Saturday, April 25, 2015

TabloTV + Roku

I recently switched from my Mythbuntu MythTV system to a TabloTV with a Roku3. While I've enjoyed tinkering with the MythTV system and it's many features over the years, limited free time and failing hardware lead me to take a close look at moving to a dedicated appliance style system. As part of this project I also decided to improve my OTA antenna installation since I was not getting all the national broadcast networks reliably. I am very glad I did as it's all working well now.

To start with I focused on the antennas as this is the biggest factor in reliable signal reception. I used the FCC TV signal direction site to figure out which types of antennas I needed. The major factors in choosing the antenna are which RF channels it is designed for, the dBi gain for how weak a signal it can receive, and the beam width for how wide the reception angle is.

Living in Seattle I need channels VHF 9-13 plus UHF 16 and up. Since the is a large hill between my house and the transmitters I wanted the highest gain available in a reasonable size and a beam width wide enough to receive the signal from each of the transmitters. I already had a Antennas Direct DB4 and it was pretty good for the UHF channels, but my RadioShack VU-75XR wasn't good enough for the VHF channels so I found the AntennaCraft VHF Y5-7-13 and it works great. There are a few channels that are still on the reception edge so I may replace the DB4 later with an 8 bay model. I use a VHF-UHF combiner to connect them to a single coax cable that connects to my TabloTV tuner. While working on finding the best location and aiming for each antenna I connected them to my old HDHomeRun ATSC tuner and used the Hdhomerun Signal Meter app on my phone to find the best signal available for each channel. This is the hardest part as the antenna placement is really just trial and error.  I did find a great book that had some good practical information on antenna placement.

After the antenna installation was finished I connected the TabloTV tuner and attached a USB hard drive. The first hard drive I got didn't work reliably so I used an old 500GB drive that I had avaiable. While the initial setup was a bit quirky, it worked great after that. Since the old hard drive was a bit noisy I stuck some foam weather stripping to the bottom of the case which eliminated most of the noise. TabloTV is working on the hard drive compatibility issues and provides a list of known good drives. Until they resolve this be prepared for some trial and error getting the right drive.

The Roku was similar to setup, just connect to the network, setup an account and it was ready to go. The best thing about the Roku is the large number of apps (channels) that are available for it. It has a channel for the Tablo as well as Netflix, Amazon Instant video, and Google Play video.

This blog post wouldn't be complete without some tinkering with the stock system. First the Roku has a notable flaw where it shows advertisements on the main screen and you have no control over what they are and they may not be appropriate for young children. To fix this you can block all access to the "" URL on your home router. It also prevents channel and system updates so you need to periodically unblock it and check for updates manually in the system settings. The other bit of tinkering was being able to download recordings from the TabloTV. The TabloTV community has some dedicated fans who have built tools to download recordings from the Tablo so you can save them forever.

I definitely recommend this project for anyone wanting to setup an OTA DVR system.

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