ClearStream TV review: a wireless tuner bringing OTA broadcasts to Roku, Fire TV
ClearStream TV, a new digital tuner, allows you to stream local live TV to an Amazon Fire TV and Roku without a wired connection.
The idea behind ClearStream TV is to broadcast over-the-air (OTA) channels pulled in from your TV antenna across your home WiFi network.
You can watch local channels like NBC, CBS, FOX and others on smartphones, tablets and streaming devices like Amazon Fire TV through the ClearStream TV app. The only thing you will need before setting up the ClearStream is a TV antenna and a WiFi router, preferably a powerful one with good range.
Pausing and rewinding live over-the-air (OTA) channels is one of the bigger perks of the ClearStream TV once it’s set up. And you get a channel guide without having to pay any kind of subscription. You can timeshift what you’re watching by rewinding and pausing up to 60 minutes.
The ClearStream TV is manufactured by Antennas Direct, which makes the hugely popular ClearStream Eclipse, an indoor antenna regarded as one of the best on the market. It’s the company’s first digital tuner and aims to squarely compete with HDHomeRun tuners made by SiliconDust.
The TV antenna business is booming this year as more people become cord cutters, or try to move away from an expensive cable subscription. Research this year from Parks Associates shows the percentage of U.S. broadband households that use only antennas to receive TV has steadily increased since 2013 to reach 15%.
5 facts about ClearStream TV
- Streams to one device at a time
- Tuner should be close to WiFi Router for best performance
- Enables Pause and Rewind to Live OTA television
- Includes program guide
- Works on Amazon Fire TV, Roku and Google Chromecast
Live local TV on Amazon Fire TV, Fire Stick and Roku
This second coming of the TV antenna is bringing about lots of app-oriented ways to watch and stream OTA channels that are pulled in from a TV antenna.
That shouldn’t be much of a surprise, either. Getting local major networks like NBC, CBS, PBS and more in uncompressed HD quality free for life is a pretty attractive option. Compare an uncompressed HD channel like NBC from a TV antenna versus the one coming in through a cable cord then look at your monthly cable bill of $100 to $200 per month.
You might soon find yourself antenna shopping. And many companies are now ready to offer you antennas and related products.
Mohu is about to release the Mohu Airwave, a new wireless antenna that will transmit OTA channels over a WiFi network. The company promises a channel menu that’s a cable-like experience without the cost.
Dish Network, the parent company of Sling TV, released the AirTV Player, a 4K streaming device that combines a Sling TV subscription and OTA channels into a single menu when paired with an AirTV adapter and antenna.
Television manufacturers are getting in on the act, too.
TCL released a new version of its popular Roku TVs, the S-Series 4K TCL Roku TV. Element has a new line of 4K HDR televisions with Amazon Fire software baked in to the TV. Both TVs are set up to make the most of your TV antenna by integrating menus from OTA channels and popular streaming platforms like Netflix, Hulu and Amazon Video. All you need to do is buy an antenna with your TV.
Let’s not forget software companies.
Plex, a popular software hub, made a huge leap into this same realm on June 1 when the company announced support for rewinding and pausing live OTA channels. Plex is compatible with HDHomeRun tuners and Hauppauge WinTV-dualHD dual tuners. It works on any major streaming device like Fire TV, Fire Stick and NVIDIA Shield TV. You can even turn your Shield TV into a DVR and media server with Plex.
How I tested Clearstream TV
I tested the ClearStream TV with four streaming devices over the course of a week. Amazon Fire TV, a Roku Streaming Stick (R6400), a Samsung Galaxy S5 smartphone and a NVIDIA Shield TV were all used to compare how the ClearStream TV worked. Antennas Direct sent me a ClearStream TV for review purposes.
Clearstream TV will work with any TV antenna, but I used two different indoor antennas made by Antennas Direct during testing. The ClearStream Eclipse and Micron XG were used with their included amplifiers. I did no testing with an outdoor antenna.
I used a Netgear R6400 (AC1750) wireless modem with a 50mpbs down/10mbps internet connection. I live in a metropolitan area and get about 48 channels with a TV antenna connected directly to my TV.
The tests were done around three parts of my house so I could get a feel for how the ClearStream TV performed with a variety of setups. This included having the ClearStream TV tuner in one room with my TV and streaming device in another. I also tried it out with the ClearStream TV in the same room as my television and streaming device.
How many streams can Clearstream TV broadcast at once?
You can only stream on one device or TV at a time. That’s a significant difference from competing devices like a HDHomeRun Connect, which allows users to stream two different OTA channels on two devices at once.
ClearStream TV with Amazon Fire TV
With Amazon Fire TV, the ClearStream TV performed best when the tuner was setup in the same room. I could peruse channels easily by clicking on the side of wheel button on my Fire TV remote. The channels don’t appear as quickly as when you are watching live TV with an antenna directly connected to your television. There is a lag of a few seconds from time to time.
The tradeoff is that you can pause and rewind what you’re watching. Rewinding and pausing worked well. The tuner maintains up to 60 minutes of watched TV, but once you change the channel the saved portion of what you watched is gone. You’re starting all over again – channel surfers beware. The channel guide is rudimentary and scrolls vertically.
I initially connected the ClearStream tuner and Eclipse antenna to adjoining room where my office is set up. This is one of the ideal spots in my home to receive OTA signals with the antenna – whether it’s wired directly to my TV or another tuner. When the ClearStream was in another room, I noticed some pixelation or freezing with two channels that I normally have no problem with. The broadcast towers a pretty close by. Your best performance is going to be when the ClearStream TV is in the same room. If you needed to have an antenna in a separate room for get the most channels, I suggest running a long coax cable so that you can keep the ClearStream TV in the same room as your Amazon Fire TV or Fire Stick and WiFi router.
ClearStream TV with Roku
Using a Roku with the ClearStream TV was easily the best experience in terms of its picture quality and user interface.
There was one shortcoming.
ClearStream TV doesn’t support rewinding and pausing on a Roku. Antennas Direct says the lack of rewind and pausing capabilities is because Roku has limited onboard memory and other restrictions that prevent the feature. It’s too bad.
The picture quality looked slightly better on the Roku. Switching channels was faster and a better experience. The channel guide within the Live TV menu had a lot to do with it. Hit the up or down arrow on your Roku remote and the guide appears in the upper right corner.
You can scroll through your channel lineup while continuing to watch what’s on the screen. The Roku remote has no ability to punch in the channel number, so unobtrusive scrolling menu is really nice.
If you go back to the main menu, the main program guide is even better. Its layout is similar to what you may see with cable, or Pluto TV with details about shows that are coming within the next 10 to 24 hours. Overall, the Roku app for ClearStream TV is far more developed than what’s on Fire TV.
ClearStream TV with Google Chromecast or NVIDIA Shield TV
There is no native app for ClearStream TV when you’re using a Google Chromecast or NVIDIA Shield TV. So that means you are casting your signal from a smartphone or tablet to your streaming device. The Shield TV isn’t listed as a compatible device, but has a built-in Google Chromecast.
I casted my live channel feed from a Samsung Galaxy S5 to my NVIDIA Shield TV to see how it would fare. The picture came up clear once it was cast onto the television screen, but casting to the Shield TV stopped once I changed the channel. So I had to peruse my channels on my phone and recast it to the Shield TV once I settled on something else to watch.
You might have a different experience with just a Google Chomecast, which I didn’t have on hand to test out.
ClearStream TV with Andriod Smartphone
ClearStream TV worked great with my Galaxy S5 smartphone. The picture was bright and crisp. I could change channels with very little lag. Overall, the mobile app worked at a fast clip.
When you’re setting up the mobile app, you will want to put your smartphone close to the tuner. The first time I set up the mobile app, I scanned channels when I was one room away from the ClearStream TV tuner. I only came away with 18 channels. Later on, I re-scanned with my phone only a few feet away from the tuner and got 45 channels.
ClearStream TV vs HDHomeRun tuner
Comparing the ClearStream TV to other options that let you stream live local channels to a Fire TV, Roku or other device comes down to what features matter the most to you.
ClearStream TV connects to one device at a time, and gives you guide data for the present and following day. A HDHomeRun tuner allows you to stream to two devices simultaneously. So two people can watch different channels at the same time – say one on the TV, the other on a smartphone.
With HDHomeRun tuners, you get about the same guide data for free. You can also pay for a subscription service – either from HDHomeRun or Plex — to get a longer span of channel guide data and DVR service.
You can read my review of HDHomeRun for more information on that.
Areas of improvement
The ClearStream TV performed best when it was in the same room as the streaming device and WiFi router. This isn’t a device that’s made to have an antenna and ClearStream TV tuner on one end of the house and your Roku and TV on another.
It would be nice if you could have a ClearStream TV and antenna in one room and a Fire Stick connected to a TV a couple rooms away. There’s also no ability branch out into other features like DVR at the moment like other tuners on the market.
Setting up the ClearStream TV isn’t all that intuitive and instructions for the device are sparse. For example, it took me a little while to figure out that I had to disconnect my Fire TV from Ethernet in order to complete the setup process. I did get some onscreen instructions that guided me along, and there are specific instructions for setting up a Roku on the Antennas Direct site. Some more detailed printed instructions in the box or online would be welcome.
Is a ClearStream TV worth it?
If you’re in a situation where your antenna is on the opposite side of the room from your TV, and it’s not convenient to hardwire, a ClearStream TV can be a decent solution. The Roku works best with ClearStream TV. It has a smooth delivery of channels and nice user interface, but with a Roku you will be sacrificing the ability to rewind and pause.
If you’re looking for the ability to stream to two televisions or devices at once, a HDHomeRun tuner is a better option. HDHomeRun has the base-level Connect, and the Extend model. You can now gain the ability to pause and rewind live TV when using Plex Live TV with other tuners, but you will have to pay a subscription fee of $5 per month for a Plex Pass.
I really like products by Antennas Direct. They easily make some of the best TV antennas on the market, especially with ClearStream Eclipse.
With Clearstream TV, they’re not quite on the same plateau as they are with their antennas, but they are definitely moving in the right direction.
The pause and rewind capabilities are sought-after features in the OTA streaming realm. They definitely have that right. The programming guide may be rudimentary with the Fire TV, but you can find out what’s coming up on a channel without paying any kind of subscription fee for a programming guide.
MENTIONED IN THIS REVIEW:
Founder and Editor of The Cord Cutting Report. Before launching the site in 2016, he worked for more than two decades as a staff writer or correspondent for a number of daily newspapers, including The Boston Globe. His enthusiasm for tech began with the Atari 2600. Follow @james_kimble