HDHomeRun DVR screenshot

The HDHomeRun DVR’s Discover screen offers good suggestions in lieu of an alphabetical list of what’s available.

Completing my whirlwind day at CES last week was a visit to the SiliconDust hospitality suite where I met with its ever-gracious CEO Theodore Head. He was showing off a great new product, the HDHomeRun Connect Duo+, which combines their best-in-class over-the-air TV tuner technology with DVR software and 250 GB of storage, all built in to one small box. To explain the significance of the Connect Duo+, I’ll need to go back a few years.

SiliconDust has been making HDHomeRun tuners for quite a while, and they’ve always been the perfect ingredient for a homebrew entertainment system, whether that was Windows Media Center, Plex, Kodi (formerly XBMC), or something else. A few years ago, they ran a successful Kickstarter campaign (to which I contributed) to fund the creation of their own DVR system. After months of work, it was ready for beta users to play with, but I ran into self-inflicted problems.

The HDHomeRun DVR could store its recordings on a semi-dedicated PC’s hard drive, but the recommended way was using a Network-Attached Storage (NAS) device. Actually, it required one of a limited set of NAS boxes, but I didn’t pay attention to that part. I rushed off to the computer parts store, bought a cheap NAS and a couple of hard drives, and put it together. Because what I bought wasn’t compatible, it didn’t work. Embarrassed, I put it all aside and got busy with other projects.

In late 2017, I heard a gathering buzz about the DVR, so I got the right NAS this time and was able to get it set up somewhat easily. It’s amazing how well the right parts work! The DVR functions well, though I still use my Tablo for OTA recording and playback on a regular basis. I’d go into a full description, but TechHive already did that just a couple of weeks ago. Its review of the DVR is harsh but not inaccurate; TechHive loved the hardware but wrote, “Unfortunately, HDHomeRun DVR is still too rough to recommend”.

That’s why the Connect Duo+, when it ships later this year, will be a huge step forward. Instead of needing to download software and set up a NAS, the user should be able to just plug in this box and watch. The amount of storage is just a bit limiting, but it should appeal to customers who doesn’t want to buy an external USB drive or identify, purchase, and assemble the right NAS. You know, regular people. I look forward to giving it a try once it’s released.

Two men on a stage in front of a crowded room

Ben Sherwood, right, interviewed by Variety co-editor-in-chief Andrew Wallenstein at CES

Wednesday morning at CES, Ben Sherwood, president of Disney-ABC Television Group, sounded upbeat about his division’s prospects for the coming few years. “I’ve been at this long enough to know that every decade obituaries are written about broadcast,” he said. “In my view, the sky is not falling; I think the sky is rising.”

Interviewed by Variety co-editor-in-chief Andrew Wallenstein, Sherwood declined comment on Disney’s proposed purchase of some Fox Studio assets, though he added, “Personally, I’m extremely excited about it.”

The Disney direct-to-home streaming service won’t begin until 2019, though Sherwood said that his group was “heavily involved” in its preparation. An ESPN+ streaming service should start in Spring 2018. He said that Disney’s timeless characters and content would provide “an irresistible family service” for households and kids.

The expansion of distribution methods has fractured the audience, but viewers are watching more video than ever. “It’s a critical period, but I would say that it’s always been a critical period,” Sherwood said.

 

Small cylinder with cords

A Stream+ unit, with a quick-connect coax cable, in the Channel Master suite

Although I had been unsure whether a visit to CES this year was going to be worth it, I came back pretty happy. Not only did I get an in-person visit with Channel Master‘s new Stream+ over-the-air DVR and streaming TV receiver, I also got to check out the company’s new quick-connect coax cable and indoor SMARTenna+. All that was near the end of my day, so let me first tell you more about everything else.

Because of other commitments, I commuted from home to CES yesterday, taking the first flight in the morning and the last one to return that night. As I wrote a couple of years ago, this is not recommended for casual CES fans. There’s no way to see all of the show in less than two days, and it wouldn’t be hard to find interesting educational conference tracks for a longer stay. On the other hand, for someone like me focused on one topic and within a two-hour flight of Las Vegas, it is possible to put on blinders and cover just the relevant exhibitors in one long day.

After picking up my press badge at the Las Vegas Convention Center, I went over to the “C Space” area in the Aria. That’s where I saw an interview with Ben Sherwood, president of Disney-ABC Television Group, of which I will write more tomorrow.

Next, I took another shuttle over to the exhibit halls at the Sands, which includes Eureka Park. With its low ceilings and science-fair atmosphere, Eureka Park is a little claustrophobic, but it’s got the most new ideas per square foot anywhere. It’s the place to meet such companies as Solaborate, which makes a device to use a TV as a collaborative whiteboard, and CloviTek, which makes a wifi audio transmitter for TVs, but this year I just couldn’t find much there to excite me.

While I was at Eureka Park, my phone got a notification that there was a power outage at the LVCC. A half hour later, I was on the bus heading back there anyway. I started in the Central Plaza (what other shows might call the front parking lot) where I caught up with Google. All those attendees that had been evacuated from the blacked-out Central Hall had to go somewhere, which might have been a reason why the Google booth’s tours were already booked solid for the rest of the day. At least I got a few photos. Directly across the aisle was the Amazon Treasure Truck promoting an Alexa-empowered smoke detector (that could do much more, of course). By the time I finished my rounds and walked back over to the convention center, the lights were back on.

In the back of the South Hall there were a few companies, such as MyGica, pitching Android TV boxes, but the visit I was anticipating was in Channel Master’s suite at the Westgate Hotel next to the convention center. The Stream+ was exactly as described, using Google’s Live Channels app to display the OTA guide data. They haven’t started shipping units yet, and I hope to give one a more thorough test after I get it.

Channel Master was also proud of its SMARTenna, even though I think it has too many upper-case letters. It’s an indoor antenna that can scan different reception patterns to get the most channels from a given spot. What surprised me were the new push-on coax connectors. When I tried one, it was as simple and fast as any old cheap push-on connector, but this new one had a real grip on the threads that resisted accidental unplugging. The SMARTenna is expected to begin shipping within a few months, and again I look forward to trying one in my basement torture chamber. (I mean, it’s torture for the OTA TV antennas that I plug into my “ancient” 720p HDTV set, sitting across from a pile of old satellite TV receivers.)

My last visit of the day was with SiliconDust, makers of the superb HDHomeRun series of OTA tuners. Over the past few weeks, I’d started really trying out its DVR software, and that tale belongs with this visit. It’ll be another of the stories that I’ll be unspooling for the next few days.

While you wait for more, here’s one more photo of some Google workers getting ready for the start of another day at CES in front of their giant gumball machine.

About a dozen white-clad Google employees circled in conversation next to a 30-foot high gumball machine

 

Woman in white suit waiting in front of a landing pad

A Google helper awaits another satisfied visitor at the bottom of its twisty slide

I dodged the #CESblackout (more on that tomorrow), and I would be remiss if I didn’t point out that Google had its Central Plaza booth dried out and working just fine today. In fact, by the time I dropped by around 1 pm, its booth tours were booked for the rest of the day.

My meetings are later this afternoon, so I’ll post a lot more tomorrow after I get back to FreeTVBlog World Headquarters, but I wanted to share a photo of at least one Google employee. I wonder what her job title is.

By all accounts, Google’s presence at this year’s CES is huge, with branding on the monorail, a 30-foot gumball machine, and a large tent in front of the convention center. The goal is to promote Google Assistant as an alternative to Amazon’s Alexa. But today it’s raining in Las Vegas, which really does happen now and then, and the Google tent can’t handle it. Frederic Lardinois of TechCrunch wrote, “For now, the booth is closed, with tarps covering the roof and all of the electronics inside and out.” Not auspicious.

The silver lining to this rainstorm, for me anyway, is that Las Vegas never looks better than it does after a rain. With all the dust and crud knocked out of the air, the views of the distant desert mountains are really sharp. I plan to check that out in person tomorrow.