What is the HDHomeRun Extend?
The HDHomeRun Extend is a TV tuner for your home network. By plugging your HDTV antenna into an Extend, you can stream high definition over-the-air TV broadcasts to any device on the network. The Extend includes special hardware that improves streaming over older WiFi networks. With an HDHomeRun DVR subscription, you can record programs to a hard drive — with no limits or expiration.
People who have poor-performing wireless networks and people who plan to record a lot of TV content are the target customers for the HDHomeRun Extend. This streaming device can take two over-the-air TV signals and transcode them into lower-bandwidth video streams without sacrificing video quality.
This makes the Extend ideal for specific TV streamers but may not offer much benefit for anyone else. Given the HDHomeRun Extend is identical to the less expensive two-tuner HDHomeRun Connect, you should consider your situation when choosing between the two.
- High-quality, low-bandwidth video streams
- Smaller file size for DVR recordings
- Dual-tuners let you watch and record simultaneously
- DVR service is competitively priced
- Fairly simple setup process
- Solves problem many don’t have
- Ethernet-only design limits antenna placement
- No app for Roku
- No app for Apple TV
- DVR requires always-on PC or NAS device
Design, Weight and Dimensions
The Extend is a hefty little device. Rather than the plastic shells that encase typical streaming devices, this dual tuner’s metal casing adds a little weight to your entertainment center.
In order to keep the Extend quiet, SiliconDust went with a fanless design. Large side vents allow air to flow around the higher-performing chips inside. In addition, the upper surface has a ridged design to add to the heat management.
Ignore the specs on SiliconDust’s website. The actual dimensions are much different.
Size: 5.5” x 4.3” x 1.3” ( 140mm x 109mm x 33mm)
Weight: 1 lb (493g)
Like all of the HDHomeRun over-the-air products, the Extend only has three ports on the back: the power jack, a 100 Mbps Ethernet port and a coaxial connection.
The Extend includes two ATSC 2.0 TV tuners which allow you to receive 1080p broadcasts from your local TV stations.
This product’s main differentiator is a dedicated chip for hardware transcoding of the video the Extend sends across your network. TV stations broadcast their digital signals using a format called MPEG-2 which doesn’t require high-performance hardware but does consume a lot of bandwidth. The H.264 format, on the other hand, takes advantage of better-performing chips to stream the same quality using less bandwidth.
HD HomeRun Extend’s beefier design lets it convert the MPEG-2 signal coming from the antenna into an H.264 video stream to distribute across your home network. This approach provides two main benefits: it compensates for weak wireless networks and it reduces the storage space needed for DVR recordings.
Supported Devices and App Features
SiliconDust has created apps for the three major desktop operating systems, the iOS and Android mobile ecosystem as well as for the Android TV and Amazon Fire TV streaming platforms. You won’t find apps for Roku-based devices or for the Apple TV. Roku owners must rely on their device’s DLNA content-sharing feature.
Apple TV owners can only access the Extend’s video stream with an iPhone’s AirPlay feature. For an additional fee, Apple TV owners can download 3rd-party apps like Channels and Plex to access the video stream.
The software will handle all of the features a local TV station may include in the broadcast signal. That can include 1080p high-definition streams, surround-sound audio, closed captioning and more.
Like the rest of the HDHomeRun lineup, the Extend supports broadcasts up to 1080p resolution. In the case of the major networks, these over-the-air signals use much less compression than cable signals. That means you can get much better quality from your HDHomeRun Extend than you ever got from your cable box.
Other local channels, as well as the major stations’ sub-channels, may use lower resolutions in their broadcasts. Some signals will arrive in 720p high definition, but other channels will be using 480p standard definition.
SiliconDust’s online store gives the HDHomeRun Extend a list price of $179, but you’ll often see that discounted to as little as $129. All of the listings on Amazon are placed there by third-party resellers since SiliconDust does not sell through the online company. They are worth checking out, however, since these resellers often bundle other items with the tuner. Beach Camera, for example, sells an Extend with HDTV antenna bundle.
National retailers like Best Buy and Micro Center as well as online retailers like Newegg and Jet also sell the Extend.
Other HDHomeRun Options
If you don’t need the benefits of H.264 transcoding, the HDHomerun Connect Duo has a two-tuner design in a smaller and cheaper package. The Connect Quatro is a four-tuner design, but streams with the higher-bandwidth MPEG-2 format.
The HDHomeRun Scribe Duo is a two-tuner design that also includes enough built-in storage for the DVR to record 150 hours of programming.
HDHomeRun DVR Service
Straight out of the box, the HDHomeRun Extend’s electronic programming guide (EPG) only lets you see up to 24 hours in advance. By subscribing to SiliconDust’s HDHomeRun DVR service for $35 per month, you get a full 14-day schedule. In addition, you can record up to two shows at the same time.
The DVR software lets you schedule recordings of individual shows, all of the episodes of a TV series and even games played by your favorite sports team.
One advantage of the Extend’s use of H.264 transcoding is that the high-quality compression results in smaller file sizes. If you’re recording a lot of content during playoffs or next year’s Summer Olympic Games, then you won’t have to worry about running out of storage space.
The catch is that the Extend does not have a built-in hard drive to store those recordings — you have to provide that separately. A desktop computer on your network could do the trick. However, you have to leave the PC running around the clock. You also don’t want to be using the PC for anything too processor-intensive, like gaming or photo editing, when the DVR function kicks in.
The best way to set up the HDHomeRun DVR is to install the software on a network-attached storage (NAS) device. That could be a daunting task for some, but it ensures that the DVR can record the shows properly.
Third-Party DVR Services
If you are already partial to another home streaming system, like Plex, then you can use its DVR solution instead.
How Do I Set Up A HDHomeRun Extend?
SiliconDust does not clutter the packaging with a lot of useless stuff or try to wow you with an Apple-like experience. Interestingly, the first thing you see when opening the box is a promotional offer for Plex’s premium service.
The only “documentation” in the box is the Quickstart Guide. It only focuses on the physical setup and provides no information on the HDHomeRun apps.
Beneath the Quickstart Guide is the Extend.
And beneath the Extend you’ll find an Ethernet cable, an AC adaptor and rubber feet to stick on the Extend.
The physical setup process is straightforward. You connect the Extend to your TV antenna and your wireless router. Then you plug the AC adaptor into an outlet.
From there, you go to the MyHDHomeRun website. The red X-marks aren’t error messages. They only mean you haven’t finished the setup process.
Next, you download the HDHomeRun app to your Linux, Mac or Windows computer and run the installation file.
The setup utility updates the Extend’s firmware while installing the software on your PC. Unfortunately, this doesn’t get displayed in a consumer-friendly interface which could be off-putting for the less technically-inclined.
Once you have the software set up, you’re ready to watch TV. SiliconDust has kept the user interface consistent across all platforms. Learn how to use the HDHomeRun app on one device and you know how to use it on every device. You can scroll through the Channel List on the right-hand side of the screen to select your station.
To see what shows are coming up, you can expand each station’s Channel Slice.
Going into the EPG menu, the Discover tab lets you see all of the shows that are on right now or scroll up to 24 hours in the future. If you subscribe to the DVR service, you can scroll up to two weeks ahead.
The EPG can also present the TV series and movies that will air in the next day or two weeks.
The HDHomeRun Extend delivered solid streaming performance of high definition TV signals simultaneously to two devices. When we reviewed the HDHomeRun Connect Duo, the Mac app always froze after the second or third channel change. This did not happen with the HDHomeRun Extend.
The Extend’s transcoding function will come in useful if your home wireless network doesn’t have great connections. The structure of your home, neighbors wireless signals and older technology can limit the amount of bandwidth available for streaming TV. With better compression technology, the Extend uses much less bandwidth to stream its high-definition video over your wireless network.
What Local OTA Channels Can I Watch With A HDHomeRun Extend?
The Extend starts scanning for local TV stations the minute you plug it in. By the time you finish installing the software, it should be ready to go. In our case, the Extend pulled 60 local channels from the Mohu Leaf 30. This included all of the national broadcast networks — both English-language and Spanish-language. You may also find channels, like PBS and The CW, that rarely appear on streaming services.
Of the dozens of channels that you can get, many of them are sub-channels of your traditional local stations. You’ll find these channels cater to specific interests like science fiction, classic TV and home shopping.
Sites like AntennaWeb and TV Fool will give you an estimate of how many TV stations you could get. The TV Fool site is particularly useful for people in more rural locations who need to worry about aiming their TV antennas in the optimal direction.
Whether you get the full TV experience will depend on your particular situation. Local geography and the structure of your home can reduce the number of channels you can get. Antenna placement also has a significant effect, which is why the Extend’s Ethernet-only design can be an issue.
Since it relies on an Ethernet connection to your home network, you may be stuck placing the Extend next to your wireless router. But that also means you have to place your HDTV antenna near your wireless router — which may not be the best place to receive TV signals.
What Antenna Should I Use With The HDHomeRun Extend?
For people living in urban and suburban areas, an inexpensive flat antenna may be all that’s needed. The Mohu Leaf 30, for example, combines price and performance into a thinly stylish design.
For people who live further away from the nearest TV transmission towers, a rooftop antenna like the Mohu Sky 60 may be the better choice.
What Hard Drive Should I Use With The HDHomeRun Extend?
Your home computer may not have enough storage space to handle all of the programs you want to record. Adding a USB 3.0 hard drive like the Western Digital 2TB Elements is a cheap and easy solution.
Setting up a NAS device isn’t too difficult. Once done, a NAS will let you share files across your home network all the time. The NAS DiskStation DS218j from Synology has a good reputation for performance and value. Like most NAS solutions, however, the DS218j does not ship with hard drives pre-installed. You have to buy drives separately and install them yourself.
HDHomeRun Extend Vs. Tablo
The Tablo Dual Lite OTA DVR is almost identical to the HDHomeRun Extend. It has two TV tuners as well as H.264 transcoding. The Tablo also has both WiFi and Ethernet connections which means you can place device and TV antenna in the best place for TV reception. At a list price of $140, the Dual Lite might seem like a better deal but Tablo’s DVR service costs $15 per month more than SiliconDust’s.
HDHomeRun Extend Vs. Tivo
Tivo used to be synonymous with home DVR and it still makes a high-quality product. With four TV tuners, built-in DVR storage and the ability to run streaming apps like Netflix, the Tivo Bolt OTA will outperform the Extend on almost every measure. But it doesn’t beat the Extend on price. The hardware costs $250 and Tiv’s DVR service requires a $70 per month subscription.
The HDHomeRun Extend provides a solution for a limited set of customers. If the performance of your home wireless network is less than stellar —or if you’re concerned about having enough disk storage for recorded programs — then the Extend is the right product for you. Hardware-based H.263 transcoding eases the burden on your wireless network and significantly reduces the file sizes of your recordings.
On the other hand, people who don’t have those issues will be better off saving money with the HDHomeRun Connect Duo.
In either case, you should be aware of the limitations of the HDHomeRun system. The Ethernet-only design may mean your antenna will not pull in as many local channels. Also, using the DVR requires some form of networked storage — either an always-on PC or a NAS device.
Chris Casper is a former tech industry product manager who escaped from California for New Mexico. Now he writes about science and tech while searching for the perfect green chile sauce.