Channels app for Fire TV devices adds DVR support for OTA Antenna and Cable channels

The Channels app for Fire TVs, Fire TV Sticks, and Fire TV Edition televisions has just received its biggest update since it first arrived in the Fire TV appstore earlier this year. The big new feature with this update is full support for the Channels DVR service that was previously only available on the Apple TV. This allows owners of HDHomeRun networked tuners to view and manage recordings of OTA antenna and digital cable channels directly from their Fire TV devices.

For those of you not familiar with the Channels app, it’s arguably the best way to view programming from an HDHomeRun networked tuner. An HDHomeRun is a small box that lets devices on your home network access your TV programming. If you have a cable subscription, you can get a cable card from your cable company and insert it into an HDHomeRun Prime to make all of your cable channels accessible to all of your devices. If you don’t have a cable subscription, you can connect an HD antenna to an HDHomeRun Connect and make all of your over-the-air channels accessible to all of your device. The Channels app is an interface to those HDHomeRUn channels that adds capabilities not available through the HDHomeRun app.

With just the Channels app, you can pause, rewind, and fast forward live channels streamed from an HDHomeRun. If you want to record those channels, you’ll need the Channels DVR service, which is what this update to the Channels app has added.

Channels DVR is an $8 per month service that is available in the US, UK, Canada, and Denmark. It works by installing a Channels DVR application on a computer or NAS, which is where your recordings will be stored. The DVR application can be installed on many different platforms including Windows and Mac computers, as well as Synology, QNAP, WD, Netgear, and Seagate NAS drives.

Once set up, the Channels DVR service allows you to schedule and manage recordings from any of your devices. It supports multiple tuners and lets multiple devices watching the same channel use only one tuner. It records in standard MPEG2 encoded .mpg files that can be viewed by any external player and also supports hardware transcoding. The DVR features a 21 day program guide with search that lets you easily configure records all airings of your favorite shows or just new airings.

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29 comments
  1. FS_3 says:

    I use Plex for teh same thing. Is Channels better? How so?

    • Jon Maddox says:

      Full disclosure: I’m a Channels dev

      Plex transcodes their live tv streams to work with their video players. Channels can play back MPEG2 from TV streams directly. This results in a ~4-8s start time while changing channels in Plex (depending on the hardware your Plex server is on), where Channels starts playing back in ~1s.

      Channels has a more traditional UI for watching TV since it was built from the ground up to do that. Plex sort of fit their live TV stuff into a UI designed more for library browsing. People tend to like Channels a lot for it’s simple UI. It’s been called very family friendly.

      Also, because of this, Plex is missing some DVR management features. When adding on Channels DVR, the app transforms into a full DVR with all the features you’d expect for managing a DVR. Check out the screenshots on the site https://getchannels.com/dvr/. While the site shows Apple TV, the experience is the same on all platforms.

      Check out Channels and you might find that it’s a smoother experience for watching live TV.

      • Andy says:

        Can you eliminate the commercials with ‘Channels’ when playing back a recorded event ? I love that feature in Plex.

        • Jon Maddox says:

          Channels DVR indexes the commercials right after the recording is completed. You can then immediately skip through them using your remote while watching your show.

          • Andy says:

            Thanks for the response Jon. So to be clear are you saying it performs rather like the commercial skip on TiVo. Meaning you just hit a button once on the remote when the commercials start and it immediately skips through all of them ? Or does it remove them, much like the Plex DVR ?
            Also does it make a difference which HD OTA Homerun you order and would it work with the Haupage stick ?
            Thanks again for your input.

        • Jon Maddox says:

          Replying here since I can’t seem to reply to your most recent post.

          > Or does it remove them, much like the Plex DVR ?

          It just skips them. The commercial detection can sometimes be off a bit and we wouldn’t want to lose any of your content.

          > Also does it make a difference which HD OTA Homerun you order and would it work with the Haupage stick ?

          Channels only supports HDHomeRun networked TV tuners. Just pick up the new Connect Duo or Quatro if you need more tuners. If you can find the Original HDHomeRun Connect for cheap, it’ll work just as well. We don’t suggest the HDHomeRun Extend.

          • Andy says:

            Thanks so much Jon. I think you’ve got a Plex convert ! I’m guessing you have a forum, I’ll look for it.

          • James S says:

            Would you please explain more as to why you don’t suggest an “Extend” version of the HDHomerun? I recently picked up one on sale as it was actually cheaper than the non Extend version.

          • Jon Maddox says:

            Mostly because of price and value. So you probably did fine. The Extend is usually quite a bit more expensive because of the transcoding. Generally, since Channels can decode the MPEG2 directly, it’s not really necessary. That model has also had an iffy reliability record. Though the newer model has been a little better. Generally, it just wasn’t a great value.

          • James S says:

            Thanks Jon for the reply and info on the HDHomerun Extend.
            So if I’m understanding correctly, in the Channels DVR settings I would want to set the tuner’s transcoder setting to “none”? If so, then under the Web Player settings should I select “software” for the transcoder?
            What about the Deinterlacer and quality settings? Thanks in advance!

          • Jon Maddox says:

            > So if I’m understanding correctly, in the Channels DVR settings I would want to set the tuner’s transcoder setting to “none”? If so, then under the Web Player settings should I select “software” for the transcoder?

            So yeah, this is a little confusing. The transcoder setting under the Web Player heading is what’s used when streaming over web and to a remove device, if you’re using a non-original quality setting. IE, “480p 2mbit”. That’s a global setting for Channels DVR streaming.

            The setting under the tuner is what’s used for the video that’s coming off of the TUNER. Since it has it’s own transcoder, you can choose to set it to whatever you want, and it will always use that when playing live tv, recording to disk, etc. You can choose `none` and it will operate just like an HDHomeRun Connect and send out MPEG2. If you choose one of the others, it’ll transcode and send out h.264 formatted video. The advantage here is that your live TV streams around the house would have a significantly lower data rate, making WIFI streaming a little easier. It also means your recordings would use less data and you’d use less disk space per recording.

            I hope that clears it up.

            >> What about the Deinterlacer and quality settings? Thanks in advance!

            This is mostly a perf thing and keeping with the default is probably best. The other options are lighter on the CPU when deinterlacing before transcoding and exist solely to help you tune for a lower powered machine.

      • Jared Luker says:

        Thanks for your input Jon.

        In response, I’d just say that many mobile devices cannot play mpeg2 smoothly due to the lack of hardware decoding. That’s where Plex’s transcoding comes in handy. There is at least one HDHomeRun model that converts mpeg2 to h.264, but then the exact same thing (conversion) is happening that happens with Plex.

        Also, Plex has rolled out the grid program guide for its web UI and I’m sure the mobile devices are next. It looks quite good.

        I’m not sure what DVR features Plex is missing, but I’d like to see the list just for my own information

        • Jon Maddox says:

          Hi!

          Transcoding mpeg2 -> h.264 to stream out to clients is much different than a video player decoding and presenting mpeg2 directly. That’s what Channels’ video player does. It does this on all of it’s supported devices in much less time than Plex takes to transcode to a suitable format.

          > I’m not sure what DVR features Plex is missing, but I’d like to see the list just for my own information

          I don’t want to get into a tit for tat conversation, Plex’s DVR support is very comprehensive as well. It’s great! What I was describing was that you can do everything from the Channels app, where with Plex you have to do a lot of the managing on their web app. Having everything in the app keeps it family friendly.

          You can see all the features that Channels DVR supports on it’s main page with the bulleted list – https://getchannels.com/dvr/

          • Fred says:

            Will the DVR work on a We my cloud NAS and the website mentions watching away from home, how does that work?

      • David says:

        I’m curious how your handling de-interlacing 1080i content on the FireTV App, this has been a weak point of the HD Home-Run DVR I’ve been running for a couple years now. I also think the $8/month is a bit steep just for DVR support in software, a reduced annual rate (or lifetime subscription) would probably be a welcomed addition.

      • Dean says:

        Is this only available for the US, or can it work in the UK and other countries?

        • Jon Maddox says:

          The regular Channels app, that just provides you with watching live tv along with a buffer for pause/rewind/fast forward is available in every country that the HDHomeRun is available in. Check their site or your local Amazon. This includes the UK for sure.

          Channels DVR is available in the US, Canada, UK, Denmark, and Italy.

      • Frank Nitty says:

        John, you the real MVP

    • Mark B says:

      If they were both free then Channels would be better since 1) Plex hasn’t released Grid view on all platforms. Just web view. 2) Channels released a Deinterlacer for older Fire TVs for when you watch 1080i content. Finally 3) Plex is still a but flakey when it comes to Live TV. But that said I use Plex and it works ok as a dvr, pretty meh as a live tv tuner which luckily I don’t have to use it for that purpose. just about any other Live tuner app, native hdhomerun app, Android tv Live Channels App, tablo, is more reliable than Plex’s tuner. It’s way better than it used to be at least. Personally I think the Channels app is too expensive considering what Plex gives you for much cheaper but at least the Channels dev actively supports the app so that’s good. They will imho be in a bit of trouble after Plex releases a Grid epg on all the other platforms plus competition is only going to get stiffer for all of these app makers as more and more cord cutters come online. What was a competitive advantage that you used to be able to charge a premium for could soon be a bare minimum that you might have to give away for free. Btw don’t wed yourself to HD homerun tuners only either there are a ton of choices now. I think there are no less than 5 network tuner vendors to choose from now. It’s a good time to be a cord cutter.

  2. Fred says:

    I have the channels app and really like it. Will do a trial of the DVR, but at $8 a month it really needs to impress me. Right now using Hdhomerun DVR at $35 a year. Trying Plex, but the playback experience is horrible.

  3. Anita says:

    How many homer in tuner do I need for three TVs. I watch antenna tv and amazon

    • Jon Maddox says:

      It depends. If all TVs aren’t run at the same time, you could get by with the HDHomeRun Connect Duo. It has 2 tuners on the single device. This means you can watch/record two things at once. The Quatro has 4 tuners, so you could watch tv on every tv with a tuner to spare for recordings.

      It’s nice having extra tuners for recording conflicts as well. The more tuners you have the less times you miss a recording.

      Channels will also stack tuners. This means you can buy as many as you want and Channels will just show a single line up and use the tuners as appropriate. You can even prioritize them. It’s all really flexible.

  4. Jim M says:

    Would live to try it but $25 for the FTV app and $8/mo, Total $33 to try it is a bitter pill!!

    On the other hand, if app was free and worked great, I would have no issue paying the $96/yr

  5. Billiamtonnage says:

    Hey Jon, thanks for answering the questions in here! Just a random one for you…is it a lot of work to redo the programming for the new ATSC 3.0 stuff? I imagine Silicon Dust will first need to get you guys some development hardware before you can start making a Channels 4k HDR version.

    Thanks.

    • Jon Maddox says:

      Compatibly wise, SD does a great job making sure all their devices work the same. We supported the Duo and Quatro on day 1 and expect the same for the upcoming 6 tuner Prime update.

      The only issue would be the new video formats that ATSC 3.0 will bring, which we’re set up just fine to support. I don’t see it as an issue outside of anything scary like DRM being implemented by providers :(

  6. itzme says:

    With these devices, what are the options in terms of adding and itegrateing cable channels to the OTA line-up? Do we need to see if our cable companies offer a card or can we integrate with something like Sling or DTV Now?

    • Jon Maddox says:

      All cable companies are required to offer CableCards by the FCC. You can get the HDHomeRun Prime, which is a cable card version of their networked tuner. Beware though, some cable companies encode their channels in DRM that won’t work with Channels. TimeWarner Cable, for instance, encodes all of their channels. Fios encodes just a couple of Fox based channels (except your local Fox, DRM’ing this is illegal).

      Channels can use as many different HDHomeRuns on your network as you put on there. It does it transparently by utilizing the available tuners while only showing you one single combined guide.

      Neither Channels, nor the HDHomeRun, can integrate with streaming providers like Sling or DirectTV Now.

  7. shwru980r says:

    My takeaway from what I’ve read is that you aren’t going to have much success streaming HD and will have to set the system to 480P. That isn’t going to cut it for sports or shows with lots of action.

    The HD homerun Quatro costs $150 + $25 for the channels app + $70 for a fire TV = $245 upfront cost. A Tivo Roamio OTA costs $400 with no further monthly fees while the Channels app requires an $8 monthly fee. So after 20 months, you have paid what you would have paid for a Roamio OTA.

    I think I would go with the Roamio OTA for a single TV so I could watch sports in HD since I would use it for more than 20 months.

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