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Elgato HD HomeRun review: Elgato HD HomeRun

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If powerful, inexpensive consoles such as the PS3 and the Xbox 360 turned the once-popular gaming PC into a niche product, then similarly a rash of cheap set-top boxes have crushed the need for the already-niche home theater PC.

Elgato HD HomeRun
7.0

Elgato HD HomeRun

The Good

The <b>Elgato HDHomeRun</b> is an easy-to-install network tuner that can supply free over-the-air HDTV to PC, Mac, and iOS devices in the home. Two tuners let you record or watch two programs at once. The Mac implementation works especially well on a wireless connection. The HomeRun enables users to share tuners across two devices. It comes with EyeTV software for free and works seamlessly with Windows Media Center.

The Bad

TV choices are limited to free antenna-based or unencrypted cable programming. Wireless performance depends on the strength of your network; wired connections offer a smoother experience. The EyeTV isn't very intuitive, and the programming guide software requires a $20-per-year fee after the first year. You'll need to have EyeTV installed and running on a Mac to use it on an iOS device. There are some compression artifacts when viewing on the Mac.

The Bottom Line

The Elgato HDHomeRun is a decent way to get over-the-air TV on your Mac, but its high bandwidth requirements mean you're better off opting for wired rather than Wi-Fi streaming.

Yet, despite the proliferation of Apple TVs and Roku boxes, many people still want to watch TV on their PCs--whether they're hooked up to a separate TV or not. In fact, a recent survey suggests PC users spend an hour and a half a day watching video content on their devices.

If you're serious about using your PC to watch TV, eventually you might want the flexibility of filling its screen with legal, free, live TV channels from an over-the-air HDTV tuner. While USB tuners like the Elgato EyeTV Hybrid are available, they can only be used on the PC they're plugged into, and are not mobile-device-friendly. To the rescue comes the HDHomeRun, which offers two tuners and multiple viewing options.

Two versions
Before we get to the details of the product, let's clear up some confusion. The hardware is created and sold by SiliconDust--but it's also licensed and sold by Elgato. Here's a quick cheat sheet:

SiliconDust HDHomeRun Dual: The version sold by SiliconDust includes no software, and is designed to run with Windows Media Center, which is present on nearly all versions of Windows Vista and Windows 7 except the Starter Edition (usually found on Netbooks). Retail price is $130, but it can be widely found online for $100. As a result, this version is best for Windows users (and for Linux users, who can use MythTV).

Elgato HDHomeRun (reviewed here): In addition to the exact same SiliconDust hardware listed above, the Elgato version of the product includes the EyeTV software for Macs. The Elgato retails for $180, but can be found for as little as $150. Because it includes the EyeTV software ($80 value), it's the best choice for Mac users--including those who want to stream live video to an iPad or iPhone via the EyeTV app.

With that out of the way, let's talk about the product itself.

Design and features
The Elgato HD HomeRun is a twin tuner box that connects to your home network and can serve over-the-air TV to your PC, Mac, or mobile device while in the home. It comes with EyeTV software for Macs. Invest in the $4.99 EyeTV app if you want to also stream video from the Mac to the iPad, iPhone, or iPod Touch.

The dual tuners enable both standard-definition (SD) and high-def (HD) programs to be watched and recorded. It's up to you to supply the antenna. Alternately, you can plug in a raw cable TV connection (straight from the wall jack) to get unencrypted ClearQAM TV channels. Just be aware that more and more cable systems are starting to lock out these channels, so selection may be increasingly limited.

The box itself is quite small--about the size of a pack of cigarettes--with just a power light at the front and an Ethernet port and RF cable connector for the antenna on the back.

The HDHomeRun has no wireless capability, so it needs to be put someplace that has access both to an Ethernet cable (for your home network) and an antenna or cable TV connection, as well as an AC power source. That said, it doesn't have to be near your TV or computer at all--it could be set up in a spare bedroom, an attic, or anyplace else, so long it has access to those three key connections.

As mentioned, the Elgato HDHomeRun ships with drivers and a copy of EyeTV for Mac users. The program includes an electronic program guide that's free for the first year of use. After that, you'll need to shell out $20 per year for the guide data.

For a more detailed description of the EyeTV software--and the EyeTV iOS app--check out the Elgato EyeTV Hybrid review.

Performance
If you want to know how the HDHomeRun experience was on a Windows machine, check out the review of the SiliconDust version of the product.

Setting up the HDHomeRun on the Mac was a little more involved, as the software wouldn't detect the box, but I was presented with a drop-down box and selected it from the menu. The feed was much better, and I could easily watch SD programs without them stuttering, even when watching Aereo through the same router.


Watching the local CBS affiliate, as it appears on the EyeTV software. (You can toggle it to full-screen as well.)

Only during HD programming did the feed stutter and hang, and a wired connection helped here as well. The EyeTV software is a little quirky in that you can only watch or record one channel in a window. You need to open a second window to utilize the second tuner, and instead of prompting you to open a new window if you're recording something, it suggests you stop it to change channels. The picture wasn't as clean as on a PC, with slight ghosting and compression artifacts.

Using the EyeTV app on the iPhone worked fine, but it's a little tricky to change channels--you have to jump back to the main menu. Unlike the desktop versions, you can also tweak the quality settings for slower connections.

Conclusion
If you have a good signal to your router, then the HDHomeRun could be a good option for PC users, with a high-quality picture and ease of use. For Mac users, the enhanced speed on wireless connections is an acceptable trade-off for the reduction in picture quality, but we'd still recommend wired if you want to stream HD or more than one channel.

Elgato HD HomeRun
7.0

Elgato HD HomeRun

Score Breakdown

Design 7Features 7Performance 7