HDHomeRun Article

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HDHomeRun Article

What is it?

I recently received one from Mark at 9th Tee for testing. 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 at the 9th Tee web site.

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:

Using with VLC
(Windows)

Per the instructions in the Silicon Dust 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:

And here is a snapshot (CTRL-ALT-S in VLC) I took while watching
a space program in VLC (picture not directly posted due to its 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.

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 MythTV, you need to be using the "0.20 fixes" version of MythTV, not the "0.20 first release" version. 

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. 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 is on par with the OTA tuner in my DirecTV HR10-250,
which yields a picture that is considerably better than DirecTV's HD programming.