[GUIDE] Watching Live TV on your Android TV

Preface

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.


Guide:

(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)

Materials Needed:

  • AndroidTV device (Nexus TV, Razer, Shield etc) $25-$199
  • HDHomeRun device (CONNECT, EXTEND, PRIME) $85-$150
  • Antenna $7-$200? or CableCard
  • Router
  • Computer
  • 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.

WHY?/Benefits:

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.

Brian Stein

Brian Stein is a Science Teacher with a love of technology. When he is not molding young minds, he is looking out for the latest and greatest gadgets.Devices: Moto X, G Watch, Nexus 7, Chromebook, Custom Plex Server

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  • Real.Circassian

    Hi,

    Although I respect your thought of creating a guide for this, I have to say that this is only accomplishable through buying expensive hardware.

    How about a guide that would do the same, by only using a cheap TV tuner and tvheadend, which would speak more to an average person not willing to spend 100+ and trying to learn how all this stuff works through the way.

    I’ve been working on tvheadend myself for quite some time, and you can start from tvheadend repo and a sample app provided by google here: https://github.com/googlesamples/androidtv-sample-inputs/blob/master/app/src/main/res/values/strings.xml

    Believe me it ain’t that hard after all..

    Cheers.

    • Brian Stein

      Hey RC,

      Thanks for the kind words! I respect your solution as well as I feel us cordcutters are all on the same side. However, your knowledge base seems to eclipse mine. I’m also not 100% sure your solution would integrate as easily which is the point of the angle I took in my article. I also believe that the cheapest/easiest solution (if that’s what you are shooting for) is to plug your antenna right into your tv and use the input button (which I am against).

      I also disagree with the premise that the “average” cordcutter doesn’t want to spend this much money. You would think this because of the thrifty nature of cordcutters, and I tend to lean to the cheaper is better camp, but the popularity of the TabloTV and Tivo OTA products show this isn’t necessarily the case. I feel cordcutters are mindful of how much they are saving by not throwing money down the toilet with cable companies and are willing to spend a little overhead to have a nice set up that will save them money in the long run.

      Finally, the “$100s+” worth of equipment is the price of starting from scratch. The difference between your set up and my setup would be like +$30 assuming we already had an antenna, router, nexus player. Only difference is you would buy a cheap pc tv tuner and I would buy an HDHomerun Connect off ebay for <$50… What do you think?

      • Real.Circassian

        Dear Brian,

        I believe you missed my point. The main reason that I gave that advice is so that people get involved more into this TV streaming thing and show them how things work through examples and learning so they won’t depend on a product from X company to be able to stream their free TV.

        I am currently running a cheap dvb-t2 tuner on a raspberry pi2, which costed me around $50 in total, which is able to do everything(actually even more) a hdhomerun device does. These devices are also based on tvheadend software anyway, with a single advantage of having dedicated app development and thats about it.

        There’s no way I’m discarding your guide and I know there a lots of people using these branded devices only to save time and for their reliability, but believe me people in Europe do not have easy access to them, so us cablecutters here tend to go with software solutions instead and also have the joy of building own TV server and customising it to your needs.

        It merely takes 20 minutes starting from scratch to running a full-fledged tv streaming server, and it’s compatible with most platforms&OS’es. There are many guides and how-to ‘s on this and even the tvheadend site itself provides a comprehensive wiki. I’m telling all of this because it really may help you and followers of your website have a go at it with the hardware they already own and enjoy android TV which became a pleasing experience with latest updates and Live Channels integration.

        I may guide you on the later stages as Leanback GUI integration and adding to Live Channels, but everything before that is pretty straightforward and only relies on a tv tuner + computer.

        Anyway, hope helps.

  • FranchisePlayer

    I would love to do something like this but this is not really a guide but more a suggestion on using various tools. I see no instructions other than to follow some other instructions found on a product and plug in a cable. It’s more complicated than what’s described so if anyone that was wanting to learn how to set this up would likely fail at it. It may not be complicated for you, the author, but for non-technical people who would want to ditch cable, this is not helpful at all.

    What kind of computer, software, hardware, router and maybe a step by step of each part of the process. The instructions are all jumbled into a single paragraph which is again, not helpful at all. A video with more diagrams would be nice too. The one included is overly simplistic for this kind of setup.

    This is something I see in many places where a potential cord cutter would like to have simple, step by step guide to actually setting something like this up at home. I use a Roku device instead of extra cable boxes and it’s incredibly simple to use. While I’d love to get an HDHomeRun type of setup, it just seems more work than its worth compared to something like a Roku.

    • Brian Stein

      Thank you for the feedback, FP. I assure you that it is not a complicated process. My reasoning for creating the guide was more of a proof of concept. This is something cool that your Nexus Player/AndroidTV is capable of but that Google hasn’t really showcased. When I started my own set up, I was kind of walking blind assuming these things would work. This guide was more me saying, “Hey, if you buy these products, they will work really well together- even though they barely get mentioned.”

      I would assume that if you purchased an HDHomerun that you would use their manual to get started and I guess I assumed that you would already have your home network and Nexus Player set up. Nevertheless, you make some good points. I am now planning on beefing up the guide with more diagrams and splitting it into an OTA guide and a Cable TV guide.

      Again, thanks for the feedback!

      • FranchisePlayer

        And I agree with the concept that you’ve depicted and that they’d work well together. When I saw the link, my expectation was that there would be something that gave a more detailed explanation of “how” to put this all together rather than high level instructions.

        I’ve been looking for something that shows how it all fits together and was hoping this would be it based on the link title. Before I purchased my Roku, my intent was to use something like what you mentioned but I’ve not found clear enough instructions on how to actually put it together. Telling someone just follow such and such instructions is only helpful for already technical-minded people and while I’m technically capable, I need a little more detail to get things going.

        I look forward to your updated OTA and Cable TV guide.

  • Hyung Lim

    Some of the Homerun devices do not do full transcoding which means you are streaming MPEG2 data over your network. So, it is best to use devices transcode to MPEG4. 4SeTV also work as what you are doing but it provide capability to watch 4 programs on single screen. Check out http://www.4SeTV.com

  • Bob Geiger

    I also use the homerun box and an antenna. It works great and I sometimes watch TV on my 21 inch kitchen tablet, or my 12 inch note, even my galexey phone, but I still switch back to the tv rather than used the app on my android tv box. I just like the picture quality better. It’s the one thing I really miss from my old goggle tv box which was completely integrated with the incoming cable. Why did goggle abandon that with android tv?

  • Tim

    Do android TV’s from sony allow you to just plug in your antenna to the TV and take advantage of the live channels app for the on screen guide? I built a new home and had coax run to all my TV locations, so it benefits me greatly to avoid doing any kind of wireless/ethernet solution vs. simply hardwiring the coax directly into the TV.