Sunday, March 25, 2007

SiliconDust HDHomeRun QAM Tuner Review

I have owned the HDHomeRun tuner for several months now. I've been able to record unencrypted QAM channels with BTV and a nice little add-on called BTV Externinator developed by Fonceur from the Snapstream forums. The only thing lacking on the BTVE add-on was live tv and as of this weekend, that is now possible with no need for an add-on with an update to BTV.

Since this product is now supported by BeyondTV, I thought I would write a review from a BeyondTV users perspective. Note that this product also work with MCE (XP & Vista), SageTV, MythTV, GBPVR and VLC. Special thanks to Snapstream for the extra effort they made to support the HDHomeRun device and also to Nick at Silicondust for working hard to continually update the bda drivers to work with BeyondTV and the other windows PVR software.

What makes the HDHomeRun different from other tuners?

  1. The HDHomeRun (HDHR) is a network-attached tuner. You simply connect the HDHR to your network switch or router directly instead of needing to connect via USB or PCI. This means you don't need an open PCI slot on your HTPC or even an open USB port. Even better, you have the flexibility of putting your HDHR anywhere in the house where there is a network plug open. I have mine hooked up in the basement near my CATV amplifier so I get the best signal possible.

  2. The HDHR can tune unencrypted QAM. If you have Cable TV service, you should be able to receive the local HD channels in unencrypted QAM at the minimum. And many cable providers offer even more HD & SD, digital channels unencrypted. Even if you only get the locals, you have the advantage of not worrying about the OTA signal strength and quality. Note the HDHR is for digital TV only - no analog TV capabilities in the HDHR. Another thing to note: You cannot get encrypted channels with this device. You would need a Cablecard to do get those channels (the channels that are encrypted will vary by cable company, but almost always channels such as HBO etc will be encrypted).

  3. The HDHR is a dual tuner. It has two coax connectors where you connect your cable and/or Antenna. You can use the HDHR with OTA antennas, or connect it to your cable line for tuning of unencrypted QAM channels from your cable provider. It can handle any combination of QAM and/or OTA.

Complete Description of the HDHR from the SiliconDust website:

Watch over-the-air digital TV from all computers in your home
Dual tuners - Record/watch multiple channels at once
Works with popular DVR software:
Pause, rewind, fast-forward live TV.
Record all your favorite TV shows by name.
Fully integrated 14-day TV guide.
Compatible With:

Windows Media Center: MCE 2005 (beta), Vista MCE 32-bit (beta), Vista MCE 64-bit (beta)
SnapStream BeyondTV (beta)
SageTV - DVR for Windows.
MediaPortal - DVR for Windows (beta).
GB-PVR - DVR for Windows (beta).
MythTV - DVR for Linux.
Pluto - Home automation & media system.
VLC - Multi-platform media viewer.

Technical Specifications:

8-VSB (ATSC over-the-air digital TV)
QAM64/256 (unencrypted digital
cable TV)
IR Receiver (signal PC with a standard remote control)
100baseTX high speed network

The HDHomeRun ships with the HDHR device, an AC adapter, ethernet cable and a small paper directing you to the silicondust website for more instructions. Since the software and drivers for this device has been in development since being released, the best place for the latest software and drivers is always their website

The picture at the right is from the SiliconDust website. The top photo shows the front of the HDHR. The left led light is green when there is power to the device. The right side has several led's from left to right:
Ethernet link - Tuner 0 streaming video - Tuner 1 streaming video. - IR detector

The lower picture shows the power plug, ethernet connection, tuner 1 CATV input and tuner 0 CATV input.

Windows BDA Drivers with LiveTV & PVR QAM Tuning

The most exciting thing about the HDHR is the QAM tuner capability. Because SiliconDust has developed Windows BDA drivers, this device can be detected by windows PVR's unlike many other QAM tuners on the market. If you have CableTV and aren't sure what channels you get unencrypted you can research this one of several ways:

  • I started this thread for people to list what unencrypted QAM channels they get for their cable provider in various cities. It also has some links to similar lists.
  • If you have an HDTV in the house with a tuner built in, any HD channels you can get on your TV without the cable box are unencrypted QAM channels
  • With some HDTV cable boxes, there is a maintenance screen that shows you which channels are encrypted or not.

For a nice walkthrough of the setup process for setting up the HDHR with BeyondTV check out ProjectHTPC's guide HERE

And for another how-to based on setting up the HDHR with SageTV's HTPC software check out the guide by HERE

If you are using another HTPC software such as MCE, MediaPortal, GBPVR, Mac or MythTV, go here for instructions to set up your HDHR. Most of the HDHR drivers and software are still in beta, so the instructions will likely change over time.

The software automatically detects the device and updates to the latest firmware & drivers as needed. Once I had everything set up, I went straight to watching live tv over HD. In BeyondTV, watching the QAM, HD channels was seamless. Obviously not having to worry about signal quality was a huge improvement for me as the picture was outstanding. I watched the Kansas Jayhawks lose to UCLA in the NCAA tournament with the best, LiveTV picture I've seen on my HTPC yet.

If you have cable TV, an HDTV and any of the supported PVR softwares, I highly recommend the HDHomeRun. It is very well supported with constant software and driver updates, it doesn't require even getting into your HTPC case and it offers HD channels with no antenna or cable box required. Short of the CableCard, this device is the most powerful addition to your HTPC you can get. If you haven't already, order one today!

You can purchase the HDHomeRun from either of the places listed below:

9thTee $169 PC Alchemy $169

For More on Home Theater PC-related articles Click Here

UPDATE: The HDHomeRun Now Supports Mac via EyeTV

Subscribe to this blog by clicking here