John's Musings

Yeah, Me Neither

Over The Air Broadcast TV

Some time back I did the math and decided that full blown cable or satellite TV just wasn't worth it. High speed internet, Hulu, Netflix, and Sling are still way cheaper per year than cable TV. Also if there is that one or two shows that you can't live without in this day and age you can buy them on Amazon Prime or Apple TV and it is still cheaper than a year of cable TV.

Of course now that broadcast, over the air television is transmitted in digital you can improve your content simply by sticking an antenna up. I've run the gamut of indoor amplified antennas and suffice to say I'm in a poor region for broadcast TV. I can typically get 7 or so channels at my home, 6 of which are mostly worthless. So I opted to get a Mohu Sky 60 Antenna to stick in my attic.

Right away I got a slew of channels including the two major players I needed. Fox and CBS (FOOTBALL!)

Although they claim the Mohu Sky 60 is omni-directional it is very much a directional antenna. and unfortunately for me positioning it to get great reception on CBS screws up Fox. Still I'm convinced there is a magic location that will pull it all in with ease. I know it is there, because I've found it several times however when I mount the antenna the magic spot loses its magic. The Mohu Sky 60 also comes with a preamplifier WHICH IS WORTHLESS. The antenna performs better in every respect without it (in my application).

The neighborhood I live in forbids antennas outside but several people have them. I may just need to mount the Mohu outside. It's not very obtrusive looking and has a sleek, low profile appearance. If dozens of neighbors can have satellite dishes then I'm not seeing a problem here.

To make my over the air TV broadcasts more accessible I've also bought an HDHomerun Connect streaming device.

This device is basically a TV Tuner that connects to your home network via ethernet (I know what you are thinking, but you wouldn't want wireless for this application). Then using either the HDHomerun software or any number of Open Source programs or servers you can stream digital TV to all your devices. What does that mean in layman's terms? FOOTBALL IN BED!

I have an Ubuntu Home Server I built which uses a program called Emby. Emby is basically a media server however it detects the HDHomerun Connect and logging into Emby via web browser you can view all the different channels via web browser. Now you can google up a local TV guide and then stream the channel however if you want a continually updated guide within Emby you need to pony up a few bucks to a service called Schedules Direct. They give you a week free so you can decide if it worth it or not. It is to me, however like I said you can readily view your local TV stations and then just click the channel to view. It isn't even hard but it is one more step.

Maybe the best thing about this setup is that the HDHomerun Connect is basically a DVR. You can record, time shift, whatever. Like to watch Two Broke Girls? ( I don't, just an example). Tell Emby to record it and every time it comes on (it gets this info from the guide) it'll record and save it. That's worth the price of admission right there.

Here's what it looks like:

Pretty cool, huh?

Some observations:

  • Emby needs quite a bit of power to transcode and stream the video. I generally set my stream at 1080p and 4MBPS.
  • Chrome browser works BEST for some reason. Everything else is more prone to choking.
  • Great reception channels perform BRILLIANTLY.
  • Poor reception channels freeze.
  • Huge increase to my viewable content which is FREE (after you factor in the cost of antennas, HDHomerun device, guide subscription, network cables and about a thousand man hours of antenna positioning)
  • Emby doesn't work worth a hoot under my much more powerful server which runs FreeNAS. Works great under Ubuntu Linux.
  • Plex Media Server has a DVR Beta program which RECORDS only. While that is pretty cool you can't just stream the content and it requires a PLEX PASS subscription.
  • When Emby and your browser choke open your HDHomerun_config_GUI program and manually input your channel and click view. It opens VLC media player and this seems to work FLAWLESSLY. The downside is that you have to know the actual channel number and input it. In this instance CBS channel 9 is actually broadcast channel 10. Not at all confusing. Another channel of mine, 14 is actually broadcast channel 47. Intuitive!

Also the config program shows signal strength, signal quality, and symbol quality. This is a MUST for positioning your antenna. i took my laptop up in the attic and played with the antenna positioning until I got the best spread of channels. Getting CBS and Fox somewhat reliably cost me about 6 or 7 other channels. I think one was "The Pot Holder Channel", and another was "The Meerkat Evolution Channel". Not really a problem for me to not get these. That of course is an exaggeration.

In the end I was STILL having minor glitches and pixelating with CBS and Fox from Greenville NC. To solve the problem once and for all I discarded the crap amplifier with the Mohu Sky antenna and went to RadioShack and bought a 33 dB high gain signal amplifier.

Now lets look at what we have. I depicted broadcast channel 47 which is virtual channels 14.1 and 14.2 here locally (Fox). Look at the difference. From 58, 53, and 100 to 85, 73, and 100. Much improved. Also before Signal quality would fluctuate and drop into the red thereby losing Symbol Quality which equals pixels, drops, freezes. No More! Good stable signals throughout.

Here's my lineup. Not bad for this region.

I had pulled all my "telephone" CAT 5E wires in from outside the home in the cable box to inside the garage and connected them to a 6 port wall plate. On the other end of the wire everything was hooked to phone jacks. I replaced those with gigabit ethernet female connectors, thereby wiring the whole house with high speed ethernet.

Mounted a network switch on the wall next to it and my HDHomeRun Connect next to that. Then dropped an antenna cable down from the attic and then ran ethernet from the living room to the garage by drilling a small hole in the baseboards. I was going to put in wall plates but the wires running out to the garage would be much less conspicuous. Turned out to be a fairly elegant solution to getting gigabit ethernet into the home.

If nothing else it was a cool project that took some time, some effort, some server configuration and that folks is what John is all about. Wasting time. Anyway, now John can watch football.