specifications:

  • 8-VSB (ATSC over-the-air digital TV)
  • QAM64/256 (unencrypted digital cable TV)
  • IR Receiver
  • 100baseTX high speed network
  • Open source drivers/support

The unit is currently priced at $169.95 and available from DVRupgrade.

What's in the box?

  • HDHomeRun
  • AC adapter
  • Ethernet cable
  • Instruction slip that directs you to the Silicon Dust support forums here.

There is no CD or instruction manual included. Here are pictures of the front and back of the unit:

Page 1 | Page 2 | Page 3

Using with VLC (Windows)

Per the instructions in the SiliconDust forums, I downloaded and installed VLC media player and the HDHomeRun Config utility. I also downloaded and installed the latest firmware for the device, which is currently 20061127 ("Upgrade" tab in HDHomeRun Config). If your home network does not include some sort of router, i.e., you use multiple IPs from your ISP, you'll definitely need to load the latest firmware, else you won't be able to connect to the box.

All of the instructions were pretty straightforward. Upon plugging the box into my network and turning it on, it grabbed an IP address from my DHCP server (static DHCP in my case). I don't see any way to set a static IP address on the unit itself, but some suggestions are listed here.

Since I don't have digital cable, I plugged an antenna (the same amplified indoor antenna I use with my DirecTV HR10-250) into the tuner 0 input (the one not next to the ethernet port) on the HDHomeRun and used the "8vsb" selection next to "Channel" in the HDHomeRun Config. A simple click on the right-arrow button to the right of "Scan" was all that was necessary to scan for OTA channels. The best channel I found for both signal strength and HD content was KTSC DT, which is a PBS HD channel. In order to use VLC with the HDHomeRun, it was necessary to click "Launch VLC" from within HDHomeRun Config.

Here is a screenshot of the HDHomeRun Config on the PBS HD channel:

Here is a snapshot (CTRL-ALT-S in VLC) I took while watching a space program in VLC (picture scaled to fit, click image for full size and quality).

Click for full size

I found the picture quality to be better than any DVD I've watched on my laptop, though I did notice an occasional "blip" on the screen. Given the signal strength on that channel, I found that a bit surprising, but the blips weren't frequent enough to be annoying, and they were only in the picture and not the audio. I also noticed occasional "scan lines" in the picture. I am curious as to the performance with digital cable, but I currently have no way to test it.

I noticed one thing missing in VLC: options under the Navigation menu. The instructions at the Silicon Dust forums state "Use 'Navigation' menu in VLC to choose program to watch." The Navigation dropdown was empty on my system. I posted a question concerning this in the forums, and I received a reply from "jafa" in five minutes:

The new release of the hdhomerun_config GUI detects and manages the programs itself - use the program pull-down box in hdhomerun_config to select the program.

Nick

To me, that's a very good indication as to the support for this device.

Page 1 | Page 2 | Page 3

Using with MythTV

This is what most users will be using the HDHomeRun for. Instructions on installing MythTV using Ubuntu Linux can be found here and here, though I personally used MythTV for Mandriva 2007 for this article. Instructions for setting up the HDHomeRun with MythTV can be found here. The instructions in the Silicon Dust forums were accurate and easy to follow, and the configuration only took a couple of minutes.

The picture quality using the HDHomeRun with MythTV was quite impressive. Using the same PBS HD channel above, I noticed a few hiccups upon first launching MythTV, but those were most likely due to the fact that I was running both the Myth backend and frontend on my Dell laptop. After a few seconds, the hiccups went away, and the picture was smooth and clear; I noticed none of the "scan lines" that were noted above with VLC.

Note for QAM (digital cable) users: In order for QAM to work with the HDHomeRun and MythTV, you need to be using the "0.20 fixes" version of MythTV, not the "0.20 first release" version. More on that issue here.

Caveats

I didn't mention this earlier, but I noticed quite a bit of stuttering in the picture and sound when using a wireless connection (802.11g) to connect to the HDHomeRun (both VLC and MythTV). The stuttering went away after I connected my laptop directly to an ethernet switch. In other words, I don't recommend using the unit with a wireless connection, especially if you plan on using it to record programs. If you look at the HDHomeRun Config screenshot above, you'll notice that the stream is over 18 Mb, so 802.11b is totally out of the question. This is from Nick ("jafa") at the Silicon Dust forums:


The official position is that you can't stream hi-def video over B/G wireless.

There is one thing I wished this unit would do: send OTA (or digital cable) channels over the internet (placeshifting), a function supported by a Slingbox. As one could guess by the size of the stream above, the bandwidth requirements would be much greater than most home internet connections would be able to handle. Someone in the Silicon Dust forums noted that the ability to placeshift with this unit was left out for legal reasons.

Conclusion

Since the HDHomeRun plugs into your network, there is no opening of a computer case required, and there is minimal configuration of software required to use the unit. In other words, for the easiest method of recording OTA programming with your homebrew DVR, get this unit. If you need more than two tuners, you can simply add more HDHomeRuns.

I just read another thread in the Silicon Dust forums that was started two days ago. A user found a bug in the HDHomeRun Config, and a fix for the problem was released - the same day. Now that's support!

After writing this article, I decided to try the HDHomeRun with my home theater PC, which is connected to my HDTV and Onkyo receiver. The picture quality was on par with the OTA tuner in my DirecTV HR10-250, which yields a picture that is considerably better than DirecTV's HD programming.