Posted by: patdavila | September 9, 2011

Silicondust HDHomerun Prime Review

Silicon Dust HDHomerun Prime

My Silicondust HDHomerun Prime finally arrived this past Wednesday. Silicondust had some delays getting this product out the door and having a hurricane blowing up the east coast the same weekend as my shipment moved was not conductive to a quick delivery. The original HDHomerun was a dual unencrypted QAM/over the air digital tv tuner that had two co-axial inputs. It was a very solid device that ran for years on my MythTV system without any issues. The new Silicondust HDHomerun Prime is a cablecard compatible triple digital tuner. It has only one co-axial connection but you can record up to three digital channels at once! The big caveat is that you’ll be able to record encrypted cable channels that have their DRM flag set as “copy-freely”. What’s flagged as copy-freely will vary depending on your cable company. Most cable companies will leave everything as copy-freely with the exception of “premium” movie channels like HBO, Showtime, Cinemax, Starz, etc.. On the extreme negative end is Time Warner (in NYC &other markets) which encrypts all the channels and flags them as “copy-once” or “copy-never” regardless if the channel is “premium” or not. Your best bet is to do a little research to see where on this scale your cable provider lies and make an informed decision. I had a cablecard from RCN sitting on my desk for the last couple of weeks in anticipation of the Prime’s arrival. The cablecard setup process is threefold:
Activation, Pairing, Provisioning

Activation turns on the card. Pairing puts the cablecard as a registered device on the cable provider’s system. Provisioning is where the card is given access to all the content tiers you should be receiving. I’ve heard of lots of horror stories where the cablecard gets stuck in an unusable state somewhere along the setup. When I picked up the card up from RCN they gave me a piece of paper with the card describing the activation process. First call one number which will send a hard reset to all your cable boxes & cablecards. I had my Prime connected and ready to go and called the number. I saw my cable boxes getting reset. The HDHomerun Prime has an embedded webserver which you can access from any web browser. The pages show various status message such as activation, pairing and whether or not any of the tuners are tuned to channels along with signal strength. On one page I saw a message saying to call RCN’s activation number along with information for the card such as Mac address, serial number, device ID, etc.. I called the number and spoke to a service rep. I indicated I had a cablecard activation and mentioned I was using a network attached tv tuner device. I read off three sets of numbers to the rep and she read them back to me. She then put me on hold for about five minutes. After she returned she asked whether or not I could see any channels. The old hdhomerun_config_gui application somewhat works with the Prime. When you start the application you can see the three tuners but you can’t scan and tune them from inside the application. Open up a terminal window and tell the prime to tune to a certain channel:

hdhomerun_config 13104608 set /tuner0/vchannel 446

13104608 is the tuner ID and 446 is the channel I’m tuning to.

In the gui you will see a dropdown for the channels on the frequency you just tuned into. Pick one of the channels and hit the view button. VLC should now fire up and display the channel if it’s marked as copy freely. Update: I hear that if you download & compile the latest version of the hdhomerun_config directly from Silicondust it should work without having to do this. The version in the ubuntu repos is older.

I then proceeded to successfully tune in a bunch of different channels. As expected none of the movie channels would tune in. The customer rep then asked me to reboot my tuner to make sure the provisioning remained. I restarted the HDHomerun Prime. One minor issue I encountered is that the Prime has to run with dynamic IP assignment. So I had to turn my router’s dhcpd server. As far as I can tell the prime cannot be setup with static IP. After rebooting the Prime all my channels were still there. So after a 15 minute telephone call with RCN my Prime was working as it should. I then went about setting up the Prime as a capture device in MythTV. If you’re running MythTV 0.24.1 or greater the Prime works out of the box. The setup is pretty straightforward:
HDHomerun Prime Setup in MythTV

The setup in MythTV took about another 15 minutes with the majority of that time waiting for mythfilldatabase to complete the population of the channel listings for the new tuners.

Once the setup was completed I went for the gusto and scheduled 4 simultaneous HD recordings (1 on PVR-1212, 3 on the Prime). While all 4 recordings were going I then went to my family room and watched another HD recording on my Zotac based MythTV frontend. There were no noticeable hiccups, stutters, pixelization or audio out of sync issues. After the recordings finished I then watched all of them and they were perfect. The picture quality is pretty much identical to the cable box.

After a couple days of heavy use I’m very satisfied with the HDHomerun Prime. I’m now able to record a ton of HD content. While I wish Silicondust had released this product sooner you can’t fault them after encountering some manufacturing issues from their factory in China. The product itself is a solid successor to the original HDHomerun.

Sadly it seems Windows Media Center users are encountering a ton of issues with the Prime:
Silicon Dust forum

Whether those issues are DRM related or simply platform stability issues is of little concern to Linux users. They’re in dreamland if they expect patches from Microsoft in a timely manner to help alleviate their woes. They made their bed and they’ll have to sleep in it. Maybe some Windows MCE users will finally smarten up and become Linux/MythTV users? One can only hope they come to their senses.

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Responses

  1. Congrats Pat. I’m glad the cable card pairing was pain-free. If I ever subscribe to coax again I will get an HDHomeRun Prime too. I dig my two HDHomeRun dual-tuner ATSC/QAM models. Network devices are so much nicer to deal with than internal PC cards.

    HDHomeRun and MythTV an awesome combination!

  2. Hi Pat,

    Great to hear that the Prime is working so well for you. I’ve had the opportunity to play with one for the last month or so and also had the same positive experience (I wrote the linked wiki guide). We’ve got a good relationship with the SiliconDust guys, so I’m hoping to get some nice little surprises for Prime users in .25. Enjoy!

  3. Robert,
    Nice job on the install guide. Glad to hear you guys have a good relationship with Silicondust. It’s refreshing to go to a vendor page and seeing tux proudly displayed. Looking forward to the updates in 0.25!

  4. “They made their bed and they’ll have to sleep in it. Maybe some Windows MCE users will finally smarten up and become Linux/MythTV users? One can only hope they come to their senses.” – ?!?! – LOL

    When will I be able to watch all my HBO-HD, and Showtime-HD channels in Linux? Answer – NEVER!

    So…What are you going to do when your provider starts marking everything other than the broadcast channels as ‘copy once’? Because they are allowed to do that at anytime – http://hd.engadget.com/2010/06/19/fios-customers-moved-to-frontier-getting-copy-once-drm/ . All of a sudden, you will have a box no more usefull than a simple QAM tuner.

    Windows Media Center is the ONLY solution that can take advantage of what the Prime is capable of.

    I hope YOU can come to your senses soon!

    • I’m ok with never getting copy-once flagged channels. I have a Hauppauge PVR-1212 that records those without issue. Windows is a horrible operating system IMHO. It’s a free country and people are free to choose whatever they like. I choose Linux & MythTV. With the money I save I can upgrade or expand my hardware instead of paying for yet another “upgrade”. I’ve been running MythTV for years and it has been rock solid for me. Go read the MCE sub-forum over at Silicondust. There are at least a 100 posts a day over there of people complaining of breakages on their MCE based systems. Then go read the linux forum. Much less complaints there. Quite a stark contrast?!

  5. Hi Pat,

    I’m considering getting an HDHR Prime for my recordings as well. I live in the Boston area and I have RCN like you do. I also run [Gentoo] Linux like you do with MythTV. I currently have an HDHR Dual (2nd gen with the one coax on the back of the unit) and I have a question or two for you if you don’t mind :) :

    • Which stations are flagged copy-once? I’m really only considering getting an HDHR Prime because my OTA solution is so unreliable and I’d like my shows (House MD, Terra Nova, and Fringe) to record properly.

    • Are you able to get local stations such as Fox, NBC, ABC and CBS? Those are the only stations I’d really need and I’m almost willing to pay $30 for cable service/cablecard acquiring and of course the $200 or so for the HDHR Prime itself.

    Thanks,
    shiggity1

    • On RCN all the movie channels (HBO, Showtime, Cinemax, Starz, Encore) with the exception of IFC (Independent Film Channel) are marked as copy-once and you can’t tune them in Linux. Everything else is copy-freely. I can tune & record all my local channels without issue. RCN charges $2 a month for the cable card rental.


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