Even in this era of streaming media, catch-up TV and ‘cord-cutting’ there are still a lot of people who want to watch free to air TV. Appointment/ casual viewing is still a thing for many people.
For me, it’s ABC Kids for my daughter, and any number of inconceivably terrible cooking shows for my wife. For my daughter, I just need safe TV for a limited time so I can cook, write or just sit down for 10 minutes, and for my wife it’s nightly appointment viewing.
Yeah I can stream them, and more and more for my daughter I do, but for people like my wife, they want the live TV experience. I don’t want to be held accountable for every buffering pause, unskippable advert or any other artefact of “modern streaming technology” that I get blamed for.
But what if I want to direct my family to watch TV via my Shield TV (or any generic Android TV set-top box)? The Shield and many other set-top boxes don’t include a coaxial in for receiving Free to Air TV. What if I want to mount a new TV somewhere where there isn’t an existing TV point, or even more modern, what if someone wants to watch free to air TV on a phone, tablet or computer?
Enter the SiliconDust HDHomeRun Connect platform, a digital smart tuner that turns your free to air aerial into an IP based local media streamer. Yep, with just one little box you can snatch all the free TV you want and cram it down your LAN/ WiFi network.
The HDHomeRun Connect comes in two configurations with dual or quad tuner options, allowing you to spread your TV to multiple concurrent screens at once. The dual model we reviewed can support two devices while the quad unsurprisingly can handle up to 4 at once.
The device itself resembles a small set-top box, with power in, Coax in and LAN port around the back. The 97mm x 97 mm x 19mm box is light and can be easily slipped into an entertainment unit, or mounted with standard double-sided tape.
The HDHomeRun Connect does not support WiFi, so you do need a physical connection to your LAN or router. Considering the bandwidth 4 concurrent streams would consume, that’s hardly surprising, each stream is about 20 Mbps of data as the device outputs uncompressed MPEG-2 in HD. Video over WiFi is unreliable at best, always hard wire where you can.
To say the HDHomeRun Connect hardware is simple I think is the ultimate complement, it’s not intended to be a fancy LCD touch display media controller. It takes free to air service and streams them over a network, and it does it with very little unnecessary fanfare.
Setting up the physical hardware was simple as described above, setting up the IP based TV was just as easy. I should mention here that my primary use case was going to be getting TV onto the NVIDIA Shield Pro Android TV set top box.
Android TV already ships with the “Live Channels” app installed, so all I had to do was open the Live Channels app. A few clicks later it had automatically detected the IP TV Tuner, eg the HDHomeRun Connect and I was able to see live TV on my Shield TV over my network.
Depending on your use case, that’s it. You’re done. Free to air TV working over IP. There’s a list of compatible devices over at Siliondust’s website that outlines which devices it is compatible with. The list includes devices like Android TV TVs and set top boxes, Windows/ Mac PCs, XBOX, 3rd Party Media Centres (like Plex and Kodi), Android devices, iOS devices and Amazons Fire ecosystem of TV devices.
If your device does not ship with the Official Android TV Live Channels app Silicondust has their own HDHomeRun app in the app store that works across Android TV, phones, tablets and even Chromebooks (with Android app compatibility).
What’s better than live TV? Live TV with a few extra features, well actually streaming is better than Live TV in my opinion but we covered that above! With the HDHomeRun Connect you get the ability to pause and rewind Live TV.
Thanks to the buffer in the hardware you can rewind any live broadcast for up to 5 minutes without having to set up a recording. You can also pause what ever you are watching for up to 60 minutes.
If you have paused the content you gain the ability to then skip forwards and back similar to if you were watching DVR content or streaming media. Unlike the annoying Catch up apps however you won’t be forced to watch the ads!
The HDHomeRun Connect has a HDR option that lets you pair the tuner box with a media server for recording live TV. This is a value add service otherwise known as a subscription.
An annual subscription costs $35 USD a year and enables the DVR features in addition to providing a 14 day electronic Program Guide (24 hours is standard).The PVR enables features such as recording an entire series, eg just set the HDHomeRun app to record all of Friends and it will seek out, find and record every episode as it airs.
The DVR also enables across device playback where you can pause content on one device and seamlessly play it back on another. Great for switching between different TVs or even from a device to a TV or vice versa.
Of course if you are using a Media Centre like Kodi there are other DVR plugins for those platforms that enable 3rd Party DVR using the HDHomeRun Connect as the decoder, so depending on your budget and tech savvy-ness you have options.
We did not have a subscription to the DVR service to actually test the software and UI that Silicondust provide, and as this is not a review of the 3rd party DVR services we have not set up and experimented with those either. Just know that if a smart DVR is on your wishlist the HDHomeRun Connect may be the key to unlocking that.
For me I was interested initially in the SiliconDust HDHomeRun Connect as a way of transiting my entire home entertainment system to within the Shield TV interface. I wanted my smart remote to just open one thing and all of out entertainment would be there.
What I wasn’t expecting was the advantage of being able to place my TV anywhere, very coincidentally I moved during the review and ended up in a house with no Coax port anywhere near where the family TV was to go. The HDHomeRun Connect solved both problems.
The simplicity of the device is one of iut;s best features, the actual hardware really is just plug and play. It’s so easy that I think anyone who can plug a VCR into a TV could set up the hardware.
For me Software setup was just as easy, this may take a little more tech confidence, but honestly was very easy to set up on both the Native Live TV app and the HDHomeRun app.
Should you buy one? If you need any of these features, Digital TV integration with smart devices, TV viewing where you have no Coax (I’m actually streaming over WiFi), Smart Tv Guide or PVR then I unequivocally recommend the SiliconDust HDHomeRun Connect.
The HDHomeRun Connect comes in both a Dual or Quad variant for around $239 and $379 respectively, you can find your local retailer here. If you can I’d recommend the Quad tuner, it’s better to spend a little more and get more flexibility that in is to need an extra tuner and not have it.