HDHomeRun Extend, the best low cost OTA DVR with major flexibility

hdhomerun-review

HDHomeRun: an OTA DVR that works with Plex

If you want to watch high definition OTA channels on your tablet, computer and TV, the HDHomeRun Extend is the way to go.

It’s one of the lowest cost options to transmit OTA channels across your home network. HDHomeRun also has more ways to stream broadcasts than ever before with Plex Media Server. That will likely be expanding in 2017.

The reason?

A number of new streaming devices will hit the market in 2017 geared at combining over-the-air broadcasts with other streaming platforms. Dish Network plans to debut the AirTV Player, a new 4K streaming box that integrates Sling TV and over-the-air channels into a single menu. It’s slowly dawning on both streaming box manufacturers and content providers that a new movement is afoot. And it’s not just cord cutting.

TV antennas are cool again.

People are replacing cable or satellite TV with lower-cost options like Sling TV or PlayStation Vue. They’re watching “The Walking Dead” on AMC and “Game of Thrones” on HBO using these lower-cost channel bundles that are streamed over the Internet.

They’re also recording football games, and their local nightly news being shown via over-the-air channels.

A device like HDHomeRun can save you hundreds of dollars if your current cable or satellite TV bill is in the triple digits. (I will do a brief cost comparison below.)

Silicon Dust has been around since 2007, but the latest version of the HDHomeRun Extend suggests the company is coming into a new era of slick design and innovation.

What does a HDHomeRun tuner do?

While the TiVo Roamio OTA remains our favorite OTA DVR, there is one notable feature that stands out with HDHomeRun tuners.

You can stream your live OTA feed to devices from your TV antenna across your home network. So that computer monitor sitting near the workbench in your basement can now get a live TV feed.

Want to watch some live TV on your smartphone? No problem.

A HDHomeRun tuner also saves you the trouble from running antenna wires all over your home if you have multiple TVs, tablets or monitors.

SiliconDust makes three types of HDHomeRun tuners for consumer use. This review will focus on what I believe is the best model, the HDHomeRun Extend. But I will compare all the devices below so you can get a decent lay of the land.

I love streaming devices like HDHomeRun because of their flexibility. If you’re dumping cable, you can use HDHomeRun to stream and record OTA channels. You can watch your recorded shows on the road too.

Keeping cable? (OK, I won’t judge.)

Ditch your cable box that you’re renting from your cable provider and replace it HDHomeRun Prime. You will just need the cable card from your provider to plug into the HDHomeRun Prime tuner. Be sure to also notify your cable provider about your plans to use your own over-the-top set box.

What works with HDHomeRun tuners?  

There are also official apps for Windows, Mac, Linux, Android, Android TV and Amazon Fire TV devices, and third-party software options. You can stream the HDHomeRun app on Android TV devices like Mi Box and the NVIDIA SHIELD TV. It works with XBox One and PlayStation 3 as well. Here’s a list to give you a quick summary of what’s compatible.

Windows 10 devices include: Windows 10 PC, Xbox One or One S, Surface Tablet or Windows PHONE.

Android: NVIDIA SHIELD TV, Amazon Fire TV, Sony Android TV, Android phones and Android tablets

Apple:  Apple desktops, Apple laptops, Apple iOS (like iPads) and Apple TV 4

Apple TV users can use the Channels app for streaming HDHomeRun tuners similar to a Tablo device. So far, only Channels has timeshifting support without a plugin. Timeshifting on Channels starts storing video when users tune into a channel, and saves up to 30 minutes of programming. So it’s useful for brief pausing or rewinding a little bit of footage where you didn’t hear what somebody said.

Third-party apps: Plex, Kodi, Emby, Windows Media Center for Windows 7 and 8.1 and Kodi with open elec for Linux will all stream live TV. HDHomeRun has a DVR Add-on for KODI. Plex also has a great DVR server option, which requires buying a Plex Pass. Keep reading for more details about DVR options.

How do I set up HDHomeRun?

Setting up a HDHomeRun device is not a simple plug-and-play like a TiVo, but it’s not that complicated either. For fans of Kodi, Android TV, or Plex, using a HD Homerun device will be a natural fit.

You will need a TV antenna, but you won’t be running the cord to the back of your TV. You will plug it into the HDHomeRun tuner instead. Using an Ethernet cable, you’ll hook up your HDHomeRun device to your router. (HDHomeRun tuners can operate on 802.11n routers, but I prefer an 802.11ac router.) If you need some guidance on buying a TV antenna, check out my guide: How to Choose the Best TV Antenna & DVR.

Using DVR functions on HDHomeRun requires you to use a subscription-based service. SiliconDust has its own HDHomeRun DVR service for $60 per year. You can schedule recordings, pause and rewind live TV.

hdhomerun-review
A diagram showing how HDHomeRun functions. (Courtesy: SiliconDust)

Plex DVR also supports HDHomeRun tuners. Plex Pass is still in beta, but it offers the best deal. You can subscribe monthly for $4.99, or yearly for $39.99. There’s also a limited-time offer for lifetime subscriptions at $149.99.

For storing recorded content, you will also need some hard drive space. Use either a computer with some hard drive space, or set up a NAS (network-attached storage) device. Whatever you choose will always need to be powered on. SiliconDust recommends using a dedicated NAS to keep your recorded content.

HDHomeRun Extend vs Connect, Prime

The Extend is the best HDHomeRun model for streaming live OTA television and recording simply because the hardware is superior.

Talk about design in reviews can generally be superfluous and unhelpful in terms of measuring value. The updated HDHomeRun Extend is one of those exceptions. That’s because its redesigned frame is made largely of metal. The previous model had a plastic case and a fan to keep the tuner cool. Some users complained the fan emitted a low, but noticeable noise. A griddle-shaped top replaces all that and works as a heat sink.

The Extend also rivals Connect because of built-in transcoding to h.264 format. It makes for a smaller file size with recordings, and gives a more widely supported format for direct playback compared to MPEG-2 on Connect.

That said, some third-party software like Emby already transcodes for most clients, so it might be a moot point for you personally. In that case, a HDHomeRun Connect might be just fine for you.

You can record or watch up to two shows at once with Connect or Extend. Watch your HD shows either over an Ethernet-connected device or WiFi.
You can also watch recorded shows on the road if you have a tablet with a compatible app, which accesses your recorded shows.

With HDHomeRun Prime, you can record or watch up to three shows at once. This is also the model you want if you are a cable subscriber and are looking replace the over-the-top box you may be renting from Comcast or another provider. This model isn’t for receiving free OTA TV.

HDHomeRun Prime will release you from having to pay rental fees Comcast or another cable provider for your over-the-top box. HDHOMERUN Prime tuners do not work with satellite TV.

HDHomeRun vs Tablo

Tablo offers two models of tuners for broadcasting and recording over-the-air TV across your home network. The premise is essentially the same as HDHomeRun.

The Tablo 2-Tuner allows for you to stream, or record two shows at once on up to six devices in your home. The Tablo 4-Tuner doubles the number of shows you can watch or record at once, but you are still limited to six devices.

The advantage that Tablo has over HDHomeRun for some comes down to device compatibility. The Tablo app works natively on Roku and Chromecast. That’s a big deal for some people, but not for me personally.

You will also need to buy an external hard drive in addition to a Tablo tuner for storing your recorded shows.

Tablo is a very popular device and there’s no question it could save you hundreds of dollars a month compared to an average cable subscription. Price point is where Tablo falls short. The Tablo 2-Tuner costs twice as much as an HDHomeRun Connect. Even the upgraded Extend model is about $30 less than the lowest priced Tablo. The Tablo has its own subscription-based DVR/channel guide. Tablo charges $4.99 per month, or $49.99 per year. A lifetime subscription costs $149.99.

Tablo suggests using specific hard drives, but they don’t support use of NAS. Only the Elements line of Western Digital hard drives along with Seagate Expansion hard drives. There’s also a thread in the Tablo Community forum about potential hard drives that work.

What kind of NAS should I get for HDHomerun?

SiliconDust, the makers of HDHomeRun, consider four NAS manufacturers as “partners” that work best with their tuners. They are Western Digital, Synology, QNAP and Asustor.

Before you begin shopping for a NAS, you should be aware that some NAS devices are diskless. You have to buy the hard drives separately. That isn’t the case with all of them.

Your needs for transcoding and the DVR server you choose will be a big factor with what you buy.

You also need to answer some questions that will be unique to you. Let’s say you want to set up a Plex Media Server.

Are you planning to run your Plex Media Server on the NAS or only use it for storage? If you plan to run Plex Media Server elsewhere and just use the NAS for storage, then there isn’t anything specific to Plex that needs to influence what you buy for a NAS.

You will also want to check out the HDHomeRun viewer plug-in made for Plex that allows to stream your live TV feed from the Plex interface.

QNAP has a tutorial on how to use a QNAP Turbo NAS as a Plex Media Server to stream movies and videos.

For a NAS, I recommend WD MyCloud, Synology DS416play, QNAP TS-451+ and QNAP TS-253A





HDHomeRun vs cable

There’s no question that a HDHomeRun tuner can save you money. That’s true whether you plan to get rid of cable entirely or you just want to get rid of your monthly cable-box rental fee from Comcast.

Let’s say you’re paying for cable and your bill has crept up into the $140 or $150 range. You may be wondering whether you can save any money by some variation of cord cutting.

For whatever its worth, I will use myself as an example. My cable bill was $146 per month and I had a Netflix account. I was paying $1871 a year.

I replaced it with a $35 per month Internet subscription that gave me 50Mbps. I pay $45 per month now for a PlayStation Vue subscription so I can watch and record cool shows like Taboo on FX. I use TV antennas for local channels. I still have Netflix and even added Amazon Prime for $99 per year.

So I’m saving just under $700 per year. Adding another $40 for Plex Pass still leaves me with plenty of savings. Same story if I went with HDHomeRun DVR for $60. I used my savings to invest in new hardware around my home that will last me for years.

There are many choices out there. I’ve outlined most of them in Cord Cutting 2017, the definitive guide. Good luck and share with your fellow readers your experiences with HDHomeRun or using a NAS for storing and playing your media.






Summary
Review Date
Reviewed Item
HDHomeRun Extend
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2 Comments on HDHomeRun Extend, the best low cost OTA DVR with major flexibility

  1. I Dumped my DirecTV Service this week!

    I had the most basic DirecTV channels package DirecTV offers and had 1 High Definition (HD) Digital Video Recorder (DVR) unit and 1 Standard Definition DVR unit which cost me about $90 per month. Almost half of the cost was hardware rental fees, taxes, and other crap fees every single month! Of course for that price, there is NO ESPN, or FS1, FS2, etc… Just pretty basic channels plus a few of my Orlando Local Channels.

    I finally pulled the plug on the old satellite after being a loyal subscriber ever since DirecTV started operating.

    But today, I fired DirecTV, and became an official (Semi) Cord Cutter!!

    Cutting the Cord does require some basic investment in hardware if you want to have equal or more capability and features than you did on Satellite or Cable service, and below is a list of my costs to convert. These are all one time costs. This means I will OWN all of the equipment instead of renting it and wasting money each month. My new Whole Home TV / DVR System is made up of the following components:

    Hardware Costs:

    $ 75 Outdoor Antenna, 20′ Tall Mast, Cable, Connectors, etc… (I already had this in place)
    $ 180 New All Metal SiliconDust HdHomeRun Extend Dual Tuner Unit #1 (Local Channels)
    $ 180 New All Metal SiliconDust HdHomeRun Extend Dual Tuner Unit #2 (Local Channels)
    $ 90 Amazon Fire TV HD Box, Gen 2 for Primary TV
    $ 40 Amazon Fire TV HD Stick, Gen 2 for 2nd TV
    $ 0 Old 2005 vintage PC re-purposed to MythTV DVR system
    $ 0 Mythbuntu MythTV DVR Software (Linux) to install on old PC
    $ 86 New 2TB 5400 RPM WD RED NAS Grade Hard Disk for DVR

    $ 651.00 Total cost for new Hardware/Software

    Remember the old rabbit ears on top of your TV, or the outside TV Antenna your mom and dad had on the roof when you were a kid? Well, guess what? Since all of the TV Broadcasters were forced to switch to a Digital Signal Broadcasts from the old Analog Signal years ago, local Broadcast TV has gotten better than ever. I think we all know that using an outside or inside Over-The-Air Antenna will NOT give you the name brand cable channels like ESPN, CNN, CNBC, etc., but all of the Major Networks like ABC, CBS, NBC, FOX, MyTV, PBS, CW and many more are available for FREE, and broadcast a big, beautiful signal and picture right into your home! All you have to do is grab it!

    Years ago, you would have only been able to pick up the Big 3 or 4 TV stations, but today with Digital Broadcast TV, often, each of these channels have “Sub Channels”. For example, here in the Central Florida area, we have Channel 6.1 which is our local CBS Affiliate. This affiliate also broadcasts on Channel 6.2 Cozi TV, and 6.3 Decades TV.

    In total, I can pick up nearly 80 Digital Local Channels that are crystal clear and have a huge variety of content available.

    Unlike the old Analog signal TV of yesteryear, with digital broadcasts, the days of snowy pictures are pretty much gone. With Digital broadcasts, you generally get a beautiful High Definition Picture up to 1080P with full Dolby Digital Surround Sound, or nothing at all. On ocassion you may get some pixelation if your signal strength is right on the edge, but for the most part, its pretty rock solid. I’ve heard that about 80% of the shows people watch on Cable or Satellite are available as Local Broadcasts for FREE!

    By attaching two SiliconDust HDHomeRun Extend Dual Tuner network attached devices to my home network, (I could have gotten by with just one, but it’s nice to have extra capacity), I can watch all of my local stations on any device, and Record (DVR) anything I want on the Mythbuntu MythTV DVR I built from an old vintage PC. Playback is handled beautifuly on all devices using Kodi Free software which will run on just about any device you own. Additionally, I can DVR up to 4 primary channels at once with the ability to record many more “Extra” Subchannels off the primary Channel. For example, Channel 2 is 2.1 as the primary channel, but I can also record 2.2, 2.3, etc at the same time, so really the number of total channels I can record at once is only a limitation of my SD Tuners, Storage Capacity and power of the DVR Computer Hardware. I have recorded 6 channels at once (3 primary and 3 sub channels) on this old hardware and it actually did okay. Additionally, the MythTV software has the ability to go back and tag all of the commercials after the recording completes so later when you watch the show on Kodi, virtually all of the commercials are automatically skipped !!! Way Cool !!!

    So, how do you get your favorite Cable or Satellite Channels like ESPN, Fox Sports 1 and 2, CNN, CNBC, DIY, etc…? Well, there are several new Content Providers available that you can subscribe to or get for free over the internet. A couple of the most popular ones are Amazon Prime, Netflix and Hulu for On Demand watching of Movies and TV shows. But for LIVE TV, you may want to look at Sling TV or Playstation Vue subscription services. I decided to subscribe to Playstation Vue for my service for a number of reasons including the ability to stream to 5 devices concurrently as well as Free Unlimited DVR Service in the Cloud. But in order to make it work well, you have to have a decent Internet Subscription.

    You MUST have an Internet Service with sufficient bandwidth AND Unlimited DATA (or a lot of Data usage available per month) at a reasonable cost. Lets face it, we’re trying to reduce costs here, and this is a key one. One important thing is to get an internet subscription with a Download Rate of at least 10 Megabits per second if you only intend to stream one HD Signal into your home from one of the several content providers out there. If you want to concurrently stream additional content to other devices, consider increasing your download speed by an additional 5 Megabits per second for each additional device that will be in use “Concurrently” to assure you have enough “Pipe” or data flow to satisify the need in your home.

    Of course, faster is better, but only to a point. Don’t buy 50 or 100 Megabit service unless you really need it because you will be simply be throwing money away by purchasing lots of unused capacity. I purchased 25 Megabit Download speed, and 5 Megabit Upload speed which is plenty fast enough to stream multiple High Definition TV Streams concurrently. My Plan also provides 1 Terrabyte of Data Download per month, so after my first month running mostly 1 TV streaming for a 5 – 7 hours per night, I’m using about 1/2 of a Terrabyte of Data per month. Internet Data is only used when surfing the web or watching TV using one of the Streaming TV Services. No Data is used when watching Local TV gathered by your Over the Air TV Antenna/HDHomeRun Tuners and local DVR PC.) I’m paying 29.99 Per month (Incl all taxes and fees) to my local cable provider for INTERNET ONLY service, and that rate is guaranteed for 12 months on a month to month basis, but with NO Contract!!! At the end of the 12 months, I’ll renegotiate for another year at the same or better price. I have been doing this for about 5 years now for my internet services. Several years ago, I purchased a Motorola SB6141 Cable Modem for about $60, and that saves me about $10 per month in Modem Rental Fees from the Cable Company. That simple purchase alone saves me over $120 per year!

    Getting a good Internet Deal will take some negotiation and a little backbone on your part, but you can do it. That’s right, you have to call your Internet Service Provider and get a better deal.

    If you can’t get what you want from the normal first level sales reps, you must ask for the “Customer Retention Department”. These folks have the authority to negotiate price and packages with you because they know that it costs a small fortune to acquire new customers, so it’s often in their best interest to retain you as a client, even if they have to do so at a little lower profit margin. However, BEFORE I call them, I usually login to the internet from my cell phone or my friends home who is using a DIFFERENT Internet Service Provider than I am, then surf on over to my ISP’s site to see what is being offered to “New Customers”. “New Customers” are those who have not had the service in their name in a few months…, like your spouse or mother… You get the idea. The “New Customer” prices are normally blocked out to you if you login from your home network because they don’t want you to see how much more your paying for your service than a brand new customer. Believe it or not, just like car insurance, the longer you stick with one Internet Service Provider or Cable TV or Satellite Company, the worse deal you get every year!! Shop every year for better deals and you’ll come out way ahead.

    So, just to review, my Internet Service costs exactly $29.99 per month for No Contract, 12 Month Guaranteed Rate “Internet Only” 25/5 Megabit service with a 1TB Download limit. My subscription to Playstation Vue Access Slim Pkg which provides 48 really good Cable Channels (No Crap Channels like with cable or satellite) and with No Contract and NO extra monthly fees costs EXACTLY $29.99 per month. I can change Channel Packages any time I wish, or just cancel and try something else. This is a Great Package https://www.playstation.com/en-us/network/vue/channels/

    Note: Playstation Vue may provide some or all of the Major Network Broadcast TV Channels in Major Cities like Chicago, Dallas, Miami, etc. These may include some of the Networks like ABC, CBS, NBC, Fox, CW, etc, so check your zip code at the Playstation Vue site before you go spend money for an Antenna, SiliconDust HDHomeRun Tuners, etc as you may not need them to satisfy your local TV needs. The price for packages including Local Channels may be a few dollars more in your area.

    So to wrap it all up, I now have more “Quality” Channels to watch for about 1/3rd of the monthly cost of Satellite TV and I can change plans anytime I want to, and watch TV on any Device I own including PC’s, TV’s, Tablets, Cell Phones, etc.!!!! I also have access to tons of “On Demand” TV shows and Movies that I didn’t have access to via DirecTV.

    For the purpose of this project, I don’t count Internet Service Provider costs as part of my TV watching costs because I would be paying for the exact same Internet service whether I used it for TV or not, so while getting a great deal is important, and needed to make the switch, since I would buy it anyway, I don’t consider it as part of the total monthly TV Access costs in my comparison.

    Playstation Vue has been terriffic and I love that it has built in Cloud DVR with unlimited recording as well as the ability to run on nearly every device I own. It also has a TV Guide of sorts that looks out about 2 weeks into the future. They have a Client for Android, Windows, Apple devices and IOS devices, and continue to add more. They recently began streaming to select Web Browsers like Firefox and Google Chrome on Windows PC’s, however I have been unable to get streaming to work on any of my Linux PC’s using any browser. I suspect this may have something to do with DRM Licensing, but I’m still trying to figure that out. I can run up to 5 different Like a PS4, PS3, Amazon fire TV Boxes and Sticks, Android based TV devices, etc. Each Device can run PS Vue and all can watch a different live stream or DVR’d programs or what they call “Catch Up” programs or episodes.

    While there was some out of pocket expense for hardware, I will save enough to pay for it in less than a year! And, the monthly cost for TV is now only $29.99 vs my old Super Basic DirecTV package that cost over $90 per month. Oh yeah, and NO Contracts or Rental Fee’s ! On top of that, the Channel Selection on Playstation Vue is great! I now have ESPN, FS1, FS2, etc… Check it out!

    https://www.playstation.com/en-us/network/vue/channels/

    Final Comparison:
    Old Annual DirecTV Cost $1080 per year with increases each year!
    New Annual TV Cost is $359.88 per year for Playstation Vue Subscription

    1st year savings of $720.12 minus initial hardware costs of $651 gives me a savings of $69.12. However, the Savings in the 2nd year, and each and every year thereafter, at least $ 720.12 per year!!!

    Yep, I’m a Happy Camper for sure!

    My home phone is also Free through a service called Google Voice. I had to do some work to get my home landline phone number rolled over to it, (check youtube for how to do this), but it has been worth it. We have had Free Home Phone Service for many years now. It does require a little $99 Obihai box attached to your home internet router to accomplish it, but other than that its totally free to use. It has voice mail, voice to text service, conference calling, supports 2 phone numbers, Free calls to US and Canada, etc…

    Here is a link to the box
    https://www.obitalk.com/info/googlevoice

    Anyway, I digress…. LOL Check out Playstation Vue and see if that might fit the bill for your TV needs. I purchased the Amazon Fire TV Box for the livingroom TV (very robust and fast device) and the Fire TV Stick for the bedroom since its a little less powerfull and cheaper and will be used less.

    The Fire TV Box and Stick connect directly to my home Internet and the TV via HDMI Port, (If your TV is relatively new, most likely your cable box is using this same cable and port to connect to your TV’s) and are used to stream the TV from Playstation Vue to your TV. It has a nice easy to use remote and enough expansion capacity to run other programs on it like Kodi and other TV services.

    If you are currently, or become an Amazon Prime customer ($100 /yr) you get free 2 day shipping on most everything from Amazon.com and also free access to their huge library of streaming Movies, TV Shows and Music!

    • This is how it’s done! Congrats. And thanks for sharing your breakdown on how you’re getting more quality programs and channels while saving some serious cash.

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