Monday, September 24, 2012

Silicon Dust HDHomeRun Dual

I run XBMC as my main television interface. I subscribe to dozens of great video podcasts, live streams and YouTube channels.

On those rare occasions when I want to watch live broadcast TV, I hit the "watch TV" button on my remote and watch regular over-the-air broadcasts.

But I'd also like to record those broadcasts so I can watch them "on demand," and I'd like to be able to watch broadcast TV on my Nexus7 or my iPhone.

The networked tuners from Silicon Dust  sound like a viable solution to both problems.

I also want to experiment with using a battery to power the HDHomeRun and a WallTenna to create an on-the-go OTA solution.


Unpacking:
The HDHomeRun Dual come is a nice box with hook-and-loop closures. Three clear piecs of vacuum-formed  plastic form two stacking trays and lid that hold the package contents:

  • HDHomeRun Dual
  • Cat5 Ethernet Cable
  • power supply
  • Coax cable
  • MiniCD with Windows Software


My Windows machine is not part of the Television setup. It is reserved for gaming, testing, and Windows-specific development. It has a small, but fast drive and not intended for media consumption or storage.
So the Windows software isn't of much use to me.
And I don't have any drives that safely read a MiniCD. Companies need to stop using these.

I'm starting with the Mac since it's right here on the desk. The Linux tests will be my actual installation which means reconfiguring the coax and changing my network topology. (More on that later.)
I found Mac software at http://www.silicondust.com/support/hdhomerun/downloads/
The software is very basic. Each of the tuners appears as an addressable device. You select a band/protocol, a channel, and program.  If you get a signal, the Status bars light up and the View button becomes active.

Clicking View launches VLC. You still have to hit PLAY in VLC to get the stream to start, but once running, everything is rock-solid.
This is a TERRIBLE experience for channel-surfing, but works fine if you watch only one or two channels.
Closing the Config program close the instance of VLC it launched. You will want to copy the stream to a playlist. I was unable to open the stream manually for some reason. VLC kept adding http:// to the front of my udp URL.

I'm a little disappointed with the performance of the WallTenna + HDHomeRun. 
I'm in a bad spot for OTA reception, and use an Antennas Direct DB4 on my main TV which can pull in pretty much anything.

People claim near magical properties for the WallTenna so my expectations were high.
The Scan button in the Config software only revealed about half the channels I get on my main TV.

I assumed Config would let me set a channel for a tuner and then pull up that tuner at a later time. That does not appear to be the case. Once I quit Config, I'm unable to open the stream with VLC.

This default method is a terrible solution for Macs. There must be a better way.
Ah... Plex!

Go the App Store from the main menu, Categories, TV, and then look for the HDHomeRun app and install it.
Now go back to the main menu and select Videos. The video source HDHomeRun is now available.
Start by filling in the Settings. You will need to get an ID off the bottom of your HDHomeRun unit for this.
Once the Settings are saved, download channel data. This data provides names and broadcast type for channels in your area.
Browse through the channel list, test and verify which channels work for you and they will be added to this menu.
A little bit of setup, this looks great and works great.

I've been running this setup at the office for a few weeks. You can customize the channel artwork and put just the channels you want on the menu.
We put Plex on a number of machines and everyone can watch the 1080i streams just fine.

The tuner will be heading home in a couple weeks. An upcoming article with cover the data and media transport network updates I'm implementing to get my dream media distribution system.



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