HDHomeRun and Plex DVR review: For hardcore do-it-yourself cord-cutters only

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For a certain type of cord cutter, the demise of Windows Media Center has been rough. Microsoft’s media software provided an easy way to record free broadcast TV from an antenna to a PC, creating files that could be streamed to other devices with server software such as Plex.

Now that Windows Media Center is retired, Plex has stepped up with its own over-the-air DVR solution. With a Plex Pass subscription and SiliconDust’s HDHomeRun networked TV tuner, Plex users can record free broadcast channels through an antenna, and then stream those recordings to the Plex client app on practically any other device, both at home and on the road.

But while Plex’s DVR software is powerful, with lots of granular settings for managing your recordings, it’s not for everyone. Setup can be a hassle, and the lack of built-in support for live and time-shifted TV will be a dealbreaker for some.

Bill of materials

To record over-the-air channels with Plex, you need an antenna hooked up to a SiliconDust HDHomeRun tuner, which connects to your home network router over ethernet. The basic Connect model costs $100, while the $180 HDHomeRun Extend has built-in, hardware-based h.264 transcoding, which consumes less bandwidth and storage for recordings. For cable subscribers, the $120 HDHomeRun Prime supports CableCARD input, but some channels—such as HBO—have extra encryption to prevent recording.

hdhomerunextend SiliconDust

SiliconDust’s HDHomeRun Extend ($180) feeds live broadcast TV into Plex’s DVR software.

You also need a PC, NAS box, or Nvidia Shield TV ($200) to run Plex’s Media Server software. And to store recordings, you’ll need plenty of hard drive space. If your PC doesn’t have ample space built-in, or your don’t opt for the $300 Nvidia Shield TV Pro, expect to spend at least $50 for an external USB drive.

All told, the hardware will cost at least $350 if you’re using a Shield, and more for PC-based setups, and that’s before you add the Plex Pass subscription at $5 per month, $40 per year, or $150 for lifetime service. Obviously this solution makes the most financial sense if you already own a PC, NAS box, or Shield, or you were planning to get one for other reasons.

Setting it up

The major caveat with HDHomeRun is that it requires a wired or wireless ethernet connection to your router. While this connection allows the tuner to preserve picture quality, it also means your router must have access to solid antenna reception, whether it’s from a nearby indoor antenna or a rooftop antenna wired through the house.

Once the tuner is running, you can set up DVR through Plex’s web client, which is accessible from any computer or mobile device. This part is easy: Plex automatically finds your tuner, detects the zip code, and begins pulling in local TV guide data.

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