If powerful, inexpensive consoles such as the PS3 and the Xbox 360 turned the once-popular gaming PC into a niche product, then similarly a rash of cheap set-top boxes have crushed the need for the already-niche home theater PC.
Yet, despite the proliferation of Apple TVs and Roku boxes, many people still want to watch TV on their PCs--whether they're hooked up to a separate TV or not. In fact, a recent survey suggests PC users spend an hour and a half a day watching video content on their devices.
If you're serious about using your PC to watch TV, eventually you might want the flexibility of filling its screen with legal, free, live TV channels from an over-the-air HDTV tuner. While USB tuners like the Elgato EyeTV Hybrid are available, they can only be used on the PC they're plugged into, and are not mobile-device-friendly. To the rescue comes the HDHomeRun, which offers two tuners and multiple viewing options.
Before we get to the details of the product, let's clear up some confusion. The hardware is created and sold by SiliconDust--but it's also licensed and sold by Elgato. Here's a quick cheat sheet:
SiliconDust HDHomeRun Dual: The version sold by SiliconDust includes no software, and is designed to run with Windows Media Center, which is present on nearly all versions of Windows Vista and Windows 7 except the Starter Edition (usually found on Netbooks). Retail price is $130, but it can be widely found online for $100. As a result, this version is best for Windows users (and for Linux users, who can use MythTV).
Elgato HDHomeRun (reviewed here): In addition to the exact same SiliconDust hardware listed above, the Elgato version of the product includes the EyeTV software for Macs. The Elgato retails for $180, but can be found for as little as $150. Because it includes the EyeTV software ($80 value), it's the best choice for Mac users--including those who want to stream live video to an iPad or iPhone via the EyeTV app.
With that out of the way, let's talk about the product itself.
Design and features
The Elgato HD HomeRun is a twin tuner box that connects to your home network and can serve over-the-air TV to your PC, Mac, or mobile device while in the home. It comes with EyeTV software for Macs. Invest in the $4.99 EyeTV app if you want to also stream video from the Mac to the iPad, iPhone, or iPod Touch.
The dual tuners enable both standard-definition (SD) and high-def (HD) programs to be watched and recorded. It's up to you to supply the antenna. Alternately, you can plug in a raw cable TV connection (straight from the wall jack) to get unencrypted ClearQAM TV channels. Just be aware that more and more cable systems are starting to lock out these channels, so selection may be increasingly limited.
The box itself is quite small--about the size of a pack of cigarettes--with just a power light at the front and an Ethernet port and RF cable connector for the antenna on the back.