Use the HDHomeRun digital TV Tuner to access free Over The Air (OTA) TV channels in HD
Since 2015, TV broadcasters in the US have been required to broadcast their content Over The Air (OTA) in a digital format (Digital TV or DTV). How can you access this free content? You need a digital compatible TV, or another device with a digital channel compatible tuner. The best option we’ve found? The HDHomeRun Extend (Buy on Amazon) product, a digital TV tuner that can also work as a Digital Video Recorder (DVR). It’s got the capability to stream to nearly any home device over Wi-Fi – or to record programming for later. Technically, it’s a “network-attached digital TV tuner”, but the HDHomeRun does not connect to a TV, instead it’s simply the most flexible option for watching digital HDTV.
Looking for the HD HomeRun Connect Quatro Tuner with 4 individual tuners? It’s no longer a Best Buy exclusive and is now available from Amazon. How does the Quatro compare vs the Connect Extend? It’s got 4 tuners instead of 2 (hence “quatro”) but does not have the hardware transcoding capability. So it’s a little cheaper. If you must have 4 tuners, get the Quatro – otherwise we still recommend the Connect Extend – it’s that much more efficient due to the hard hardware transcoding. Overall SiliconDust (the manufacturer) has done a great job at giving us flexible options.
First, a few quick facts about Over The Air (OTA) Digital TV programming:
- Since 2015, it’s been mandated by the FCC. TV broadcasters can no longer broadcast analog signals. This is known as Digital TV, DTV, or by the technical committee name – ATSC.
- It’s typically in High Definition (HD) quality – and more what’s better, it’s often uncompressed, unlike the HD content on your cable provider. The quality is potentially better than the local channels you receive on your cable provider.
- Because we’re talking Over The Air (OTA) broadcast – you’ll be limited to channels within local reach. How local? That depends on your antenna (remember TV antennas? … maybe not) – location of the antenna and whether or not it’s amplified are important.
- You’ll need an antenna for best reception – and it’s ideally going to be mounted in a window, or outside of your house – and the higher, the better.
With those caveats out of the way, let’s talk about how the best way you can can watch or stream this content for free.
I’ve been searching for a device that lets me conveniently view this content for free, but also allows a Digital Video Recorder (DVR) function. Perhaps the best feature of this particular device is that because it can stream over Wi-Fi, you can place it wherever it is convenient to best mount the antenna. The HDHomeRun EXTEND.FREE (Buy on Amazon) will let you: “Watch transcoded, live and recorded HDTV which can be viewed on multiple WiFi devices, across your home network.” Please note the HDHomeRun does not contain internal storage. You will need a stand alone PC acting as a file share, or Network Attached Storage (NAS) device, for the DVR function – for storage of the recorded TV broadcast. Additionally, you will need an Internet connection to receive program guide data. See the network diagram at the bottom of the page for complete details of a typical setup.
The HDHomeRun DVR service is an additional paid subscription – it allows you to schedule, record, pause, and re-wind live TV broadcast and currently costs $35/year – for any number of devices, users, or recorded content – which is reasonable.
Wondering what TV broadcast channels are available in your area?
Check out http://www.antennaweb.org to find out easily.
NOTE: Be sure to get the SiliconDust HDHomeRun EXTEND.FREE Broadcast HDTV (2-Tuner)(Buy on Amazon) product specifically, as that contains a hardware h264 transcoder. The other device (CONNECT) is more bandwidth intensive and will not work as well with as many devices, or work as well with older Wi-Fi routers. The EXTEND unit we recommend has 2 tuners – this means you can receive two channels (or shows) simultaneously.
Devices used to watch the stream can be : DLNA compatible TVs and other devices that can run the HDHomeRun app, including: Windows, Mac, Android, iPhone & iPad, Linux, Plex, and much more.
Recommended: Get a Good, Amplified HDTV Antenna
We also recommend an amplified HDTV antenna. You’ll still get the best signal near a window, or outside the house, but the amplification helps regardless. And trust us, getting the most out of the Over The Air signal makes a good, amplified antenna a must have. There are also options for indoor, outdoor, and attic mounting. Review these antenna options, and choose the one that works best for you. Attic mounting is desirable when you can’t (or don’t want to) have an antenna on the outside of the house.
Complete features of the HDHomeRun unit (from the manufacturer’s web site:)
- Cut the cable and cut monthly fees
- Watch live HDTV on up to 2 devices simultaneously on your WiFi network
- Works with our HDHomeRun DVR service so you can watch, pause and record
- Expand the number of tuners with multiple HDHomeRun devices
- Watch and record in full 1080p resolution where available
- Transcodes video for more efficient streaming and better playback
Product imagery and network setup diagram are courtesy of the manufacturer, SiliconDust.