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HDHomeRun Prime: End Cable Box Rental Fees!

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Over the last ten years, I've spent nearly $2000 on Comcast HD-DVR... and it's time for a change!

A few months back, I wrote about an article: 6 Comcast Secrets… Some of Them Dirty. One of the secrets was that you can't buy a cable box. They hook you into renting it, month after month, year after year. If you are anything like me, you are addicted to DVR now. I have Comcast and it's bundled into my HDTV cable box. Together HD and DVR form a lethal addictive combination. The price? $16 a month for me. That's a lot more than our free-ish landline phone service from Ooma (taxes are still required as well as a $150 up-front fee with the hardware).

I've always felt that you shouldn't be forced to rent physical hardware. I understand paying for service. Companies providing a service month after month should get fees to recoup those ongoing costs. Physical hardware like cable boxes - there's no ongoing cost to the cable company. I've paid Comcast $192 a year ($16 x 12 months) for a box. Over ten years, this is where the $2000 comes into play.

One thing that I've always disliked about DVR service, is that it is essentially a hard drive with some software behind it. The software isn't anything complex. In fact, there are free, open source options like MythTV. In an ideal world, consumers should just have to buy a hard drive at a one-time fixed cost, install the free software, and enjoy the awesomeness of DVR. We don't live in an ideal world. We live in a world where corporations would love to continue to collect nearly $200 a year for a piece of hardware that should cost around $200 total. Sound crazy? Perhaps. However, cable companies DVRs differ from regular cable boxes in that they have the DVR software (the aforementioned free MythTV) and a 500GB hard drive that is my total storage costs around $50 on Amazon. That still leaves about $150 for the rest of the cable box... and I'm guessing it doesn't cost one-third that. In short, the margins for the cable companies on these products are insanely high.

A few years back people got upset that they couldn't buy a cable box and a cable box was required to get all the channels that you are entitled to. (I could go into the difference between encrypted and unencrypted QAM television channels, but that is a whole other article suitable for a more technology heavy site). The answer to this problem was CableCARD a standard that allows the cable companies to provide you with a credit card-sized, well, card. This card can be used in televisions and other devices that support it. Good luck finding a television supporting it today. I vaguely remember seeing televisions with that option about 4 or 5 years ago. Today a search of Best Buy shows no televisions with a CableCARD slot. A search of Amazon shows a few that seem to confirm that they existed years and years ago.

The two most popular devices that support CableCARD from my mind seem to be Tivo and Moxi cable boxes. Most of you are probably familiar with Tivo, but for those who aren't they are considered to be the father of DVR. Unfortunately, you still have to buy the hardware and there's a monthly subscription to the service (at what appears to be $20 a month). It looks like you may be able to get lifetime service for $500 on top of the service. (It's worth mentioning that the lifetime service is the life of the device, not the life of the buyer. Considering only one of those two can be legally considered alive, I would love to see someone challenge this marketing in court.) The Moxi box is similar to Tivo. It costs around $600 and you get free lifetime service. However, these boxes are limited in that you pay for the amount of recording space and can't expand it without buying a whole new device (and with it a new "lifetime" of service). If your cable company offers a free CableCARD (as Comcast does), you can break even in a little more than 3 years. That's not too bad, but it's not great.

We can (and will) attempt to do better...

When it comes to technology, I like to push the envelope. Regular readers know that I'm weird, so this next statement shouldn't surprise anyone. It makes my heart beat a little faster when technology enable us to do more than what we could previously do. (This is what motivates me to write an article about DVR.) I feel like this society progressing and we are getting real value for our lifestyle inflation.

So with that in mind, I present you with a couple of other alternatives to end those cable box rental fees. I present to you the HDHomeRun Prime from SiliconDust. This is a product that I've been watching for the last 6 months. Recently they announced that you can "pre-order" it for delivery in late July. (This should tell you the potential of the product.)

The HDHomeRun Prime changes the HD-DVR game. This is a box has it all. It connects to a Windows Media Center computer which allows you expand the hard drive space. Your recording space is not tied to the device. This big change from Tivo or Moxi mean that you won't have to delete shows. In fact, adding 2 terabytes of external hard disk space (4 times the 500GB that I have now) can be found for around $70 (if you catch the right deal). What sets the HDHomeRun Prime apart from the competition is that it takes a CableCARD, which allows it to give you full cable box functionality and giving you all your cable channels including subscription ones like HBO.

Here's a video explaining how it works:

This should be enough to replace a Comcast HD-DVR. However there are two other advantages. If you have a home network, you can watch the shows on the computer-DVR in any room - as long as you have an XBox or Media Center Extender. I did some research and the Media Center Extenders are a little expensive. There are some cheap options out there, but the prices are like DVR cable boxes - more expensive than they should be. I think that they'll come down in time, but I think this feature is "a nice extra." For some this feature allows people to get HD-DVR functionality in many rooms for a fixed price per room (at worst $200 per room for an XBox).

The other advantage is that the HDHomeRun Prime comes with 3 or 6 tuners. Normal DVRs (Tivo, Comcast) come with 2 tuners. What does this mean? With 2-tuners you can record 2 channels in real time. If you are doing that, you can not watch another show - you are limited to watching previously taped shows or one of the two that you are recording. With 3 tuners you can record 2 channels and watch a different third channel. Or you can record three channels at a time while watching a previous recording. With 6 tuners, well, let's just say you can go ape wild with your recording - especially with the amount of disk space that you have available to you. The sky is the limit.

I know you might be thinking, "But I have to have a Windows Media Center to make this happen." It is true. It is a string that is attached to the deal. However, I paid $300 for a desktop to put near my television and I've found it came with benefits without the HDHomeRun Prime. My wife and I use it to stream Hulu and Netflix. In addition we subscribe to MLB.TV to watch Red Sox games in California which saves us money over buying "MLB Extra", the cable equivalent.

My thinking is that spending $300 for a Media Center Computer, plus $250 the 3-tuner HDHomeRun Prime gets you more features and more flexibility than Tivo or Moxi. You can go the extra mile and spend, $300 (computer), $500 for the 6-tuner HDHomeRun Prime, and $70 for a 2TB drive, and essentially not have to think about limitations with DVR. At some future point you can add another external hard drive, but I'm guessing that by that time, there will be 4TB drives for under $100.

Mathematically, the 3-tuner HDHomeRun Prime pays off still pays off in around 3 years. Although if you have a spare computer and a Microsoft Media Center license it pays off in around 14 months. It pays big dividends if you want to add more space. It is impossible to give the same comparison with the 6-tuner HDHomeRun Prime, since it has much more functionality. I can only suggest that compared to Tivo and Moxi it is a much better deal - more tuners, more flexibility to add space, access to a full computer allowing you stream many services as well as your music - it's value is well worth looking into.

I would be remiss if I didn't mention an alternative product that was highlighted in CNET Cheapstake this week, the Ceton InfiniTV 4 tuner card. This is a card that gives you 4 tuners and CableCARD access like the HDHomeRun Prime. However, you need to install it in your computer. That's a technological challenge for some. It also means that you have to buy an expandable computer as your media center. My wife would prefer that we get a Dell Zino (or similar small computer) to hide the cords.

Please, please (I'm on my knees), give me feedback on this idea. It is a rare occasion that I write 600 words and I'm over 1600. I'd love to convince Energi Gal (my wife) to go in this direction, but she's very protective of her television.

I should note that as I post this I have had no contact with HDHomeRun Prime. I would like to think that they see this and send me a 6-tuner version to review. Silicon Dust, perhaps you could help me convince my wife that this is a good idea. She requires great usability which is potential deal-breaker. At this point I can't guarantee that and I can't risk it. I would love to write a follow-up hands-on review about how it works in a real environment. At this point, I'm handcuffed by status quo. Help me, help you!

Posted on June 7, 2011.

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39 Responses to “HDHomeRun Prime: End Cable Box Rental Fees!”

  1. This isn’t really adding to your post, but I’m now 2 weeks into life without cable. We hooked up your highly recommended Mohu Leaf antenna – which, as others have mentioned on the Lazy Man blog – works beautifully (but sometimes you have to play with it for certain channels). Our current laptop doesn’t have an HDMI connector, but it does have (like all computers) a VGA port which we run sound/video from. Between Hulu and the network sites, we get most of the content we used to pay for for free. Now, I should put the disclaimer here: most of what we used to watch was network-based anyway when we paid for cable. We never had the premium channels (like HBO or Starz) and opted for RedBox for the newly released movies. I thought that I would miss having a DVR (the biggest reason why we held onto cable for so long). So far, though, being DVR-free hasn’t been much of a hassle. Not having Time Warner’s obnoxious DVR box not only saves money, it frees up space.

  2. Sun says:

    I guess if you like TV enough to subscribe to all the channels. I liked the basic channels on Comcast (Travel, Discover, Food, etc) but we ended up canceling our service and making do with Hulu, Netflix, and the various free TV the networks show.

    I wouldn’t mind a DVR option for free to air. I like the functionality of a DVR, but not willing to pay cable prices.

  3. Cassie says:

    Lazy Man, I’m with you being forced to rent a piece of equipment is a rip-off –it’s like way back when people rented their telephone for years, paying for them many times over.

    We used to have a similar setup from Brighthouse and we also become addicted to the DVR. We never watched anything that we had not already recorded. We even recorded sports and would watch the game 30 minutes delayed so we could fast forward through the commercials.

    Last month we cut the cable, for us it just seemed like a lot of money for what we were getting. I blogged about it here, http://beyonddave.com/2011/05/cutting-the-cable/

    I bought a Roku XD for $80 to stream video and a OBI110 for $49 to replace my cable bundled phone number with a free Google number.

    We have an antenna but only seem to use it in the am to watch the local weather. We mostly use our MLB subscription, Netflix and HuluPlus So far, we are not missing the cable but football season is coming and it could be an issue.

    What do you record off cable that you can’t get off HuluPlus or Netflix?

    I’m still very much a newbie at this cable alternatives thing and I look forward to learning from your experience.

  4. Evan says:

    I am confused about one thing. Can’t comcast just decide not to provide you with a card anymore? or charge you the same price for the card as the DVR box?

    Theoretically, isn’t it possible that they get rid of the DVR rental fee and just make it a cable card fee?

  5. Big-D says:

    A couple of things I would like to add. @Evan – According to the FCC they are required to provide these cards for a low monthly price. If comcast has them for free now – that is fine. In the future they have to be under $5 a month per FCC regs. @Sun – OTA antennas and TV cards with windows media center. Use and X-BOX to play it on your TV. That is what I do. @lazy. Watch the services provided w/ the card. Cable Cards are not required to provide the extra services provided with digital boxes. My provider strips everything (all on demand, menus, premium channels, schedules, etc.) from the card and only provides the basic channels. They will provide the HD channels for a $10 fee, and not premium channels like Starz or HBO, etc as they are considered interactive. Just watch what they provide is all I am asking.

    Have fun .. I have kicked cable to the curb and use my 4 OTA tuners to record what I want.

  6. Honestly, where do you find time for all this?

    I do not watch TV, we go to the movies, or read books, talk, do something.

    When you look at average household bill – it is eye poping! I took time to analyze our expenditure over last three years.

    Additional 2000 a year would be among the biggest expenditures.

  7. Boone says:

    I gave up on a setup like this a few years back. For years I tried various setups without going the digital cable/DVR route.

    I had a quite an expensive Alienware PC with XP media center with built-in tuners. It held everything I needed and DVR’d my basic cable subscription which was about $35 at the time. It actually worked quite well until I bought a new big screen plasma. Big problem, no HD.

    So I switched over to a Mac Mini running EyeTV software, still had the basic cable but inserted a HDHomerun to pass through the unencrypted HD local stations. No cable card slot in the original HDHR. Other problem was some occasional freezing resulting in blank DVR recordings.

    I’m technical. My wife is not. If you are not home and your wife is, expect phone calls.

    It’s nice to think a $300 PC will run HD for hours a day, everyday. But I think you’ll have some issues now and again.

    Now I have a cheap, HD only package from Dish Network for about $50 a month. I have an Ooma line. Netflix subscription and an Apple TV. So in all my “entertainment” bill still comes in at about $110 a month (SAT, Internet, Netflix, Ooma). I’m honestly thinking about ditching the Dish. Watching live sports over the air for free and just renting individual shows from Apple. In the end I can’t see us buying $600 worth of TV and I dont think we would miss anything we normally watch now.

  8. I think it is an interesting idea. Like you i use to be addicted to my cable subscription and DVR but since i canceled cable and turned to online programing (hulu and netflix) i dont find myself ever needing to record shows.

    Now on the other hand i have recently added an indoor antenna into the mix (which provides me access local channels in HD for free) and my question is: does the HDHomeRun Prime allow you to record OTA programming?

    I know the Tivo Premier does, and many are huge fans of the device because of it.

    Also I would like to quote one sentence “It makes my heart beat a little faster when technology enable us to do more than what we could previously do.” As i feel the same way. ;)

  9. TJ says:

    I’m in also, let me know if they send 2 to review, i’d be happy to take one and test it out.

    I had the original tivo, still have it but don’t use it since it can’t do HD. I also have a 50″ LG plasma with a built in DVR and cablecard slot. It’s getting old (~6 years now) but does the job – and no rental fee from comcast. the recording is no where as slick as tivo, but gets the job done.

    To the comment about comcast charging more for a cablecard – I believe there is a law or something that limits them to charging. Our old cable company would charge $2/month for hte cable card, when comcast bought them, that $2 disappeared, it’s free.

    I wish I could dump cable also, but the kids love disney, wife loves A&E, National Geographic, HGTV, and Foodnetwork – not sure how much is on hulu.

  10. Charles Babcock says:

    No OTA on the Prime. Also, +1 for going without the cable entirely. I do OTA on a tuner and I do pay for Hulu Plus. I run it all through PlayOn + TubeCore + WMC7 out to the TV via HDMI w/audio passthorugh. I also access the same rig via a XBOX 360 elsewhere in the house.

  11. Mark Church says:

    Hello! This is exactly what I’ve been working on for the past few years, beginning in 2007 when cablecard was first available for the PC via the ATI external digital cable tuner. I was frustrated to get it working at that time due to the limits placed on the technology, but since Windows 7 was released these limits were removed making my project begin in earnest. I am trying to get HD digital cable throughout the house using primarily a cablecard solution. I pre-ordered the Prime when it was first announced, and am waiting for it to be sent. Comcast will be allowing consumers to self-install cablecards beginning Aug 1st, meaning the $20 fee for a truck roll is no longer necessary for the initial install. In my set up I have three Windows 7 computers (Acer Revo 3600 ‘intel atom 330 dual core’ w/ 4gb memory and 500gb HDD/Sony F113 ‘i7 quad core’ w/ 6gb mem and 500GB HDD/ HP Pavillion HPE 410f ‘AMD 2.7ghz hexa core’ w/ 8gb mem and 1tb HDD) connected together on a gigabit switch ready to connect the HD HR Prime to my home network. I have Cat 6 ethernet cables stretched from the upstairs, to the middle floor, and on to the basement. It isn’t pretty, but it should make a fast network for the HD signal. I use Comcast HD cable on one non-dvr box besides the Prime when it comes. I also use netflix streaming only and Hulu + and rarely use Comcast on demand. The acer is a nettop which should be powerful enough to stream live tv, and the sony laptop i7 and the HP desktop x6 core (my main media hub for recording) will be strong enough to stream HD and make recordings. The computer you use to power the cablecard experience is the most important choice to make in my opinion. But the cost savings over all is definitely worth it. I have been using QAM on three HD tv’s (19″/24″/32″) which double as computer monitors and putting the HD comcast ‘xfinity’ box on one 42″ plasma. I have collected together this armada of equipment in the last few years after the comcast digital migration made many of my former arrangements useless and I began to make the slow transition to all HD service. The HD HR Prime has been the key to this move the whole time. It should be kept in mind that I will have to pay the 9.25 (in my area) fee for each HD outlet, but I will forego paying for the HD box, as you have pointed out, using this method. This means one extra outlet fee, besides my non-dvr HD box already in use. I think you will end up paying more than $300 for a HTPC (home theater PC), probably $400-500 if you want it to be powerful enough to record and watch live tv at the same time as well as other PC tasks. It’s really up to your taste though. I will buy an XBOX to use as an extender this winter, the 4gb model as I don’t play console games very often. External 2tb HDD run about $90 now and are what I plan to use as DVR extenders on my computers, at least one of which will be a usb 3.0 WD HDD. For my use only the Prime will suffice, as I will use Win 7 machines on a network as my cablebox/dvr replacement so it was easy to ignore the Ceton. The trouble with the 6-tuner Prime is it require 2 cable cards, but since in my area the 1st cable card on the 1st device is free and the second cablecard on the first device only cost $1.50, it doesn’t matter that much. I will be returning my initial digital starter cable box which is standard def when I pickup my cablecard self install kits, making my bill as inexpensive as possible. I think this will be a good option, but it must be kept in mind computers always call for more attention and effort than standard ‘dumb’ comcast equipment so that could be a drawback for some. But I love to waste time doing this type of stuff so its fun for me. It should also be noted that Windows 7 is easily the most reliable microsoft product in years and this generation of cablecard equipment have been very easy and reliable, so there musn’t be too much trouble with all this. That’s my hope. I laid down a chunk of change for all the equipment already, but I would have done that anyhow. I have a Vista sony lt35e (core 2 duo 2.1 ghz 3mg mem 640gb HDD) which I have used as a DVR using Media Center and one of the Comcast DTAs (digital transport appliances) for the past two years or so and I love media center. It has been very reliable and easy to use, and using the Wifi Remote app (Hal Computing) on my iphone (3.99usd) I can use my iphone as a full Windows Media Center remote on all my computers, Windows 7 x3 and Vista x1. I have 2 2TB HDD usb 2.0 external drives and another 1TB external usb 2.0 HDD that I plug into my Sony as needed to record all my programming interests for the recent couple of years and it’s great to have that freedom. But the Vista experience is still not HD so my move to windows 7 will give me access to HD on all floors of my townhome, along with one central living room HD comcast box. This is probably overkill for some, but its just me with no oversight so I can spend what I want if I can and just let go and experiment, and since all my friends have had HD for years it has been a great side project to try and move to full HD with a penny pinching fantasy driving my over all upgrade. I hope you can give it a shot!

  12. Mark Church says:

    If you get the Dell Zino get the pimped out one with the bluray on it with the quad core– looks like the ultimate entertainment model for $550. Before I bought the HP six core I was about to buy this exact system so I believe it has the juice to power the cablecard system. It’s still a little slow at 1.8ghz, but he quad core and the 4gb of mem probably smooth it all out. It is a fine machine in all respects, just make sure you add on the media remote from the options menu if you don’t have an iphone to use as a WMC wifi remote. When I got my i7 sony laptop, technically only 1.6 ghz (as my revo is 1.6ghz), the turbo boost in the i7 intel CPU spolied me as it can rise to 2.8ghz as needed. That is why I opted for the AMD 2.7 ghz with x6 cores for another $250 last christmas. If you don’t need the processer speed, the quad core is totally stron enough and will easily drive hulu+ at the 720p speed and may even rate enough for HD Netflix which I like an awful lot. My acer revo at 1.6 ghz w/ dual core isn’t powerful enough for HD on Netflix streaming because netflix uses microsoft silverlight and they have not yet finished optimizing the new beta release of silverlight 5, due to be complete by the year’s end, to allow lower power machines like the acer and its weaker CPU to stream the full HD signal from netflix. Both youtube and hulu+ use flash which IS optimized to use the graphics card to display HD signal, rather than the system CPU, already. I just thought I would give my notes about the Zino in case it would be useful to you or your readers, but you seem to know quite a bit about everything already. I use my revo for everything but more CPU is fun to drive. I can’t think of another small form computer that really fits the bill, as the quad core is a dynamite solution and makes blu-ray easy. I’m still curious myself if a fully stacked apple mini might be used, via bootcamp for windows 7, to receive HD HR Prime. Somehow I doubt it, but one never knows. I think it is a really nice small footprint machine. You may also think about the ASROCk HT100 over at new egg for $650 w/ bluray, 4gb memory, dualcore sandybridge (ver 2) i3 with intel HD graphics for another small footprint computer. Finally, I have to say my laptop, which is closed always and is connected via HDMI to my Plasma, is a great small footprint machine and you might consider that kind of solution. Using a Loop pointer as a wifi ‘airmouse’ and a wifi keyboard, the laptop becomes a nice solution hid away. Well, best of luck!

  13. Jack says:

    I’m thinking of setting up a HDHomeRun Prime with MythTV and using an Apple TV2 in my bedroom and living room to control Myth using XBMC. I can’t seem to find anything that says that I’ll be able to play live TV using the ATV, but even if I can’t then I think I’ll still do an ATV in the bedroom and a normal Myth front-end in the living room. Can’t wait until the HDHR Prive is released and reviewed.

  14. vicrod says:

    HD Homerun prime sounds like a good solution for multiple TV’s and it saves you a lot cash on cablebox rentals, but for each TV’s in your house it means you have buy a PC. There are no cheap alternate hardware box you just turn on and go. You still require PC for each TV. I can build one for under 300 dollars or so, but I’m adding extra expenses to a home project just to save 30 bucks or so… Let me put it to you this way. If you have multiple PC’s around your house you OK, but if you only have 1 PC, you’re screwed because you have to either build one buy one. To get my point across, HD Homerun only offers half the solution but not a complete Home theater solution.

  15. Lazy Man says:

    Vicrod,

    I don’t believe it is entirely true that you need a PC for each TV in your house. You could also use a Windows Media Center Extender, or an Xbox 360. You could get a used Xbox for $150 on Ebay, which seems to be the easiest solution because almost all Windows Media Center Extenders seem to be discontinued. This, in theory (someone try it and get back to me), would give you a plug and play solution that would let you access all your media from any with an Xbox attached.

    The $150 for the Xbox 360 is a one-time charge that may start paying dividends after the first year verses renting a box from the cable company. Of course, your mileage may vary based on what rates you are renting at. Also, it may pay off sooner if you can get value out of using the Xbox for its intended purpose :-). I’m not very familiar with the Xbox 360. I presume it plays DVDs like my PS2, so it also has that advantage.

  16. […] HP (one for me and one for my wife) on Friday night for around $200. This leaves me $300 for an HDHomeRun Prime, which would eliminate my cable box […]

  17. SavingFreak says:

    Lets start with the myth that the cable company is ripping you off. Each box the cable company buys costs them around $400. You see there are no open source digital cable solutions for your cable company. The hardware for one head end costs a cool $500K. Basically the manufacturer’s of the hardware are killing us all.

    They cable companies make almost no profit on the programming. Almost all the profit goes to the programmers (ESPN, CNN, NBC, ETC.). No cable company wants to raise prices but they are forced to because all the programmers keep raising prices.

    Now I am very close to dumping cable tv but the one piece I cannot figure out is live sports. ESPN is guarding this one as much as they can and holding us all hostage to the cable/satellite companies.

  18. […] with that in mind that I thought about looking back to an article that I wrote three months ago: HDHomeRun Prime: End Cable Box Rental Fees! That article described how with a Microsoft Media Center (included in my Dell Zino) can combine […]

  19. Cyborg says:

    My family has been using OTA for about 1.5 years now, thats saving 60$ a month in feeds from a Cable/SAT provider. This is an excellent and less complicated solution to setup than the Prime, Silcondust makes a straight up OTA tuner box that can be had for 99.00-129$ depending on whether you catch it on sale. We get about 60 stations in our city and this is way more then enough HD programming without even using cable or Sat. The only station the kids would like that we dont have is Disney but frankly we can catch some of the reruns of disney programming on the regular networks and we compliment this solution with Netflix and Hulu. The netflix is 7.99 a month streaming only. I dont even have time to watch all the shows we currently record and the picture quality is Amazing. You dont have do deal with the compression that comcast and the like use. You get the HD stream straight from the TV station to your home. Anyways this is a practical way if your not locked into needing a premium station. If the networks would consider it I would be willing to pay a small month fee to stream just the premium station I want. Such as 2.99 for Disney. I personally dont think its worth any more then that because we have some much content already, also we use KidZui and the kids can catch alot of cartoons on that. Its basically a whitelist browser for the younger kids. Add OpenDNS for content filtering and Dad and Mom are very happy to be saving the money and have a safer techie home.

  20. Lazy Man says:

    Thanks Cyborg. I’ve been a fan of cutting the cable for some time. I’ve written about a half dozen articles on it. There’s still some things like ESPN that we tend to watch. It’s also worth considering that it is a family decision and not just one person’s.

  21. […] some time I've been writing about ending my cable box rental fees, but I haven't been able to pull the trigger. For those who haven't […]

  22. Steve says:

    @Cyborg – What is the name of this SiliconDust OTA tuner?

    I would like to be able to record OTA TV, store it on a cheapo hard drive, and replay it commercial free (especially after our kid goes to bed). But it seems like every possible solution has some combination of the drawbacks: costs $600+, monthly subscription fee, requires cable subscription, have to fiddle with it endlessly.

  23. Lazy Man says:

    I’m not Cyborg, but I think he’d be using this: http://www.silicondust.com/products/hdhomerun/atsc/.

  24. Old and Slow says:

    You like to push the envelope. I don’t even know where the envelope is! While I expect to get value for my money, I am willing to pay. What I want is SIMPLICITY. I thought I’d discovered the answer with CableCARD TV. Now I can’t find one to buy. I want access to all the channels I pay for, with no box or multiple remotes. I have been a Comcast customer for years but over the air is looking better all the time. If it weren’t for the sports channels I’d be there already.
    Surely the industry is overlooking a chunk of the market who just wants the basics without needing much technical skill to use them. Do you have any suggestions for me?
    Thanks,
    Old and Slow

  25. […] a year ago, I got pretty excited about the Silicon HDHomeRun Prime that was coming to market. It came with the promise of ending cable box rental fees… fees that […]

  26. Mike Sirois says:

    I loved the topic and it is something I am knee deep into. I have the HD Homerun Prime and got rid of my FiOS DVR box. I keep a simple box on the side as a backup and for on-demand. Windows 7 Media center is run on my main PC as well as a pair of ZOTAC Z-BOX computers which are low-profile Blu-ray capable boxes with HDMI. I think the ZBOX and Atom processor is terrible for overall system performance but it still streams HD fine and can record 2 channels while watching a 3rd without any negative performance issues. This is probably due to the NVidia guts. My next one will be at least an i3.

    As some posted, the benefits go beyond Media Center. I too use HULU and Netflix, plus we listen to music from my extensive collection over the network and browse pictures. I love that I can centralize all of my media activities with one box which fully integrates with the rest of my network. One of the better benefits of this is in how FiOS delivers the stream. They do not seem to use the broadcast flags because I seem to have an ‘any room DVR’ system by default. By sharing my media folders at each MC system, I can access these recordings from any other system without DRM restrictions. They automatically show up in the recorded TV section! This is HUGE for me. Remote Potato is pretty good for remote access too.

    Unlike those who are looking to cut the cord, I find greater value in the pay TV options. I rarely watch that vapid junk on network TV. This medium has digressed so much over the past few years that even the news isn’t dependable. Sports. That’s it. That’s all I need from the big 3.

    What troubles me is the future. Cable companies resisted CableCard and only do so under regulations imposed by the FCC. If the cable companies had their way, we would not have this option. As a result, promotion of this technology has been nil and has influenced device and TV makers away from this sort of tech. There are so few options on the market to take advantage of this now and I fear it is dwindling. What does not help is the advent of Windows 8. It will still have Media Center as low cost add-on (this will be interesting because I don’t think MS truly knows the adoption rate of MC) but MC will not run at boot by default. It will have to be dropped in the startup group or manually launched. Going beyond Windows 8, the future of MC us unsure. Too bad because using a PC as the central place for media consumption in the living room is a slam-dunk. If MC goes away, Win8 Metro is still a decent 10 foot interface but without good TV, music, DVD/Blu-ray apps….oh…. and CableCard support, using Metro like this will never take off. Here’s hoping they see the light on this issue soon. For now I will stay on Win7 and squeeze as much out of it as I can.

    Sorry for the winded post but I love this topic. I came here to ask a question though. I am intrigued that I can use an XBOX as an extender but never explored this option fully. What I am not so intrigued about is that I assume cannot use this XBOX stand-alone for TV consumption and that this will always require a PC to be the host. This is not ideal from a power conservation perspective. Technically, XBOX has everything it needs to be an independent ‘cable box’. Does anyone have info on XBOX using a CableCard directly or is there any talk about this capability in the future?

  27. Lazy Man says:

    Thank Miek,

    I think Microsoft sees the value of WMC and thinks they can charge money for it. Let’s hope they use the money to continue to improve it. It is ridiculous that they can’t work MLB.TV into the interface. (It’s more that they won’t than can’t.)

    I can’t get Remote Potato to work for the life of me… just errors out and the support is poor. There don’t seem to be any alternatives.

    As for the Xbox as an extender or otherwise, I haven’t gone down that road yet. I think that you’d have to hack it to get something like the HD HomeRun Prime to work on it. If Microsoft combined the Xbox with HD Homerun Prime, they’d have a revolutionary product.

  28. Jack Smith says:

    Funny that this conversation just got sparked up again. I’ve been wanting to move away from my cable boxes for a while now and I finally did that last week. I’m testing it out right now using my Xbox 360 as an extender and I’m pretty impressed with the ability to watch live & recorded TV through the Xbox. It seems to be going very well and I’ll likely buy another Xbox for the bedroom TV. I do still have to run Media Center on a computer, but I’ve got it virtualized using vmware on a machine that I use for both a vmware lab and a file server to centralize the storage & backup of our files (My wife is a photographer, so losing her hundreds of GB of pictures isn’t an option.).

    As for the PC being power-hungry – in my case I was using this machine as a server anyways. On the other hand, cable boxes are up there among the most power-hungry devices in your house. I’m not sure what kind of power the HDHomeRun Prime and the Tuning Adapter that I got from Time Warner are running, but the savings of paying only $2 per month for the cable card -vs- the $60 per month that I was paying for 2 cables boxes has to exceed any additional power costs.

  29. Mike Sirois says:

    Colossal fail! I managed to hack my first name so bad that people are addressing me as that now. Ha!

    Mike Here….

    Jack Smith,

    Thanks for your post. I feel stupid. I am totally entrenched in VMs at work and at home. I could pull this off on my HyperV R2 server. Media Center only needs to be there, downloading guides and holding schedule info, recording, etc. It will act as a proxy between the XBOX and CableCard while performing some processing. I wonder what the limit is to XBOXes that can tie into a PC as extenders. This definitely has to do with the number of tuners but beyond that, I wonder if processing power, RAM, HD space allow the solution to scale more or if there is an artificial limit.

    Probably couldn’t pull off a VM based Media Center with a Ceton or other USB tuner as VMs don’t like add-ons. Another great reason for the Homerun Prime because it is a network resource. I probably didn’t think about this because of the limitations of Media Center through RDP….as in it just doesn’t work. I bet I could see it through the HyperV console though, in case I need to perform maintenance. Great idea bud. Thanks!

    I have a similar situation as a DJ. Redundant RAID NAS’s here with replication to other systems on and off-site. Can’t lose that music. The time spent fixing all of the tags alone makes this valuable.

    Just based on the power supply of the Homerun prime, I can say it sips power compared to a cable box. It does get warm though, and heat=lost energy.

  30. Mike Sirois says:

    Lazy Man,

    Since this is your site, I am sure you can get to my email address. Hit me on email so I can help with Remote Potato. It might take a few back-and-forths and possibily a remote session to help you visualize things so I don’t want to clutter up your board. I had problems getting it going too but I feel I am well versed in it enough to help now. Perhaps you can post the results afterward once we make sense of the problem?

  31. Lazy Man says:

    I think I looked into the power of the HD HomeRun and it was minor. I’m in the same boat in that I use the computer for a server anyway.

    Mike, I’ll try to be in contact with you about Remote Potato soon. We are going to be having our first child any day now, so I’ve got a bigger priority right now.

  32. Mike says:

    IMHO, these PC type of solutions to replacing cable boxes are overkill. One is, as mentioned by another commenter, cost. At $300 per PC for the cheapest handmade solution, that’s $900 in equipment for 3 TV’s NOT including the HDHomeRum Prime equipment.

    Just as important is SIMPLICITY. With a normal cable box solution you pick up the remote hit power for the TV and Box and your up and running sitting in your comfy chair with a beer etc. Instant.

    With these PC solutions you are dealing with an electronic device that requires FAR more babysitting to use on a daily basis not to mention the original setup.

    Believe me I want what everyone else here wants and that’s no more monthly cable box rental fees. That’s how I got here was from a google search for ending cable box fees. However, these PC solutions just don’t do it unfortunately.

  33. Lazy Man says:

    With Windows Media Center, you don’t have to have PCs on every TV, just a Media Extender. I believe the cheapest right now is an Xbox, but there should be cheaper ones in the future. That cuts the cost a bit.

    I will give you that the cable box is simpler, much simpler with initial set-up. It doesn’t run into bugs like Windows does sometimes. That said, once you get the initial set-up done, Windows Media Center software is much better than Comcast’s. It is much faster in going through the channels and allows you to sort easily based on sports, movies, etc. It also integrates with the Blu-Ray player in the computer, eliminating another box for that. Add in the extras like MLB.TV, Hulu, and Netflix streaming and there is a lot more flexibility. Comcast couldn’t provide me with a box with 3 tuners, so I couldn’t tape two shows with during Sunday Night Football (like Simpsons/Family Guy and Once Upon a Time)… and then there’s the wife’s talent shows (X-Factor, American Idol, America’s Got Talent, The Voice, So You Think You Can Dance, etc.) as well. You get a lot more flexibility of space on the computer. My 750GB drive stores something like 200 hours of HD and my cable box would fill up at around 10. I’ve got a 3TB drive waiting, but I honestly don’t need any more storage. Also, I can burn a DVD of any show and give it to a friend or archive it for later.

    It’s certainly not for everyone, due to the initial complexity and occasional hiccups. As the technology gets more mainstream, I expect it to catch up to the cable box in simplicity giving the consumer the advantage of all the extra flexibility with no negatives.

  34. Mike Sirois says:

    I would agree with both. I am an MCE enthusiast so I don’t let much of this get in the way, but Mike’s comments are valid. It can be frustrating dealing with a PC as your media center but when you work out the small issues, if any, it is great as LazyMan states.

    My biggest issue is the hardware, and use of it. I do not use many of the benefits of the OS for my MCE needs. If I need to troubleshoot, having an underlying OS is nice though, especially when I can RDP into it and perform maintenance and troubleshooting from my desk.. My challenge has been finding a capable small form-factor PC that keeps the cost low, power utilization low, stays cool and quiet. This can be a tall order. The closest I got was a Zotac ZBOX but she heats up in my media closet (along with battery backup, backup cable box and stereo head) pretty bad and I have to run an exhaust fan. The Atom processor seems limited still but with supporting Nvidia ION graphics, HD is no problem. I can record multiple streams while watching HD with no ill effects. Atom makes the OS a bit slow, and as a result, the MCE interface can get laggy from time to time, many times related to heat. The new Atoms and efficient i3 processors will help along with other things happening at AMD and Nvidia. I have been looking into Embedded Windows 7 (MSDN) as a way to package an MCE-only instance of windows which would address all of the lagginess. For now, I just have a lean install of Win7.

    With a ZBOX, I kept my cost low. As a result, it will take a little over 2 years to pay for itself compared to a single DVR cable box rental. Then there is the HD Homerun Prime cost. Since I have PCs in a few places, and had multiple cable boxes, this figure is more difficult to calculate because the feature benefits are greater and I can watch TV on devices I couldn’t have previously, and which I already owned and used for other purposes. I have any-room DVR by default because the recorded TV storage is automatically shared. Verison FiOS does not seem to use the copy protection broadcast flag so I can watch my recorded TV content on any TV/system in the house. This is huge for me. DVR with limited space and any-room DVR services from the cable provider costs a recurring fee yet it is not delivered as a service. It is delivered, and limited by the hardware (cable box) on your TV which could get quite old without seeing an upgrade. I just don’t believe in a sustained siphoning of my check book with no end and with little improvements.

    That brings us back to LazyMan and the XBOX. For cable, it requires access to it through a MCE equipped PC. Not exactly great for power consumption. I think it was on this forum we discussed putting XBOXs everywhere and one instance of Win7 on a VM which can handle all of the recording, guide updates and sharing. This digs into the economy but for me, I have a server running my domain and web site and can easily insert another VM for this.

    With Win8 and the Metro interface on XBOX, Microsoft can do two things to make this a killer solution. Keep Metro as the 10 foot interface and scrap MCE. Build an app that can stream from the HD Homerun prime. There’s your TV portion. Music, pictures and Netflix are already addressed as well as any sports scores through the use of apps. A Hulu app should be here soon if not already. The options are limitless with this interface but they just need to bring a Cablelabs certified app to Metro. Due to the similarities, this could be extended to the XBOX interface, decentralizing things and getting rid of the PC/XBOX codependence. This would be the killer move and I hope to see them make it soon.

    Good luck if you try it, but this is definitely not a plug and play solution. The trade-off is much greater capability and scalability. Hopefully Win8 and XBOX bring more simplicity to this.

    Mike S

  35. Mike Sirois says:

    I just wanted to share something promising. It looks like we will have a good CableCard alternative soon. It is not fully baked yet but this reads like there is an accelerated dev pace.

    From Engadget….

    http://www.engadget.com/2012/10/18/mediaportal-posts-new-beta-with-new-look-and-cablecard/

  36. Lazy Man says:

    It’s not much of a starter for me until it gets CableLabs approval for the copy protected shows.

  37. shannon tuttle says:

    Great article! May want to tell your readers that Windows media center cant use more than 4 tuners at once. Buying the 6 tuner option is a great idea in a house with many users but if your wife and kids don’t use this thing, the 6 tuner may be overkill. Also the other articles online about these boxes really have no information on the tech requirements needed to record 4 hd shows at once, if you get a 6 tuner model to test, I would LOVE to know what I need to spend on the HTPC

  38. […] computer that hasn't caught up with the advances of computers. I switched out my cable box for a computer running Windows Media Center and a CableCARD and haven't looked back. For me the electricity cost is dependent on the computer. […]

  39. […] sometimes you can bring your tricks to the party. I showed the energy assessment expert my HDHomeRun Prime: End Cable Box Rental Fees!. I also mentioned how it is a crazy power hog. The cable companies won't work to make it better so […]

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