When you are looking to get DVR functionality for your home, you have several options: Get a cable box, a satellite box, a TIVO or build your own. If you are reading this review, you are probably thinking about building your own and we’ll gladly lend you a hand.
One of the most popular tuners for the last couple of years are coming from a company called SiliconDust. They are the manufacturer for the wildly successful line of network connected TV tuners called HDHomeRun. The main selling point compared with let’s say a PCI-E capture card is the capability to share it over the home network between several computers at the same time. Just plug-it in on your switch and it should be available to any computer on your network. What is even better, several units can be added to increase the available units pool, they are automatically allocated on demand to the computers on your network and it is fully compatible with a large number of DVR / media packages available on Windows, Linux and MAC machines and, also compatible with XBOX 360 when used as an extender to Windows Media Center.
HDHomeRun is now at Revision 3 codename HDHR3 and it is smaller, lighter and even cheaper, all while implementing the latest technologies available on the market. Let’s put it through the tests.
The box is quite large considering the small size of the tuner, which is roughly the size of a mini CD disk. The content is arranged in two layers and the box will open in an unusual way. Inside, you will find a TV cable, an Ethernet cable, the power adapter, the tuner itself, the software disk and the smallest start-up guide I have ever seen, consisting in a piece of paper half the size of a dollar bill. Not that you really need it…
I was surprised in a good way of the size of the tuner, which is much, much smaller than its predecessor.
Technical Specs / Hardware Description:
The Rev3 includes an internal zero-loss active splitter.
TV sources: ATSC digital TV (antenna), Unencrypted digital cable TV (Clear QAM), DVB-T digital TV (antenna)
The Rev3 uses two high performance MaxLinear 1GHz silicon tuners feeding two latest-gen Trident demodulators.
The Rev3 uses a single LED to indicate power/link:
Green = Ethernet link (same as rev2 link LED)
Flashing green = Ethernet link, looking for DHCP server (same as rev2 link LED)
Red = No Ethernet link.
Product Dimensions: 4 x 4 x 1 inches
As you probably observed, the new HDHR3 has a single input and the split is performed internally. This is a big advantage making it more sensitive than probably any other tuner on the market, however it will only allow one type of signal. If you planned to use an over the air ATSC (8VSB) antenna for one input and a clear QAM cable for the second input, it won’t work.
We mentioned that SiliconDust HDHomeRun HDHR3 is compatible with a wide number of software packages / operating systems. The list includes most popular packages like Windows Media Center (Windows 7 or VISTA with TV Pack 2008), MythTV, Media Portal, etc. It is also important to say that to watch 1080i HDTV, you’ll need at least a dual core, faster the better, and if you plan to take advantage of the DVR functionality to pause / rewind, fast forward or time shift shows, even more so. You’ll also need a large hard-drive if you plan to record a lot of HD content, somewhere in the vicinity of 1-4 GB per 1/2 hour of DTV recording.
- Windows Media Center
- Elgato EyeTV – DVR for Mac
- MythTV – DVR for Linux
- SnapStream BeyondTV – DVR for Windows
- SageTV – DVR for Windows/Linux/Mac
- MediaPortal – DVR for Windows
- GB-PVR – DVR for Windows
- VLC – Multi-platform media viewer
- TSReader – MPEG-2 transport stream analysis
Installation and Set-up:
I installed HDHR3 on my home server (Quad Core Phenom II, 8GB RAM, 10TB storage) which is obviously more than fast enough for everything HD related. The installation is very straight forward, at least when we are talking about the tuner itself.
To begin with, you need to plug the HDHR3 TV Tuner somewhere in your home network. My switch / router / cable modem are all in one place, and they got another cousin with HDHR3 as well. After you power it up, connect it to the network and connect your ATSC antenna / QAM cable to it, the tuner will be ready to be detected. At this point, you’ll need to install the provided software on the PC and if everything went well, the software will detect the newly installed tuner.
For the next step, the application controlling the tuner will attempt to find any channels available and I have to admit, the auto tuning process is the fastest i have seen. For example, the MyGica A680B takes about 30 minutes for a full scan while the HDHR3 tuner finished in less than 5 minutes. Impressive.
Once everything is detected, you will be able to see / tune / preview all the channels detected. A small application called HDHomeRun Quick TV is also included if you need a fast way to watch TV.
Windows Media Center installation:
If you start Windows media Center it might take several minutes until the new tuner is detected. Getting Windows Media Center to properly tune / detect the clear QAM channels is something completely different, especially when you are talking about Time Warner who did all it could to hide the main local stations like Fox 11 (KTTV-DT) on weird channels like 88-548 :D. I learned so much while setting / adding and editing missing QAM channels in Windows Media Center that I plan to write a separate How-To article about the whole process. How to configure it is not the object of the current article since the process is similar with any other QAM/ATSC tuner on the market.
Update: If you get the dreaded error “No channels were found” check my tutorial in how to solve it. If you have some local channels you know they should be present but they are not there, your cable provider probably doesn’t include the PSIP (in-band) or you have some other issue. Check this tutorial in how to add / edit the missing QAM channels.
As complicated as it might be, eventually it will work the right way and I was able to enjoy watching TV in 7MC as well as on the three XBOX 360 consoles acting as MCE extenders around my house. You can use them to record / pause / skip / fast forward, etc everything is received by the tuners on the main servers.
Before SiliconDust HDHomeRun HDHR3 I used (or tried to use) an ATI TV Wonder™ HD 650 Combo PCI Express (PCIe) TV tuner (which never worked properly being able to tune only on one channel – due to a severe lack of sensitivity), and a MyGica A680B ATSC USB HDTV Tuner (very small USB stick) which was surprisingly good at the job especially for its price but with some obvious caveats for my intended usage (USB = limited to one computer and single tuner).
I cannot get any over the air signal in my area but (somewhere among the hills, cannot get good ATSC signal even while using a high gain antenna) so clear QAM is my only choice. Even the clear QAM signal is severely reduced (behind two consecutive splitters, one with 4.5dB the other with 5.5dB signal attenuation). Fortunately, SiliconDust HDHomeRun HDHR3 performed extremely well and while there are still occasional artifacts, I know for sure they are due to my very weak signal which I’ll improve soon by getting some low attenuation splitters.
SiliconDust HDHomeRun HDHR3 is an extremely capable (and in my opinion the best in the market) network ATSC / QAM tuner. Cheaper, smaller than its predecessors and also displaying higher sensitivity, it comes highly recommended. The only caveat in my opinion is the single input which, while increasing the overall sensitivity, will make it hard to use with both QAM and ATSC antenna simultaneously. It didn’t make any difference in my setup but it might pose a problem if you want to use both antenna and free QAM cable at the same time.
- network capable, can be shared between multiple computers
- price ($50 cheaper than the previous generation)
- wide software compatibility
- compatible with ATSC (8VSB) and clear QAM64/256
- automated allocation of the available tuners between computers on your network
- you can add more units to expand the number of tuners available
- Tuner pooling works with Windows Media Center, BeyondTV, SageTV, GBPVR, MediaPortal, and TotalMedia.
- single input makes hard to use both over the air ATSC and clear cable QAM at the same time
- no cable card support