LAST UPDATED JULY 19, 2017 AT 11:30 A.M.
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.
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.
Plex Live TV & 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. You can read my review of Plex DVR to learn more about how it works. You can also check out my review of how NVIDIA Shield TV works as a Plex Media Server.
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 4-Tuner allows you to record or watch up to four shows at once, but you are 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 2018, 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.