If you have more house than cable TV outlets, or if you simply must watch "Judge Judy" or a Washington Nationals game out on the deck using a tablet computer, a small $179 device could make your life a whole lot easier.
What's more, I believe the technology in Elgato's HDHomeRun could be a key part of the future of broadcasting, in which television and computing are merged. It may not be that far off, and, well, I think it makes sense. After all, there should be little to keep cable TV programs away from your computer screen.
TV is digital now, and many of us who are cable subscribers get our high-speed Internet service from our cable (and phone) providers. Indeed, firms such as Cox Cable, Verizon and Comcast offer bundled packages of TV, telephone and Internet. Some, such as Comcast, offer ways to watch many programs on wireless devices such as smartphones and tablet computers.
What's more, today's notebook and desktop all-in-one computers feature kinds of screens (high resolution) and processing power to make this simple and easy.
But because television programs are intellectual property, and because cable programming isn't all "free" to operators, who must pay per subscriber for networks such as CNN, the Food Network and Discovery, many signals are encrypted. Without what's known as a set-top box or a "cable card" that plugs directly into a television or other device, you can't pull down as much as you might like from the wire in your house.
What I did get, versus an over-the-air antenna, was quite a bit more: Broadcast channels from Washington and Baltimore, their HD "extra" channels, certain public-affairs and local-government-related channels (some of which can cure the most persistent insomnia) and others, depending on which channels are unencrypted. The HDHomeRun device's tuner can process those unencrypted channels without any extra equipment.
Moreover, the HDHomeRun connects to your in-home Ethernet network or router, making the programming available, conceivably, throughout the house, including on the aforementioned tablet devices, and smartphones.
The Elgato device works with both Mac and Windows computers, the former platform using Elgato's EyeTV software and the latter relying on Windows Media Center. EyeTV is a great program with a built-in program guide and recording capabilities. The same applies to Windows Media Center, though it adds digital rights management, or DRM, which is important for those wanting even more. Silicon Dust, the company behind HDHomeRun's technology, sells a "Prime" model, designed to work with Windows systems, that'll accommodate a cable card and give you a complete cable experience over your home network and on your Windows PC, depending, of course, on the cable programming services you buy.
The difference? That DRM feature, which keeps users from copying programs they shouldn't, such as HBO-carried movies.
At some point, DRM will have to be included in video software for the Mac, either by Elgato or someone else. And there are persistent rumors of Apple developing its own television set, which would have to do more than just carry TV programs.
I'll predict this: Once the copyright issues are resolved, there will be a number of ways to eliminate the set-top box and integrate television even more with your daily life. It's long been my belief that content - in this case broadcast content - should be available where users want it, and that's happening more and more. Within a few years, it won't be all that surprising to go into just about any room of a home and find the programming - audio or video - you want when you want it.
For now, the HDHomeRun device is a very good start. It's easy to set up and use and represents a very good value. Details at www.elgato.com or www.silicondust.com.
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