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Attempting a minimalist living room with Shield Android TV and HDHomeRun

Jared Newman | June 8, 2015
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.

So far, HDHomeRun and Pluto.TV are the only sources that support Live Channels. But Google said last week that it will be adding several more sources soon, including Huffington Post Live, Bloomberg TV, AOL, and Vevo.

Granted, some people ditch cable TV to get away from this sort of viewing experience, preferring instead to watch everything on demand. But when you don't particularly care what's on, or want to watch something on broadcast TV without delay, Live Channels is pretty useful. Or at least, it should be.

Minimalism at a cost

The problem with streaming games and video to your television from elsewhere in the house is that it introduces more points of failure. Over the last few days, I've learned this the hard way while trying to iron out the HDHomeRun's video issues.

In the Live Channels app, HDHomeRun's feed is not nearly as smooth as an antenna plugged directly into the television. And while HDHomeRun's viewer app has options to enable sharper, smoother video, this introduced an audio sync issue that was especially pronounced on certain high-definition channels. The tuner also failed to show video at all in some cases, requiring me to reload the channel or restart the app.

I estimate that I've spent at least six hours trying to solve this problem. I've gone back and forth between the Shield Android TV and Google's Nexus Player to see if they have the same problems (they do), swapped between Wi-Fi and power-line Ethernet connections, and even tried connecting a different wireless router (no luck). I've exchanged dozens of emails with the PR folks at Nvidia and SiliconDust, who, despite their best efforts, haven't been able to nail down a solution. I even got to test an unreleased version of HDHomeRun's app with MPEG-2 support, which supposedly will allow smoother playback. It didn't erase the lag in the audio.

Granted, other users may not have these problems, but when you add more links in the chain, it's all the more likely that something will go wrong. (I've experienced the occasional PC gaming glitch as well, but it's generally nice and smooth once a game is up and running.)

This leaves me in a tough position. I like the way my living room looks now; and functionally, it's as close as I've come to the dream of combining all entertainment on a single TV input. With Live Channels, some of that entertainment is even consolidated into a single app. I'm just not sure if it's all worth the trade-off.


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