One of the best parts of cutting out pay TV is getting rid of the clunky, costly set-top box. Instead of paying stiff monthly fees for that living-room eyesore, you can swap in a streaming media player for glorious living-room minimalism.
But depending on your needs, doing it all with a single device can be tricky. In addition to streaming video sources such as Netflix, I've always used an antenna for free, over-the-air broadcasts; I've also wanted to bring my PC-gaming collection into the living room, but preferably without involving more bulky, expensive hardware.
That's why the Nvidia Shield Android TV seemed like the perfect answer. The $200 set-top box is only a little bigger than an Apple TV or a Roku, but it can stream PC games from the desktop computer in my office. The Android-TV platform also supports SiliconDust's HDHomeRun Extend tuner ($120), which connects to a Wi-Fi router and streams live over-the-air channels from an antenna to the television.
By tucking some of the hardware away in another room, these two devices promise a minimalist media center through streaming. It's a sight to behold (see above), but this simplicity comes at a cost.
Setting it all up
I won't dive too deeply into the Shield Android TV here. You can check out my hands-on impressions from last week for more details, but setting it up basically involves plugging it into a wall and connecting the included HDMI cable up to a television. Aside from its gaming capabilities, it's similar to other Android-TV devices, with a decent app selection and support for casting videos from a phone or tablet.
HDHomeRun's setup is more complicated. First, you plug the HDHomeRun tuner into your Wi-Fi router. Then you plug an antenna into the tuner — ideally, this whole setup is near a window where you get a strong over-the-air signal — and connect the tuner's power adapter to an outlet.
Once everything's connected, you must use a PC or a Mac to download the latest HDHomeRun firmware, and then install the HDHomeRun View app on Android TV. You can also watch the live-TV feed on Android phones or tablets, and various third-party apps are available for viewing on other platforms.
Replacing that lean-back experience
HDHomeRun isn't a new product, and its viewer app arrived on Google's Android TV platform last year. But it's worth a fresh look now that Google is putting more effort into Android TV's Live Channels feature.
Live Channels is like the programming guide you'd find on a cable box, but with broadcast channels and Internet video mashed together. Once you've installed some apps that work with Live Channels — such a HDHomeRun's viewer — they'll automatically show up as options in the master programming guide. From a single menu, you can hop from NBC to PBS to the 24-7 cat video channel on Pluto.TV. And if you're not a cat person, you can customize which channels show up in the guide.
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