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Introducing Channels DVR

This article explains the ATSC 3 network DVR rig set up to replace our original TabloTV ATSC 1 DVR. Why DIY with HDHomeRun and Channels DVR? Because we could. And Channels is getting better marks than TabloTV.

In the beginning there was ATSC 1.0 off air. With Dismal Wizard’s return from Rhode Island to Virginia, we installed a TV antenna and set up our first TabloTV DVR. Ten years later, ATSC 3.0 has been rolled out. ATSC 3 continues with the 8VSB waveform but has changed the protocol data unit formats to allow additional video codecs to be used including the recent H.256 codec. These changes allow more on-air channels than were possible with the original ATSC 1 codec suite.

The ATSC 3.0 signal has 2 parts, a bootstrap sent periodically that describes the signals available in the channel and the various program frame streams. The receiver listens to the bootstrap to determine what is available and what can be decoded.

After the break, I describe the changes we made to move to ATSC 3.0 here at Dismal Manor.

Revisions

  1. 2023-01-05 Original

References

Here are the key web pages I used to choose products for the Dismal Run home TV tech refresh. +

  1. https://www.silicondust.com/
  2. https://www.tablotv.com/
  3. https://www.nvidia.com/en-us/shield/
  4. https://getchannels.com/how/
  5. https://getchannels.com/account/

Equipment Changes

To stand up ATSC 3 here at Dismal Manor required hardware and software changes. First, we needed a new tuner. And depending on the choice of tuner, a new DVR.

Tuners in the Market

There are two families of tuners out there, the Silicon Dust HD HomeRun family and the Nuvvio Tablo TV family. The Silicon Dust products are aimed at DIY fans and professional installers. The DIY tuners support 2 or 4 simultaneous channels. The Pro tuners support many streams for use by sports bars etc. The HD HomeRun product is a true network architecture product.

The Nuvvio Tablo TV products are aimed at general viewers by offering a self-contained solution having both the tuners and the DVR. The newest Tablo TV devices are made for direct HDMI connection to the TV as a DVR appliance.

Both the HD HomeRun and the Tablo TV have similar tuner capabilities.

Network Video Recorders

Both Tablo TV and HD HomeRun can be purchased in configurations with internal storage or to which a USB disk can be connected. Our early TabloTV was of this sort.

The newer TabloTV devices are offered in network connected and directly connected forms. The directly connected form is oriented to those who watch primarily on their lounge TV. These are completely self-contained and come with yet another remote to curse and loose. But they are a good product and are the right product for watching off the air with minimal setup and configuration required.

The newer HD HomeRun devices can be configured as a DVR by attaching storage to the USB port on the back.

DVR Applications

Both Tablo TV and HD HomeRun offer DVR applications that run on box. Both can be purchased with internal storage. I’ve been reluctant to purchase internal storage versions because the on-air standards outlive moving head disk drives 2 to 1. I’ve always used external USB disks. The LaCie 2.5 inch portable disks have proven robust in this service. The first recorded a couple of hours a night for 10 years.

Nvidia Shield and Raspberry Pi can be used to run a number of DVR or Media Center applications. These include Plex, Kodi, and some others. Nvidia Shield is a nice choice here as Plex, Kodi, and others can be downloaded from the Nvidia Shield app store. This simplifies installation greatly.

Channels is available from the Get Channels website but is also available as a TrueNAS Community Developed Plug-in. This is the route Dismal Manor went.

Dismal Manor Rig

Dismal Manor went with the HD HomeRun Flex 4K 4 tuner product. This device can record 2 ATSC 3 channels and 2 ATSC 1 channels simultaneously. This is a good rig for a 2 person household or a household that watches 1 show while recording a second or third. The ATSC 1 tuners can tune SD channels freeing the ATSC 3 tuners for HD content at high resolutions.

Dismal Manor, after surveying the available DVR applications, went with the Channels DVR separating tuner, media library, and DVR functions. I installed Channels on Sherman, our TrueNAS 13 Core server used as a backup device.

An AppleTV 4K handles rendering duties using the AppleTV Channels app. This save a TV HDMI port for whichever small computer is colicky.

Installing Channels DVR

TrueNAS never ceases to amaze me. It turned out that Channels was available as a Community-Supported Plugin. TrueNAS Plugins are, in essence, pre-built packages for installing a FreeBSD compatible image or application system in a FreeBSD jail. The Jail environment provides a VNC display device and a shell terminal in a TrueNAS browser window. You just tell TrueNAS to install the plugin. After a few minutes, things are ready to run and you get to discover what they didn’t tell you.

Installing the Channels DVR Plugin

In the case of the Channels Plugin, I elected to configure it with a small image for the plugin plus a separate TrueNAS dataset (filesystem) for the recording library and spool volume.

Channels DVR Media Filesystem

To get this to work, I had to add a user to TrueNAS matching the UID and GID for the plugin.

Jails View lets you open a console shell

To discover which UID and GID were used required visiting the plugin console, listing processes to find the DVR root process, and noting the UID and GID used. To open a console shell, select the TrueNAS Jails tab, select the Channels DVR Jail, and click the Shell button. In the shell issue ps aux | grep dvr and note the UID and GID assigned to the dvr process. Given this info, it was easy to add a dvr user to TrueNAS with proper UID and GID. Channels was ID 820 down in the daemon range.

Setting Up Channels

Once installed and running happily, there is installation to do. The installation procedure ends with some output to be saved that identifies the Channels DVR address, host name (here, dvr-channels-dvr.local, and the console port 8089). Note that the address and port will be installation specific. But Channels DVR follows Bonjour zeroconf conventions and the installer will tell you the host name chosen. But once running, you can open the web management interface in a browser tab.

Click manage to open the plugin web interface

First, check for updates and run the updater. The plugin establishes the environment but does not chase revisions. So as with most things, install from the image and once installed, run the update procedure. This is in the upper left corner of the UI.

Channels DVR UI showing the Update panel

Once the software has been updated, configure Bonjour and mount the TrueNAS filesystem that will receive recorded media.

Enable Bonjour and Mount Storage

And you need to subscribe to the Channels channel guide. This subscription serves two purposes. It is how you put rice in the project rice bowl. And it also pays the service that makes your local TV guide. Or is it TV Guide since they moved from print to a service for DVR providers.

So visit the link [5], create an account and commence a subscription. The first month is free. This lets you get going and decide if Channels is a keeper. After several months, I usually convert from monthly to yearly to save a couple of months of subscription cost.

Once you have completed your subscription chores, configure your account in the Channels DVR server.

Create your subscription and setup payment

Add an AppleTV App

Once you are done with the preliminaries of setting up Channels DVR, you can visit the App Store on your Apple TV to install a Channels App. The one you want is for HD HomeRun.

You want the one on the right

The Apple TV version of Channels for HD HomeRun is $25. This version offers a much more customizable configuration than the DVR version. Commercial skip, skip forward, skip back, etc can be configured and much more.

Setting up Recordings and Passes

The easiest place at which to set up recordings and passes is on the AppleTV using the channel guide. Select a future show in the guide. Give a short click of the center button. A dialog will appear. Here you can set up a 1 episode recording or a “pass” that records all new episodes of the show and determines how many watched episodes to retain.

By davehamby

A modern Merlin, hell bent for glory, he shot the works and nothing worked.