Sling complement candidate #4: HDHomeRun

HDHomeRun Connect tunerMy flu is over, so it’s back to this list. From the first days of hi-fi through roughly the 1980s, a home audio system was something to be assembled. An audiophile would carefully pick out a turntable, a tape deck (reel to reel for fidelity or cassette for convenience), a receiver, and often, a separate tuner. All that tuner component would do is bring in AM and FM signals; it needed an amplifier, often that receiver, for anyone to listen to it.

The fourth possible complement to Sling TV that I saw at the International CES is the TV equivalent to that old tuner component – SiliconDust’s HDHomeRun over-the-air TV tuner. All it does is tune in OTA TV channels and provide them to a local IP-based network. To provide a typical DVR experience, the HDHomeRun requires some help, but the good news is that it’s designed to perform well with others.

Unlike so many products that try to be every viewer’s full solution, the HDHomeRun works simply as the perfect TV tuner for whatever you watch to stitch together. I’ve been using it with my Windows Media Center computers (both Windows 7 and an upgraded Windows 8.1), and it works as easily as a USB-based tuner, with equally snappy channel changes. The HDHomeRun web site features great free support and downloads for using the tuner with Windows Media Center, NextPVRMediaPortal, and the legacy DVRs of SageTV and BeyondTV. Or if you just want to use HDHomeRun to stream live TV to all of the devices on your local network, it handles that too.

Unlike a USB TV tuner or a PC card, the HDHomeRun can be shared by multiple computers. The HDHomeRun won’t help resolve program conflicts (as when three simultaneous recordings are requested from two tuners), but if you can avoid such foolishness, it becomes a great resource for the whole home network.

I still think that if we ever see a truly popular OTA DVR, it’ll be inexpensive to run and easy as a toaster. The TiVo Roamio OTA is about that easy, but not inexpensive. The HDHomeRun has no monthly fees, but it takes a bit of work to fully use its features. Maybe some entrepreneur will pair a bunch of old Windows 7 computers with HDHomeRuns to sell $0/month Windows Media Center solutions to cord-cutters. Or maybe some programmer is working even as I type to create the next generation of free DVRs. If he is, he’s probably got a way to plug in the HDHomeRun.