/etc

Because I’m a contrarian, I’ve been using a CableCARD to try to watch my cable TV subscription instead of renting boxes from the cable company. Previously I’d been using a Samsung GX-SM530CF—to my knowledge the only readily-available standalone device for using a CableCARD to play live TV over an HDMI output with no additional subscription. However, mine died for no reason, and with the release of Plex’s DVR functionality, I decided to roll the dice on a SiliconDust HDHomeRun PRIME as a replacement. I also didn’t want to buy another Samsung just to have it mysteriously die again.

Since the HDHomeRun streams video over your home network, it seemed like I would finally get around needing to have a dedicated device, cable drop, and rented CableCARD for anywhere I wanted to watch TV. The HDHomeRun has its own viewing software and there are also a number of third-party apps available such as Channels for the Apple TV 4.

The wrinkle is that cable providers can set a “DRM” flag on any channel or program they choose, and no currently-available software can decode these channels from the HDHomeRun. The only software that can do this is the now-discontinued Windows Media Center, running on a full PC, optionally extendable over the home network by a small number of devices called Windows Media Extenders. The only other option was an Android HDHomeRun View app - this, too, has been discontinued and is no longer available for purchase.1

Of course, some cable providers (like mine, Time Warner Cable in Durham, NC) set the DRM flag on nearly every channel. I’d seen lots of mixed reports about this, but it’s true. Here’s the entire channel lineup from my HDHomeRun. The only way I could watch or record any DRM channels would be to dedicate a PC to Windows Media Center and use Windows Media Extender devices.

So with Windows Media Center discontinued, what are consumers to do? Well, SiliconDust themselves ran a Kickstarter for a “HDHomeRun DVR” software package which apparently has the eventual goal of including DRM support. It’s not there yet. You can download the beta software from their forum to kick the tires, and even buy a guide subscription if it looks like it’ll work for you and you missed the Kickstarter. The Channels app for Apple TV is putting out feelers for DRM support and pricing, and you can help out by filing requests with Apple for the tvOS functionality they’d need to make it work. A guy there also says Time Warner insists that when Charter takes over on January 1, 2017, they’ll stop adding DRM to all their channels.

In the meantime, dropping cable entirely and switching to fiber internet with a SlingTV or Vue subscription seems like the only sane option.

Footnotes:

  1. The discontinued Android HDHomeRun app which allowed DRM viewing was the “green” app, while the “grey” app now available on Android app stores does not yet support live DRM viewing.