HDHomeRun Connect Review

I recently reviewed the Vizio P65-C1 and liked it to the point that I kept it. There was one drawback for us: no integrated TV tuner. As a household that ditched cable years ago, we rely on an OTA tuner to watch live sports, presidential debates, and other programming. We had an old TiVo HD with a tuner laying around, but since we no longer paid for service it worked as a dumb box with no channel guide at all. Instead of buying another standard tuner to use with the Vizio, I decided to try out an HDHomeRun.

Specs
Manufacturer: Silicon Dust
Model: HDHomeRun Connect
Review Date: October 20, 2016
Price: 95
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The HDHomeRun comes in three varieties but all work on the same basic concept. You connect an antenna to it (or a CableCard in the case of the HDHomeRun Prime) and then connect the HDHomeRun to your network over Ethernet. It puts all the tuners over the network where anything can access them. I went with the HDHomeRun Connect, which has two tuners and doesn’t recompress the signal at all. The Extend model converts OTA from MPEG-2 to MPEG-4 so it’s smaller but has worse image quality.

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Connections on the HDHomeRun Connect are very basic. You have an antenna input with two digital tuners. There’s a 100 Megabit Ethernet jack, which has plenty of bandwidth for these tuners, and a power input for a wall wart. The Connect is very small and easy to hide away in an equipment rack or anywhere else.

The key for HDHomeRun compared to other networked tuners like the Tablo TV is how open the system is. I wanted to use it around my house and I have a variety of devices that support it. Their app lets me watch it on my desktop, laptop, or iPhone. My Synology NAS has DVR software that lets me record programs over the air and then watch them later. Plex is now offering DVR functionality in their new server software that lets you record programs with it that are then added into Plex. There are ways to watch programs from an HDHomeRun on a variety of devices.

As with any OTA tuner, your choice of antenna and position are important. One benefit of the HDHomeRun and other networked tuners is you can setup the antenna far away from the TV. I set it up inside of my home theater wiring closet where you can’t see it, but where I have room for a large antenna. In here it lets me tune in all the OTA stations with perfect reception while I also have an Ethernet jack for connecting to the network. My options for locating an antenna in the living room were far more limited, so this allows for better reception than using that TVs internal tuner.

Great Streaming Quality

For my testing, I used an Nvidia Shield TV and an AppleTV. The Shield TV can talk to the HDHomeRun and use the included Google Live Channels app to show content. For the AppleTV I bought an app called Channels, which comes in both tvOS and iOS versions. Unlike Google Live Channels you have to buy it ($25 for the tvOS version, $15 for iOS) but it offers a much better interface than Live Channels does.

Using Live Channels, I had issues getting everything to work right. I had to remove all the data for Live Channels and restart the Shield for it to detect the HDHomeRun. In theory Live Channels should let you pull in stations from many sources, not just a TV tuner. In an ideal world this would also pull in my SlingTV stations, letting me see OTA channels and streaming channels in a single view. Currently this isn’t the case as only a few services, like Bloomberg, work with it. Hopefully this will improve as that would make for a nice unified experience.

Compared to Live Channels on Android, Channels on tvOS or iOS works. It pulled in all the channels from my tuner and let me sort them and set up favorites. The full screen guide lets you see a grid, or larger tiles that show a logo for the program that looks more like the tvOS main screen. Unlike with my TiVo HD, this programming information is free. Programs tune in almost instantly over the network, even when I’m using WiFi instead of Ethernet. The image quality is exactly what you’d expect from uncompressed OTA with an image that beats cable. Channels also buffers footage while you’re watching something, so you can skip forward or back. It doesn’t offer DVR functionality yet, but you can pause a show while you run to get a bite to eat or use the restroom.

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What is excellent is how this lets me stream content to any device. I can watch one game on the TV that’s on FOX while tuning in the game that’s on CBS to my iPhone or laptop. I don’t have a TV in the kitchen, but now I can watch TV in there with my phone while I’m making dinner. If you’re someone that doesn’t even have a TV you can watch OTA content now. It also is a good way to get TV to your projector as those rarely have a tuner built into them either.

Today there was a gas explosion in my town that a friend messaged me about. I was working at my desk, but was able to pick up my phone, launch Channels, and have the live news coverage there instantly. I didn’t have to move anywhere else or stop what I was doing, I could have my TV available.

Roku Troubles

The major downside I have with the HDHomeRun at this point is that they don’t have a dedicated Roku app for watching it. As I love the Roku, and have them around the house, this is a pain. The reason for this is that the Roku doesn’t support MPEG-2 decoding (for the HDHomeRun Connect) and uses a different format of MPEG-4 (HLS vs. MPEG-TS) than the Extend can provide. There are workarounds but those need a PC running at all times. You might be able to use PLEX and have it handle the transcoding for you, but I didn’t have a chance to test this yet.

A Much Better Tuner

Using a HDHomeRun is more expensive than getting a standard tuner, which you can do for $40 or so. What the extra $100 got me (including Channels for tvOS and iOS) is the ability to watch TV on any device around my house, not just on a signal display using HDMI. I can also record and archive programs using PLEX or my Synology NAS, and I can watch all that content on my phone if I’d like. Streaming football to my phone is worth the price to me. If you have a projector or tuner-free TV and are looking to get OTA content to it, I’d look into the HDHomeRun. I’m quite happy I spent the extra money and time to get a setup that does so much more.

Review Summary
Product: HDHomeRun Connect
Reviewer:
Pros: Easy setup, works great around the house, takes up almost no space
Cons: Can't stream to a Roku due to codec issues
Summary: If you need to get a TV signal to a projector or a TV without a tuner, you should look into the HDHomeRun. It can also stream that content to your computers, smartphones, and tablets as well as working as a DVR with the appropriate media server. It offers far more than a normal TV tuner ever can.
Value: 5/5
Performance: 4.5/5
Overall: 4.5/5

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