The HDHomeRun Prime is a network tuner made by Silicon Dust, a company with a vision to “reimagine the DVR”. To be clear, this isn’t exactly a DVR like you would get from your cable or satellite company. HDHomeRun Prime doesn’t have an internal hard drive, an HDMI port, or on operating system. It’s a network tuner. That means it will take a cable signal and convert it for streaming on your network. To use this product as a DVR, you will need an always-on network device to provide the storage, such as a Mac or PC, or a network-attached storage (NAS) device. You’ll also need some kind of DVR software to run on one of these devices.
Silicon Dust is currently beta-testing their DVR software, which requires a yearly subscription (currently offered for $60 for early access builds). If you’re a Plex Pass subscriber, you can also use Plex DVR (beta software as well) to record shows and stream back your devices using the Plex client for your device. If you don’t want to pay for either of these, you can still use the free apps to view live TV on your networked devices.
Since the HDHomeRun Prime doesn’t transcode and output a video signal, you will need either a computer or an Android or Apple TV-type device to get the picture on your TV (I’m currently testing the Amazon Fire TV for this purpose, and it’s worked fine so far). An alternative would be to use the DLNA capabilities of your TV to do the streaming. This is a network tuner, not a TiVo.
If all you want is a way to stream your cable content to your computer or mobile devices (similar to Comcast’s X1 platform), then no additional hardware is required. You will need to be connected to your local WiFi to use the HDHomeRun native app (it won’t work over a cellular connection, even with a VPN to your local network). However, if you’re a Plex user, you can use a Plex add-on (HDHR Viewer or HDGrandSlam) to watch TV on your phone or tablet while on the go.
The HDHomeRun Prime has 3 available tuners. That means that you can watch live TV on one tuner, and record on the other two. Or you can watch live TV, stream to another device, and record on the other one. You can use any combination of live TV, streaming, and recording that you want, but each of these scenarios require one tuner to be used. You can expand the system by adding additional HDHomeRun products.
The HDHomeRun Prime is a 3-tuner network streaming device that accepts a CableCard. In its most basic form, the HDHomeRun Prime allows you to stream live cable TV to all of your digital devices (computers, iDevices, Android phones, FireTV, etc.). But it really shines when you pair it with a NAS or your computer's hard drive, turning it into a capable DVR using either Plex or Silicon Dust's native DVR software. It's reliable in terms of functionality. Setup is simple and it's easy to use. The unit ships with a Quick Setup guide, and the rest of the documentation is found on Silicon Dust's website.
What’s in the box?
Simplicity is a primary goal of Silicon Dust with regards to their hardware and software products. The HDHomeRun Prime is no exception. In the box you’ll find an HDHomeRun Prime, power adapter, Ethernet cable, and a Quick Start Guide.
First of all, to access your cable provider’s channel lineup, you’ll need a CableCard from your cable company. This a small device that inserts into a slot in the back of the HDHomeRun Prime and allows you to decrypt your cable channels. Insert the CableCard in the slot with the pins facing down. The card will stick out the back about 1/2″. My cable provider is Comcast. I initially bought the HDHomeRun Prime to try to do away with the additional outlet fee they were charging me each month. But Comcast won’t budge on dropping the fee. That’s right, whether you use their equipment or your own, they will still charge you the same amount each month. So beware.
Next, you’ll connect the power adapter to the HDHomeRun Prime and plug it into the nearest outlet. Connect the Ethernet cable to a router or switch on your network. You should see the two lights on the left turn green after it boots up.
Now go to Silicon Dust’s download page and get the software for your platform. It’s available for Windows, Mac, and Linux.
Run the installation file and follow the slideshow below:
Slideshow- Tap or click to view
Next you’ll want to download the HDHomeRun app from either the Microsoft Store or Google Play for use on your device. Silicon Dust hasn’t created a native app for iOS yet. Instead they recommend InstaTV Pro (which is also available on all the other mobile platforms- Windows, Android, and Amazon). There’s also not a native app for the Amazon App Store yet.
The native Silicon Dust app will scan your network and find the HDHomeRun Prime. It has a nifty flyout feature for viewing the guide and changing channels, which works well with both touch and mouse devices, but it’s still not as good as a traditional guide.
In my limited time messing around with these apps, I’ve found the Windows universal app version to perform the best. In fact, it’s been flawless, even on a WiFi connection watching HD programming. The Android app has trouble keeping up with the streams and stutters, often freezing. Silicon Dust states on Google Play that the app is in beta and is not yet a fully-featured app, only a demonstration of progress on their Kickstarter DVR project.
What’s the point?
So why go through all the trouble of paying for and installing an HDHomeRun Prime network tuner? I’m a Comcast subscriber and pay for the Xfinity X1 platform. The problem is, the X1 apps are terrible and rarely work. You definitely get reliability with the HDHomeRun Prime hardware, but the Android app still needs a lot of work. If you want to stream on Android, use Plex with an add-on.
I initially looked into using a TiVo Bolt as the solution to our Comcast woes. The first snag I ran into was selling the wife on a $300 DVR (for the 1 TB model) plus the cost of additional receivers. There are probably cheaper solutions, but the TiVo Bolt looked comparable to what we have now. I decided that the HDHomeRun Prime would be the cheapest solution that would meet our needs. When you combine it with a media streaming box, such as the Amazon FireTV, you can completely ditch your cable provider’s additional receivers. Of course, you’ll also be able to watch TV on all of your networked devices.
By choosing to use a CableCard device you’ll lose out on the Comcast features, such as Xfinity On-Demand. If you’re an Amazon Prime or Netflix subscriber, this probably won’t be a big deal.
If you have a little technical knowledge, and want a better way to stream on your network, then I highly recommend taking a look at Silicon Dust’s HDHomeRun Prime.
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