Help Me Decide on HTPC

Discussion in 'Apple TV and Home Theater' started by downingp, Nov 6, 2011.

  1. downingp macrumors 6502a

    Jun 26, 2006
    Thank you in advance for taking the time to read and respond to this thread.
    I am thinking of changing up my home theater setup and was wondering what all of you would do.
    My current setup is as follows:
    I have DirecTV for TV (just purchased an OTA antenna to receive local HD channels)
    WD Live TV hub for watching and storing TV shows and movies.

    I am planning on canceling my DirecTV subscription at the end of the year and will replace it with my OTA antenna. I know I am going to miss the pause, rewind and record function of my current DVR. So I was looking of either getting a used TiVo with a lifetime subscription and keeping my WD Live TV hub for movies and misc or I could really shake things up and get a mac mini with an elgato eyetv hybrid to record, pause, rewind TV and use Plex or similar for movies.
    Are there any advantages or disadvantages to either? What would you guys do?

  2. dgalvan123 macrumors 6502a

    Feb 16, 2008
    You might be able to make this work without buying a new computer. I just went through this process: I had Dish Network, and also had an antenna so I could get local HD content OTA. I would have ditched Dish sooner, but we loved the DVR functionality so much we were unwilling to give it up. But now we figured out a way to keep that DVR functionality without having to buy a new computer.

    Here's what I did:

    -Purchased Elgato's EyeTV software for my Mac with HD Homerun hardware. (~$150) The HD Homerun is a little black box with two tuners. You plug your OTA antenna (or clear QAM cable signal) into the box, then plug the box into your router via an ethernet cable. The EyeTV software takes in the signal from the HD Homerun via your home network, and makes performs DVR functions, letting you schedule recordings, play/pause/rewind them, and even automatically export to iTunes after they are finished recording. (Note that, if you are using a Windows machine, HD Homerun will also work with Windows Media Center, so EyeTV would not be needed.)

    -Bought Apple TV2.($99 new, $85 if you get it refurbished from

    So now the process is as follows: TV signal goes from antenna into the HD Homerun and over the home network to Eye TV, running on my MacBook Pro. The EyeTV software records the show, and automatically exports it to my iTunes library. Then, using my Apple TV2, I simply navigate to my homeshared computer, then go to TV shows, and the recorded shows are in there waiting for me, with metadata and everything. I navigate to them using the "unwatched" category on apple TV, which lists only those shows that haven't been completely watched yet. After I'm done watching the show, I hold the Apple TV "select" button on the selected show, and "Mark as watched". This takes the show off the "Unwatched" category list.

    Once this is set up, it is seamless, and since the Apple TV interface is so easy to use, my wife and other visiting friends/family have no problem using it. Also, since the ATV2 is just accessing my iTunes library over the network, you can extend this to as many TVs as you want: they just have to have an Apple TV connected to them. Very flexible that way.

    Only down sides:
    -It takes some time for EyeTV to convert the show to iTunes format. This will depend on your computer's processor speed. (I have an 2.8 GHz Intel Core 2 Duo MBP with 4 GB of RAM and it takes about the same amount of time as the duration of the show itself. So a 1 hour HD show takes ~1 hour or so to convert. The upshot is we usually just watch recorded shows the next day instead of the same day it was broadcast.)

    -Marking a show as "watched" on the Apple TV2 is convenient, but you haven't actually deleted the show from your machine. You have to actually delete the show from iTunes AND EyeTV at your computer to get your hard drive space back. But there are ways to make that process easier. For instance, I have EyeTV set up to only keep up to 3 episodes of a given show, and then delete the oldest version automatically. In iTunes, I have a smart playlist that lists all "watched" TV shows. So after marking the show as "watched" on the apple TV, I at some point go to my computer, look in the "watched shows" smart playlist, then hit command-a (select all) and option-delete to send them all to the trash.
  3. Phantom Gremlin macrumors regular

    Feb 10, 2010
    Tualatin, Oregon
    I've been thinking of getting an HD Homerun. Thanks for all that info. Very informative.

    Does the HD Homerun come with any software at all for a Mac? Is EyeTV simply a better alternative, or is EyeTV definitely required just to make the thing work at all?

    I wonder if I could eliminate the Apple TV if I were willing to dedicate a Mac Mini as an HTPC? Or would the Mini be unable to do smooth video playback if it were also busy doing transcode?
  4. DustinT macrumors 68000


    Feb 26, 2011
    How has the reliability and stability of the HDhomerun been? I know the device has been around for a few years and is pretty well regarded but I'm curious if you have had any problems with it.

    I'd love to cut my costs this way, I'm just not sure that I can do it with few enough hassles.
  5. Punkwaffle macrumors regular


    Apr 12, 2004
    Get rid of everything, just get an internet connection.
    Jailbreak your Apple TV and install XBMC. Download the free cable, icefilms, and navi-x plug-ins and you will have everthing you need. Every show ever aired (almost), every move, and a whole lot more.
  6. dgalvan123, Nov 10, 2011
    Last edited: Nov 10, 2011

    dgalvan123 macrumors 6502a

    Feb 16, 2008
    The HD Homerun is just hardware. Without software on your computer to detect and manage the signal that it sends over your local network, the HD Homerun is useless.

    On a mac, EyeTV is your best option. I've heard of others like MythTV, but I think they are either unsupported or hackerish and probably a pain to get running (though I haven't tried).

    On a PC, you can use Windows Media Center, so no need to buy EyeTV.

    Here's the HD Homerun info from the company that actually makes it: Silicon Dust:
    (They sell it for $129, without any bundled software)

    You can also buy the HD Homerun WITH the EyeTV software for $179 from ElGato (not a bad deal since the software purchased alone is $79).

    Or, if you already have the software you want or otherwise want to get the lowest price on just the HD Homerun hardware, you can google around. Looks like WalMart has it for as low as $99. The model you are looking for is "HDHR3-US HDHomeRun Dual TV Tuner"

    You certainly could dedicate a Mac Mini to your TV and eliminate the need for an ATV, and in that case you WOULD NOT NEED TO TRANSCODE, since you would simply watch the TV shows in the EyeTV application itself on the Mac Mini, so it would play the recorded uncompressed MPEG-2 files natively. The only reason I do transcoding is to get the TV shows into iTunes so my AppleTV2 can see them.

    Even if you were transcoding though (say, to make the shows available to OTHER TVs in your house that have ATV's attached), I doubt the video would get stuttery. On my MBP from mid 2009 (2.8 GHz Core 2 Duo), the machine definitely crunches while transcoding and the fan often turns on, and use of other applications becomes a bit clunky, but somehow when I play a recorded show or watch a live tv channel in the EyeTV application while transcoding the video is still quite smooth. And on the newer mac minis I'd expect the processor is more than enough to handle the transcodes faster and with less of a hit to the machine in general.

    By the by, Elgato offers another product called Turbo H.264 that speeds up transcodes. It's basically a $100 USB stick that acts like a separate GPU, taking the burden off your computer. It would probably speed up my transcodes from ~1 hour or so down to 20 minutes or something, but since we're fine with just watching stuff the next day, I don't bother with it.

    I considered the mac mini idea, and you can find some youtube videos where people really have some lovely setups involving mac minis running Plex and EyeTV. But in the end I found that the ATV2's were such a good deal ($100 vs. at least $600 for a mac mini), and that I could run EyeTV just fine on our MBP, which is our main family computer, without hindering our other use too much. Plus, if you have more than one TV, you might want to have your mac mini transcode to iTunes to support other ATV2's anyway, so why not just save $500 and use your existing computer? (assuming you have one that can handle the latest EyeTV3.
  7. dgalvan123 macrumors 6502a

    Feb 16, 2008
    The device is very simple and requires zero maintenance or interaction from me. It tunes and provides the info to my EyeTV software. Oh and it has three LED lights on it: one to show power is on, the other two light up when one or both of the tuners are in use for recording. I've had it on full-time for the past 5 months or so and have had no problems. It just sits unobtrusively next to my ATV2 (it's about the same size as the hockey puck). Also the HDHR3 (little black) version is pretty new (only a year old or less, I think), though I haven't heard complaints about the previous versions either.

    I spent a year of backburner-thinking about the best way to cut the cord and do it in a way that would be acceptable/convenient to my wife so that the solution would be sustainable. At first I thought the mac-mini + plex route would be best, since it would let me run EyeTV full screen. That probably is the best DVR experience, since EyeTV run full screen feels a lot like you are using a regular cable or sat company DVR. And then Plex provides all the online content you want with a nice user interface. But then you are paying $600 (more probably, since you'd want more than the 2GB base ram, and maybe you'd even prefer to have the upgraded CPU and GPU so that the mini would last longer as a home media center). And you'd need one for each TV.


    I've done this too. Highly recommend, as it fills the gaps of shows that you don't get for free over the OTA broadcast or clear QAM signal.

    The EyeTV paired with my clear QAM signal and the ATV2's works great for all my local-channel HD shows (which comprises 75% of our TV watching, I'd say). For everything else, I have jailbroken my ATV2, installed XBMC and the bluecop repository so I get Hulu for free without commercials as well as the "Free Cable" program that nicely streams TV shows from other cable network websites. That covers the Daily Show for me and Project Runway and some Food Network shows for my wife. A Netflix streaming subscription covers most of our other entertainment needs.

    That said. . .

    The experience of using XBMC on my ATV2 is not bad, but it's not as quick and responsive as the base ATV2 interface. As such, my wife tends to get frustrated when she wants to watch the daily show. There are a lot of "buffering" or "downloading" progress bars that go on when you're navigating around XBMC for streaming shows, and she often just hands me the remote to handle it. Don't get me wrong: it works great and is the main reason I gave up on the idea of getting a mac mini, since it makes cable shows available via Apple TV2, so no need to go to websites or do Plex streaming using an expensive mac mini. I'm just saying that, if we can get the show on our EyeTV-->iTunes-->ATV2 setup, that is always a better user interface experience than the XBMC on ATV2 route.


    One more thing. . .

    I had been prepared to do all this EyeTV stuff just using our OTA antenna on the roof, which gets us the local networks in HD and a bunch of other foreign language channels I'll never watch (I'm in L.A.).

    But then I heard about clear QAM: Apparently there is a law that says that cable-providers, if they are providing you broadband internet, have to provide at least the local channels over that same coax without a fee. I've also heard that the cable companies CAN put a terminator on your cable connection to scramble the extra basic cable channels so that you can only get the locals without paying. . . but that most of the time they just DON'T do that. I have Time Warner cable for our high speed internet, but I don't pay for TV service from them.

    To test whether I could get more channels by using my Time Warner clear QAM channels instead of OTA antenna, all I did was plug the cable co-ax into my HDTV. I had it scan for channels, and found I got dozens of channels, including the SD and HD versions of all the broadcast networks, PBS, etc as well as Discovery HD and a few others. So now I use that signal to feed my HD Homerun and EyeTV. I pay $45/month for 10Mbps+ internet from Time Warner, but I also get more-or-less basic cable from them for free, as it turns out. With the EyeTV I don't pay a monthly fee for DVR usage, and if Time Warner ever changes its mind and somehow scrambles their signal to me, I'll just switch to OTA.

    moral of the story:
    If you have cable internet, and are not paying for TV, just go ahead and plug your co-ax into your TV and see what you get. Might solve a lot of your content worries.
  8. downingp thread starter macrumors 6502a

    Jun 26, 2006
    I am really liking the idea of a Mac mini. Now the question is, do I really need the latest mac mini version with the HDMI port or can I get an older mini and get a mini display port to HDMI adapter?
  9. cirtbrethren macrumors newbie

    Jan 20, 2011
    I was beginning to get excited about using Apple TV as an extender, until I found out that it will only do 720p, not 1080 at all. A deal breaker for me. Maybe the Apple TV3 will come out soon and have 1080i.
  10. downingp, Nov 13, 2011
    Last edited: Nov 13, 2011

    downingp thread starter macrumors 6502a

    Jun 26, 2006
    For the HDHomerun and EyeTV, does one have to subscribe to TV Guide in order to record shows and setup automatic recording or does EyeTv come with its own guide?

    Additionally, which Elgato product would you choose, the HDHomerun or EyeTV Hybrid?

  11. Tilpots macrumors 601


    Apr 19, 2006
    Carolina Beach, NC
    The TV Guide service costs $20 per year with EyeTV. First year's included for free.
  12. khollister macrumors 6502a


    Feb 1, 2003
    Orlando, FL
    This may or may not be a shot of cold water on all of this, but two things everyone needs to keep in mind:

    1) The 2011 Mini will not pass HD audio (Dolby TrueHD or DTS-Master Audio) via HDMI, even under Win7. This means that if you are envisioning ripping your blu-ray collection for playback on the HTPC, you will not be able to use the lossless audio streams. This fact alone drove me to a Windows/PC HTPC

    2) Even with Clear QAM, you will most likely not get but a fraction of the channels you get with your set top box due to the widespread use of Switched Digital Video to manage bandwidth. Most of the non-broadcast programming is not just dumped onto the line, but is multiplexed on demand via a control channel from the set top box. Don't expect to replicate your cable experience, but you will most likely avoid the need for an OTA antenna. Be aware however, that most cable providers still implement some compression on the HD channels to save bandwidth, so the OTA signal via an antenna may still provide a better picture.
  13. dgalvan123 macrumors 6502a

    Feb 16, 2008

    BUT: you will only be able to do so by providing EyeTV with the time and channel of the program. So, it becomes like a VCR: without a guide, you just set recordings by specifying time and channel.

    At $20/year (after the first year is free), that comes out to $1.67 per month. I'd say the added convenience of easy scheduling of recordings is worth that. Especially since it allows you to set more specific requirements, like only recording those shows that are not re-runs, etc.

    The reason I chose HD Homerun over the EyeTV Hybrid are the following:

    1. HD Homerun has two tuners (meaning you can record two shows on two different channels at the same time). EyeTV Hybrid has only 1.
    2. HD Homerun plugs into your router, meaning any mac running the EyeTV software on your home network (wired or wireless) can access the program stream. EyeTV Hybrid plugs directly into your mac, so it only supports one computer accessing the program stream.
  14. dgalvan123 macrumors 6502a

    Feb 16, 2008
    Good point. This depends entirely on your particular cable provider (for what channels you get via clear QAM and how good they look) and your location (for your OTA reception). So I'd recommend people try it out for themselves.

    In my particular case: I live in the San Fernando Valley, Los Angeles. In the L.A. Area, the networks broadcast mainly from Mt. Wilson, to the northeast of the city. I get so-so OTA reception using an indoor antenna (30+ year old rabbit ears), and good reception using the ~20+ year old antenna on the roof. (Remember: HD signals will come in just fine over any old antenna as long as your location is good. . . you DO NOT NEED A FANCY NEW "HD Antenna". That's just a marketing gimmick.)

    Regarding clear QAM: I have Time Warner for my High-speed internet. And I get ~25 decent channels for free over clear QAM (I do not pay Time Warner for any TV service, just internet.) Those include all the networks (PBS, ABC, FOX, NBC, CBS, CW) in both SD and HD versions. I also get Discovery HD and the National Geographic channel in HD. WGN in HD and AMC (in SD only). So in addition to the local networks, I also get access to Mad Men and Breaking Bad (AMC), and Mythbusters (Discovery). That leaves only Daily Show and Project Runway for me to use Hulu via XBMC on my jailbroken ATV2. All for free, and all unambiguously legal.

    As for the HD picture quality: I am not a video-phile, but I have tried to compare visually (I have a simple co-ax switch which lets me switch between OTA and clear QAM input to the TV and HD Homerun), and I can't tell the difference between the clear QAM and the OTA HD picture when viewed on my 37-inch HDTV. I suppose videophiles with larger TVs may be able to see a difference. For me it is a non-issue.
  15. Darien Red Sox macrumors regular

    Dec 13, 2010
    CT, USA
    Not any longer a law, Cablevision lobbied to have this changed:mad: Now those of us in Cablevision territory even local stations are scrambled meaning that you now need a box for each and every tv. They gave 2 free for two years and said that after 2 years they would start charging. The new digital over the air stuff was the worst idea ever and has left many people like myself out of range of almost every network. I ended switching from cable and going with a promotion from ATT to be able to get TV, Phone, and Internet with whole house DVR for a reasonable price (same price cable charges without a DVR). I wanted to go without TV and rely on iTunes/Hulu for content but others in my house won't willing to do it. Hear is what I would want to do:

    1: Use a MacBook pro for the time being until we could get a mini for one of the tv, this would be used to watch Hulu, no need for Hulu plus to do it with out a laptop because not all shows we watch are allowed to be watched with out a computer on Hulu plus. Shows from Hulu: Modern Family, The Middle, Raising Hope, and a few others.
    The computer could also be used for to watch This Old House, as well as ESPN 3 for sports.

    2: Apple TV which could be used for iTunes content: The Suite Life of Zack and Cody, The Suite Life On Deck, and Good Luck Charlie.

    3: Internet connection would be AT&T for ESPN 3, cable internet dose not provide this in my area not to mention the content cable internet slowdowns in my neighborhood.

    4: MLB TV: My team the Red Sox is out of market so this is needed with or without cable anyway.

    Would need to give up the DIY network which I have liked a lot for the last 3 months we have been with AT&T.
  16. downingp thread starter macrumors 6502a

    Jun 26, 2006
    For those of you using an HDHomerun, are you using an OTA antenna or cable provider?
  17. dgalvan123 macrumors 6502a

    Feb 16, 2008
    I currently use a cable provider (time Warner Los Angeles) since I get more channels over clear qam then I do over OTA. But I have previously used OTA with the hdhomerun. It works just fine.
  18. downingp thread starter macrumors 6502a

    Jun 26, 2006
    The problem I am having with the HDHomerun with the OTA antenna is that one of the tuners will go out and I won't get a consistent picture (the sound is always there though). I switched to cable and it works fine, however I am not getting ALL of the local HD channels I was getting with my OTA antenna.
    The funny thing is, I have the OTA antenna in the exact same position as I had when I was using it with a TiVo and got perfect reception.

    Any suggestions?
  19. dgalvan123 macrumors 6502a

    Feb 16, 2008
    If you haven't already, you could verify that the problem is indeed your HD Homerun tuner by simply plugging your OTA antenna directly into your TV and scanning for channels. If you get the same problems when directly viewing the antenna feed on your tv, then the problem is your reception, not the HD Homerun tuner. I noticed when I was using OTA that the reception would vary in quality as a function of channel and time. For some reason one channel would always have really poor reception in the wee hours of 1am or so, when I was trying to record seinfeld re-runs. When we would watch that channel during the day, the reception was fine, but all my recordings from the 1am time frame were nearly unwatchable. (maybe has something to do with the lower part of the Earth's ionosphere recombining from ions back into neutrals at night due to lack of solar photoionization, making the TV signal duct ineffectively for certain broadcast frequencies/channels. . . or something.) Anyway, make sure you try watching directly on your TV at the same time of the recorded shows that are coming out poorly, to see if the poor quality is consistent with using a different tuner, or whether it occurs with the same tuner at different times.

    If you have done this test and you DON'T get the same problems when watching on the TV, then it is the HD Homerun's fault somehow. You probably know this, but just in case: since OTA and clearQAM use different frequencies, you need to re-scan for channels using EyeTV when you switch the HD Homerun input from OTA to clearQAM or vice versa. You can do that with the EyeTV Setup Assistant, under the EyeTV menu bar. (I'm imagining a scenario where the HD Homerun scanned for the cable channels, then you gave it OTA without having it re-scan, and so it's picking up the OTA channels sporadically and inconsistently due to searching on the wrong frequencies.)
  20. downingp thread starter macrumors 6502a

    Jun 26, 2006
    I have gone through numerous scenarios and configurations, switching between cable and OTA with the HDHomerun. I think I have been able to pinpoint that the problem is arising from one OTA local channel in particular. I don't know if its a coincidence or not, but whenever I switch to channel 4-1, I lose the picture and the antenna signal drops to zero. I don't seem to have this problem, however with cable and the HDHomerun and also with the OTA antenna and TiVo. The Elgato technical support doesn't seem to but much help either
    So this is what I was thinking and let me know if this would work. What if I bought another EyeTV (I was thinking an EyeTV One) so I could hook that up to my OTA antenna and keep the HDHomerun hooked up to my cable provider. I would think if I had both hooked up I would have the best of both worlds. I could essentially record 3 shows at once if I wanted and have access to all of my local channels in HD either through OTA or cable. What do you think?
    Would I be able to "merge" the two devices (channels for OTA and cable) and access them through the mac mini?
  21. dgalvan123 macrumors 6502a

    Feb 16, 2008

    I think the answer to your question is yes: you CAN hook up multiple tuners to your computer and EyeTV will get inputs from all of them. I don't think it will matter whether you've got one tuner device on clearQAM while the other is on OTA, both on OTA, or both on clearQAM. Though I haven't tried this myself. I've always only used one source at a time, and switched between them experimentally

    Here's a few forums where people say they have been doing this without problem:

    And here's the "official" position of ElGato on this:

    (Basically they say it works but it's not officially supported because there isn't a way to tell EyeTV which Tuner you want to use for each recording. So, for example, I could imagine a situation in which you want a show to record from the cable source instead of the OTA source, and you make the recording schedule, but EyeTV just happens to choose the OTA.)

    Now, I haven't seen anyone say that the two tuner devices they use are using two different sources (ie: one using clearQAM and the other using OTA), but I don't see why that wouldn't work, since EyeTV scans and comes up with a list of all available channels, storing that as a list of channel frequencies. Since OTA and clearQAM are different sources, I'd expect it just stores all the channels from both sources in the same list, and there is no real difference as viewed from EyeTV software.

    HOWEVER: I can't say whether or not this will solve your problem with channel 4-1 not being picked up. Since you've determined your problem is with one particular OTA channel not being picked up properly by the HDHomerun tuner, while it IS picked up by the Tivo, the first thing I would try is to do an exhaustive channel scan on the HD Homerun via EyeTV. It is possible (though unlikely) that the channel was not broadcasting when you first scanned for it, so EyeTV didn't get a good lock on it saved in the channel list? (waves hands) But, without knowing why the HDHomerun isn't picking up that channel, there's no guarantee the next tuner you buy will either.
  22. Norcalchavo macrumors regular

    Sep 17, 2007
    Santa Clara, California
    Out of curiosity what type of OVA Antenna do you have? I'm thinking about ditching my cable provider and buying one myself. Thanks!


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