HDHomeRun Review Part 1

The HDHomeRun has been a popular device in the US for a number of years, and the DVB-T compatible version has just been released here in New Zealand. Local distributor DigitalPRIDE were kind enough to lend me a unit both for review, and to see how well it works with MythTV here in NZ.

This review is likely to comprise several parts as I’ll be using it with a Mac under OSX as well as using VLC and MythTV under Linux. If you’d like an overview of the US version, Engadget did a review a couple of years ago.

What’s in the box?

When the unit first arrived I was very impressed with the overall package. Unlike most other TV tuners this device does not connect directly to your PC via USB or PCI/PCIe, and instead can stream to multiple computers over your network.

HDHomeRun

The HDHomeRun unit is a very tidy little box. At the rear you have two aerial connections, an ethernet port and a power connector. In the box you get two aerial fly-leads, a network patch cable, software CD and a nice compact wall wart.

At the time of this write up the NZ retail price is $349 direct from DigitalPRIDE, which compares well with the UK and AU pricing.

To initially get the unit up and running I simply plugged a UHF aerial connection, power and connect to my home LAN.

Mac OS-X Support

My laptop these days is a 2.4 GHz 3rd Generation Santa Rosa Macbook which dual boots OS-X and Ubuntu 8.10. I thought it would be interesting to see how well it integrated with the Mac first.

Now in theory with the following software it should “just work” -

  1. Download the beta OS X configuration tool from
    http://www.silicondust.com/forum/viewtopic.php?t=2484
  2. Get the latest version of VLC from
    http://www.videolan.org/vlc/download-macosx.html

This is where I hit my first issue. The OS-X tools also require GTK to be installed for the GUI. This part of the installer failed and the hdhomerun_config_gui application failed to run. I managed to resolve this by removing the installed application and forcing GTK to re-install from the HDHomeRun installer.

Once over this hurdle things worked well. The installer automatically upgraded the firmware of my unit to the latest release. I then told the hdhomerun_config_gui to perform a channel scan and it picked up all three DVB-T multiplexes. I could then select a channel and press view to watch it.

This is where I hit my second issue. I’d moved my install of VLC from the OS-X applications folder to a subfolder. This meant that the gui failed to locate it and display the video. There are two solutions to this -

  1. Move VLC back to the applications directory, or
  2. Start VLC and specify the network stream manually
    UDP/RDP – host 127.0.0.1, port 5000
OSX HDHomeRun

I was using a wired ethernet connection on the Macbook and the video quality with VLC 0.9.8 was excellent on the 720p and 576i channels. I had some issues trying to watch TV3, which transmits in 1080i, as sadly my Macbook isn’t fast enough to display the video with the current builds of VLC. The freeview|HD service here in New Zealand uses H.264 as the video codec, and requires much higher CPU resources than MPEG-2 which is currently using in Australia and the US.

I then tried the same playback over an 802.11g wireless connection. For the most part the 576i channels worked with little or no issues, but I’d have occasional break up on the 720p channels, especially if someone else was making heavy use of the wireless network.

The popular OS-X application EyeTV also has support for HDHomeRun, but I was unable to test this as my trial licence has now expired.

Mac OS-X Conclusion

The HDHomeRun works incredibly well but there are a couple of niggles.

  1. The gui installer should deal with failures in required components. It took me quite a while to troubleshoot the failed install.
  2. Gui should allow for saving of channels. At the moment you can only view the channels on the currently tuned multiplex.
  3. Improve VLC integration. It would be great if VLC could natively support the HDHomeRun and change channels directly
  4. No EPG information is provided over the UDP stream. Whilst freeview|HD only provides limited now/next information over DVB EIT, it would be great if VLC could display the name of the current show.
  5. Twin aerial connections means you need to use an external splitter on your TV aerial.
  6. No bundled OS-X software. It would be great if they could include a “lite” version of EyeTV.

In Part 2 I’ll start looking at support under Linux.

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