XBMC and HD HomeRun

Originally published on the PCW blog

XBMC and HD HomeRun

In the June 2009 issue of PCW, I look at home entertainment networks, and one of the devices that’s touched on is the HD HomeRun from Silicon Dust, distributed in the UK by Nectar. The full article will be online later in the month, but for now you can download a diagram here, which shows the real-world network I have set up at home.

One of the key parts of that is my Macbook Pro, which has XBMC installed on it; this allows it to play back just about any of the media on the network, including Freeview recordings stored on the PVR, or on the network, as well as DivX and other video. And, as I mentioned in the article, it can use the HD HomeRun to watch live TV, unfortunately, I didn’t have enough space to go into the details of setting it up and the documentation for HD HomeRun is a little opaque, to put it kindly.

Essentially, HomeRun has two Freeview tuners, and makes streams from those available over the network via its Ethernet port; ignore the HD in the name – it won’t be compatible with the DVB-T2 standard that’s going to be used in the UK.

If you want to use XBMC to watch streams from the HomeRun, here’s what you have to do. First, you need a Windows PC to run the setup program (or to put up with lots more hassle, which I’ll explain later). You’ll also have to install XBMC on that PC, even if you don’t intend to use it.

Run the HD HomeRun Setup program, and for at least one of the tuners, select the application as XBMC. I strongly recommend getting the latest version from the Silicon Dust website – it adds support for the ‘Logical Channel Numbers’ used on Freeview, and will automatically update the HomeRun’s firmware.

Tell the setup program to scan for channels, and when it’s finished, you will find a folder called ‘HDHomeRun XBMC TV’ in your Documents and Settings folder. Inside this will be lots of files with the extension .strm, which is what XBMC uses to select a channel on the tuner; the file for Film 4 is called ’15 Film4.strm’ for instance – the 15 is the Freeview channel number.

Now, in XBMC, you can select Videos, then Add source, browse to the folder containing the strm files, and click OK. Give it a name if you want something other than the folder name, and it’ll appear in your video source list. Click that, and you’ll see the .strm files, and clicking on one of them will connect to the tuner and stream live TV.

If you want to do this on a Mac, you’ll need the very latest version of XBMC, as some recent ones had broken HomeRun support, or Plex which is based on the same code. Either share the folder with the strm files from your PC, or copy them to somewhere on the Mac, and add the folder as a video source as I described in the previous paragraph.

You can also right click on a .strm file and choose to add it to the Library in XMBC, giving it a different name; the first time you’ll have to add a genre – Live TV, say. Add your favourite channels this way, and then you can access them in Library mode, via the genre you gave them.

And if you don’t have a PC to run the setup program and generate all those .strm files? Well, you can do it manually. If you don’t mind a lot of hassle. This is what you’ll see if you look in the file for Film4, for my HomeRun unit, on the Crystal Palace transmitter:


The first set of numbers is the id of the HomeRun – on a label on the bottom, or visible in the Mac utility. Tuner0 is the first tuner, t8qam16 is the mode (some muxes use QAM64 mode), and 538000000 is the centre frequency, in Hz, of UHF channel 29, which carries the mux (useful table here) while 27136 is the service ID for the Film4 stream (find other SIDs here). The HD Homerun Config GUI works on the Mac, and you can see most of these parameters using the scan buttons, too, but you’ll still need to convert the channel numbers to their correct frequencies.

So, armed with that, you could roll your own .strm files, or create hdhomerun:// references to put straight into XBMC. Personally, I think it’s less painful to have a PC create them for you.

It’s not exactly plug and play, but it is a great little gadget that can turn almost any laptop into a portable TV for you.

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