Silicon Dust HD Homerun, CableCard, and Mac

One point twenty-one jiggawatts!

So, the good news is that Time Warner’s 50Mb/s internet access is really, truly 50Mb/s. I’m impressed. (Let’s assume no outages.) On the other hand there’s the whole digital cable situation. Now, as you may recall, I don’t care for broadcast TV but, hey, I wouldn’t mind being able to watch major sporting events live. Also, I’ve discovered that, at least where Comcast is concerned, if you don’t actually have a digital tuner in your house then you can’t access HBO GO even if you pay for HBO. So my goal was to (a) get access to TV when I wanted it (i.e. rarely), and (b) minimize the amount of cable TV bundling tax I pay on top of my true need which is high speed internet.

My plan was to get a stupidly fast internet connection with the cheapest TV package that included the station that Game of Thrones is on. I also wanted to pay as little as possible for set top boxes and other crap. The result is I bought a new modem from Amazon (based on recommendations from both Time Warner and The Wirecutter) to avoid paying $8/month for a crappy modem and trying to figure out which wall wart goes with my old Comcast modem (which probably doesn’t support DOCSYS 3 anyway) and I bought a mysterious device called the HD Homerun which purports to allow anyone on your LAN to watch Cable TV by using a CableCard. I picked this option after discovering that a CableCard is by far the cheapest “tuner” option I can rent from Time Warner if I want to be able to “watch” HBO.

The HD Homerun's software is minimalist and borderline useless

First off, the HD Homerun basically doesn’t support Macs. It has a godawful (and pretty useless) “application” that lets you discover your device on the network (which works quite well) and then point its tuners at different stations in a ludicrously primitive and unhelpful way. Some stations “work” (i.e. when you tune to one and click “view” you see something) while others don’t (i.e. if they’re encrypted or some other magic property is not in evidence). To get that far, however, is a bit of an epic journey.

The HD Homerun's embedded web app is truly awful.

To begin with, such documentation as you get (which is virtually nothing) assumes you’re using Windows 7 (or maybe 8). Although, judging by the forums, it’s not like everything “just works” in Windows. But in particular Windows will actually display the HOST ID and DATA strings you need to get the device working with your provider. On a Mac you need to go into terminal and type hdhomerun_config discover to find out the IP address of your gadget. (Getting this information involved extensive googling and then eventually realizing that Mac users are best off reading the MythTV documentation and trying to glean meaning from it.) You then type the resulting IP address into a web browser to get to a spectacularly bad web app (as in, worse than ten year old routers) which displays the information you need. And with that I was able to see perhaps one in ten stations (not even all the free to air stations I am supposed to get).

So, the one positive side of this is that despite the fact I can’t watch any HBO stations (they’re all encrypted and the device doesn’t support decrypting them — I’m not sure why) I have been able to log into HBO GO and I’m only paying $2.50 per month (plus taxes to pay for the Spanish-American War, etc.) for a useless CableCard instead of $8/month for a useless set-top box or $23/month for a useless DVR.

Verdict: I’m not positive that Time Warner Cable is as incompetent as Comcast, so it’s possible that I don’t need the CableCard at all, in which case the HD Homerun is a complete waste of money, On the assumption that TWC is exactly as incompetent as Comcast, and that without some kind of tuner that theoretically could receive HBO in my house I couldn’t use HBO GO, the HD Homerun is the cheapest device I could find that lets me use (and theoretically activate) a CableCard. As such, it pays for itself in about six months. Just don’t expect it to do anything useful.

  • The reason your Mac can’t use HBO, or other premium channels, is that the client app on your Mac has to be certified by CableLabs.

    Even though OS X now supports HDCP, that’s not enough for CableCARD. The viewer app has to have a digital signature that it passes to the CableCARD Tuner (HDHomeRun) to sign off that the premium media will be secure from piracy on the client computer.

    The only PC stack to do this, to-date, is Windows Media Center.

    CableLabs really doesn’t seem enthusiastic-and-willing to certify any further CableCARD PC stacks (EyeTV, etc), though I’m sure they will proclaim that they’re happy to. Really they want to move to DTCP-IP via protected/encrypted DLNA, which will replace CableCARD some time this decade. That was what Boxee was pursuing when they shut their doors.

    P.S. As to why you have to have the tuner to use HBO GO, don’t know. I suspect the authentication server on the cable operator end only enumerates channels approved for internet clients (HBO Go, Fox News Go, etc) based on tuner data. Corner cutting, in other words, to prevent having to have multiple databases. The engineer/team that drew up the implementation plan probably figured that nobody would have the use case that you have – using HBO GO exclusively and foregoing the local tuner/receiver.

  • Thanks, belatedly, for the information. Luckily we have HBO Now, now.

  • ssn708

    Anyone know of any problems using this on a MAC running windows 7 through “Boot Camp”?