SiliconDust is building a cheap TiVo alternative, based on its HDHomeRun product line


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DVR service from cable companies and TiVo can get pretty expensive, but an upcoming alternative from SiliconDust aims to be much cheaper.

The company is developing DVR software that works with its existing HDHomeRun TV tuners, both for over-the-air broadcasts and for cable channels. While TiVo and cable companies charge $15 per month or more for DVR service, SiliconDust plans to charge $30 for a whole year.

There is, of course, a trade-off: HDHomeRun's setup is more complicated than a basic cable box or TiVo, and it has higher up-front costs. Instead of hooking up directly to your TV, HDHomeRun connects to your home Wi-Fi router, which in turn must connect to either a network-attached hard drive (NAS box) or an always-on PC (such as a desktop) for DVR content. HDHomeRun then streams the video to other devices on the network.

HDHomeRun's tuners cost between $130 and $170 (plus the cost of an antenna) for over-the-air broadcasts, and $150 (plus any CableCARD rental fees) for the cable TV version (there is no CableCARD equivalent for satellite TV set-top boxes). A 2TB NAS box like the WD My Cloud costs about $150, but you can avoid that expense if you have a computer with lots of spare storage space. Getting HDHomeRun's signal on a television will require, at minimum, an Android TV set-top box such as the $100 Nexus Player.

If you don't have any of the necessary hardware, this setup could cost upwards of $400. Still, users could recoup those costs within a few years due to the lower subscription fees. And if you already have a desktop PC or NAS box, the up-front price falls considerably.

HDHomeRun is raising money for the product on Kickstarter, and hopes to launch in August. Playback apps will be available for Windows, Mac, and Android, with iOS and Kodi as stretch goals.

Why this matters: Cord-cutters do have some other alternatives besides TiVo and HDHomeRun. Tablo uses a similar setup and has excellent app support, but doesn't work with cable-TV or PC hard drives. Channel Master offers a TV tuner and DVR with no subscription fees, but it only works on a single TV. HDHomeRun's solution is the only one that supports encrypted digital cable, and its setup promises to be more flexible. For users who already have the right gear and technical chops, it could pay off in the long run.

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