Broadcast television isn't dead, at least not yet, but the way we watch it is certainly changing. These days Australia's free-to-air broadcasters all offer online simulcasts, but they're not available on every device.
Worse yet, you'll often find that live sport like footy and cricket — perhaps the only things you want to watch on free-to-air — is blocked due to streaming rights deals. As we've seen with Optus' World Cup streaming disaster, sometimes free-to-air broadcasts can save the day.
Rather than relying on online simulcasts, SiliconDust's tiny $299 HDHomeRun Quatro (currently $285 on Amazon) converts every broadcast free-to-air channel into a livestream, thanks to four built-in MPEG-4 HDTV tuners. You simply plug it into an aerial wall socket, along with an Ethernet port so it's visible to every device connected to your wired and wireless home network.
With the Quatro up and running you can watch live broadcasts on your computers, smartphones and tablets thanks to the free HDHomeRun apps. You enjoy a broadcast-quality SD or HD picture, without the lag that plagues streaming services. It's even possible to pause and rewind live broadcasts.
On top of this, the Quatro shows up on your home network as a DLNA media server, which means you can also stream live channels to games consoles, set-top boxes, disc players and media servers like Window Media Centre, Plex and Kodi.
On the run
The Quatro lets four people watch different channels on different devices simultaneously, which is a step up from the old dual-tuner HDHomeRun Connect. Of course you'll want to make sure that your home network is up to the task.
You can't access the Quatro to watch live broadcasts when you're away from home, but there is a workaround if you link the Quatro to a media server like Plex. Of course now you're at the mercy of your home's broadband upload speeds, so your mileage may vary.
The free-to-air broadcasters and streaming rights owners might not like the idea of you watching live footy on your phone without paying for a subscription, but they can't stop you. You're still watching "broadcast" television.
Along with the Quatro, SiliconDust has launched a $US35 ($47) per year HDHomeRun DVR service, which lets you install TV recording software on a Mac/Windows computer or a network attached storage device.
The recording features are pretty basic and you should weigh it up against alternatives like Plex's DVR features. Thankfully you can create a season pass with pre and post-padding to automatically record your favourite shows each week. Once again, access to your recordings is limited to devices connected to your home network, but you can get around this by using a media server like Plex as the middleman to stream across the internet.
This is where four tuners comes in handy, to ensure that you can still flick through the live channels on your smartphone when the TV recording software is tying up some of the tuners.
The downside is that you're stuck with the terrible Electronic Program Guide embedded in Australia's free-to-air broadcast signal. It isn't as reliable as the custom EPG built into the Fetch TV Mighty, which is generally regarded as Australia's best personal video recorder.
The trade-off is that the Fetch TV Mighty can't stream free-to-air recordings or live broadcasts to mobile devices around your home. This is primarily due to technical challenges, but there's also the lingering fear of Australia’s broadcasters and rights holders who still want to dictate how we watch television and have dragged services to court in the past.
If you want to break the shackles and watch free-to-air television on your terms, around your home or out on the road, then there might be a spot for SiliconDust's HDHomeRun Quatro in your home.
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