Google has attempted to invade the living room for a second time with Android TV. As much as my fellow cord cutters and I fight it, traditional broadcast TV in the living room is still king with the general population. It is my belief that integrating all of your media consumption sources in one hub is the holy grail for the future of TV. This is why Google TV’s pass-through feature was so beloved. You could take any existing cable/dish box experience and integrate it with your internet media. It was dangerously close to the holy grail but it was ultimately clunky and went down with the Google TV ship. With the reinvention of Android TV, many thought that pass-through would make a triumphant return. Although the capability is supposedly supported in Android TV, there are currently no set-top boxes that take advantage of it. While this might change in the future, right now you would have to get an actual Android TV television set to get that kind of integration out of the box.
However, Google has quietly added support for built-in tuners and IP-based tuners. Not many people talk about it, but I believe that it is a superior successor to the pass-through method. There are a few additional costs, and takes a little bit extra effort to set up, but ultimately provides a cleaner and cheaper integration than GoogleTV did.
What is an IP-based Tuner?
An IP-based tuner is a device that centrally takes a TV source and broadcasts it on your network instead of plugging it into a specific TV. The HDHomeRun brand is currently the only supported IP-based tuner.
The simple diagram above shows how it works. The broadcast is fed from your IP-based tuner to your router and then the feed is accessible to any device on the network. Until recently the HDHomeRun EXTEND (Antenna/QAM only) was required because it can transcode the feed to be usable by any device. The Marshmallow update added the MPEG-2 codec to the Nexus Player (which also makes the channels look SO much better and less janky) so theoretically all HDHomeRun devices could be used including the HDHomeRun Prime which uses CableCards to broadcast your cable channels.
(For this guide, I use a Nexus Player, Antenna, and HDHomeRun EXTEND. I cannot vouch for other variables, but this should work the same with any Android TV device and current HDHomeRun device)
- AndroidTV device (Nexus TV, Razer, Shield etc) $25-$199
- HDHomeRun device (CONNECT, EXTEND, PRIME) $85-$150
- Antenna $7-$200? or CableCard
- Ethernet Wires
All you need to do is follow the HDHomeRun’s instructions to set up the IP-based tuner. In my case, all this involved was plugging my Mohu Leaf indoor antenna ($40) into my HDHomeRun EXTEND (>$150) with a coaxial cord.
Next, you run a network cable between the HDHomeRun and your router. A quick set up on your computer will discover the tuner and pick the channels to let through. Once this initial installation is complete, you should never need your computer again if you don’t want it. From this point on, Any device that has access to HDHomeRun’s VIEW app, Kodi add-on, or DLNA will be able to watch LIVE TV.
On the Android TV, you will need to download the HDHomeRun’s VIEW app right from the Play Store. When you open it you will choose your tuner and channels and voilà, LIVE TV right through your Android TV Device.
So what is the point of this? I have to admit my greatest motivator for doing this is my disdain for the input button. Ever since GoogleTV and now Xbox One has showed me a world where you no longer need to change your input to access different types of media. I simply cannot go back. As a cord-cutter, switching inputs on my TV from antenna and Nexus Player is unacceptable! However, there are many other perks that come along with this set up.
For my set-up, I was able to place a single antenna in an optimal place (my attic) and broadcast that strong feed to any device I want. Without this set up, each TV in my house would require its own antenna and might not get as good reception. Now technically I could split from the attic antenna and run coaxial through my house to each TV, but this isn’t always feasible (renters) and would be annoying. Having my antenna on the IP allows me to easily add or move TVs all over my house (even watch on my phone/tablet!). For example, I was able to snag a $25 Nexus TV deal from target for my bedroom. Before, I just had a free standing set with a Chromecast plugged in because of where the TV was positioned. This setup was ok but pretty lean. Now with the Nexus TV I am easily able to tap into my antenna and watch local news in the morning while I get ready to work, all without running any additional wires or setup.
Once tapped into the Nexus Player, you unlock an interesting Android TV feature. You gain access to the “Live Channels” app. This app has the potential to be the killer app in the streaming wars. So in typical Google fashion, they have seemingly outright ignored it. But what the app does is presents you with a typical channel guide you would find on any TV.
It has a nice clean minimalist interface with basic features. But here is the kicker: It has the ability through 3rd party apps to pull in internet media and present them as if they were “channels” right alongside my actual broadcast channels. Currently, Pluto TV and Cumulus TV app are the only ones I know of that takes advantage of this (The Weather Network TV App appears to be trying to as well), but the result is pretty stunning: Internet TV side by side my antenna. Google is dangerously close to the holy grail again here and moving into internet-tv-so-easy-my-parents-can-work-it territory. I salivate imagining my Broadcast TV channels, SlingTV channels, MLB.tv games, Plex “psuedo channels” all living together in a channel surfing format. That scenario is almost guaranteed to not happen, but I see what Google is going for.
Lastly, if you aren’t quite ready cut the cord life myself, I could see this being a very cost effective method using the HDHomeRun Prime with CableCards. Depending on how many cable boxes you are using in your house, you could be paying A TON of money just to get your HD cable to your TV (Even more for DVR). By using the PRIME, you can avoid those monthly fees and even get a small refund on your bill for using CableCards. The PRIME has 3 tuners so you can have as many TVs as you want with access to the cable, but only 3 can watch at a time (You can always buy another PRIME if you need more). HDHomeRun is also coming up with a DVR solution that could cut costs as well.
As a cord-cutter, this solution is even cleaner and sleeker than the Google TV solution. It is a little less ready out of the box, but keeps things very minimalist which I appreciate. The future potential of the “Live Channels” app also has me intrigued. If you go through Ebay or Craigslist a lot of this setup can be had pretty cheaply especially with the price of the Nexus Player falling. I highly recommend trying it out and seeing if it suits your needs like it does mine.