Wednesday, July 25, 2007

HDHomeRun and EyeTV

[Update: check out Signal GH, an iPhone utility for monitoring the signal quality of an HDHomerun].
Cruising the AVS Forum Mac Home Theatre Forum I was gratified to see El Gato and Silicon Dust had come to together and done the obvious: bundle El Gato's best on platform EyeTV DVR software with Silicon Dust's networked HDHomerun high definition digital tuner.

This only makes sense, as El Gato no longer makes the closest approximation to the HDHomerun, the long lamented EyeTV 500 Firewire tuner with its support for digital over the air broadcasts and unencrypted cable streams. The HDHomerun can do both functions only better:
  • Two independent tuners
  • Shareable between computers
  • Placeable closer to roof antennas
  • Uses ubiquitous Ethernet port instead of specialized Firewire

If I were putting together a home theatre PC, the HDHomerun is the only ATSC/QAM tuner I would consider; it's just so much more flexible than something tied to a single computer.

Plus, using EyeTV with my HDHomerun cost nothing extra. I already owned a copy of EyeTV 2 and El Gato tech support gave me a link to the 2.4.2 update for free. New purchasers of a HDHomerun can get an EyeTV bundle for $200, meaning El Gato is charging $30 for a two seat license above the $170 price for just the HDHomerun.

The first problem was figuring out I had to run the Setup Assistant from the Help menu so EyeTV could find the HDHomerun; which it quickly did; and it immediately came up streaming 2 digital channels in separate windows. Then I had it search for available channels which took over an hour—812 frequencies @ 5 seconds each—using the exhaustive option. It found 15 digital sub-channels in my area, which is a bit low; but it is the height of summer and tree leaves down the street block my path to the Boston antenna farm. A later quick search found 12 channels, so the exhaustive search may be worth it. It would be nice if it would just take the information from my TitanTV account. Maybe El Gato could speed this up by using both tuners. A second exhaustive scan the next morning found 19 sub-channels.

At this point, I could watch TV, in fact, I could watch 2 separate TV streams at once on my MacBook, with sound from the frontmost stream. Not that I would make a habit of doing so; the combined effort of decoding 2 1080i streams into half sized windows takes 175% of a core, leaving a measly 25% to do anything else. Also, I was reminded of EyeTV's annoying habit of resizing the window every time a standard definition commercial comes on. Remember to fix the ratio at 16:9.

As I can watch HD from my MythTV via my home's 802.11g network, I was hoping to watch live TV direct from the HDHomerun over wireless, but this brought sputtering, stopping, and ugliness; El Gato should improve EyeTV's behavior over an unreliable network. Still, I have the whole house wired with Cat-6 Ethernet cable, so I have some flexibility.

EyeTV allows you to update the firmware to the HDHomerun quite easily. Much more easily than manually downloading the firmware and flashing the device with the HDHomerun's Windows utility. This is typical of EyeTV's nearly painless experience. EyeTV is the best I've seen at live TV viewing, and I've tried MythTV, VLC and SageTV (on the PC). I haven't tried it's DVR functionality, because I actually use my MacBook, and can't devote it to the task; if and when I get a Mac Mini for the TV room, I will give it a try. I just wish there was something to watch in the summer; I've 3 tuners in the house and nothing to see.