Now that Plex supports watching LiveTV and DVR that works with the HD Homerun, I looked into what was available to me in my area. Since I don’t live in a major city, the over the air options are quite limited, as in 4 broadcasters including a PBS affiliate. Since I was already a Suddenlink customer through their internet service, I looked at their TV offerings. Essentially I can add their SL200 for ~$35 more than the internet service alone(This was a blatant lie! It’s really $50). So, I bought an HD HomeRun Prime and added the service with a CableCard.
The setup has some wrinkles since this is such an unusual configuration for them. Many within Suddenlink seem to be unaware that they do CableCards. There seems to be no option to buy the CableCard but instead you have to rent it for $2.50 a month. I suppose that’s better than the costs of renting their boxes. Anyway, when the tech showed up to do the initial setup, apparently my order got listed as setup of a box, not a CableCard. He didn’t have any with him so he had to call another who did have some to bring one over. In the mean time I had the tech wire everything up so that when the card did arrive, everything would be ready.
Insertion of the CableCard into the HD HomeRun Prime was simple. I had previously powered on the device and assigned it an IP address on my network so it was ready to go once I had the card. After power up with the card, I pointed my web browser at the IP for the HD HomeRun, and it displayed the info necessary for Suddenlink to setup the card with my subscription. They needed the CableCard ID and the Host ID. After that, I did a channel scan and … nothing.
It turns out, you need to have the tech close out the order, sign that you have received everything in working order, and only then do they actually provision the card. So a few minutes after that, the scan started showing channels which revealed the next snag. I was not getting the HD channels. Turns out they had provisioned the card with the wrong service. The tech contacted them and it was fixed quickly enough. So a few minutes later, the scan started showing the HD channels.
What was most interesting was the reactions from the tech during the setup. He didn’t know that the HD HomeRun device even existed and was shocked that it had 3 tuners in it meaning I can record three things at once. Then when I showed him what Plex does with it, he was even more shocked. Maybe I just sold him as a new Plex customer?
After the scan completed, I saw a few channels which were marked as DRM. This means that Plex will be unable to use these channels. I investigated to see what these channels had in common and I noticed every single one was as subsidiary of NBC Universal. You can see the complete list here. Of those channels, the only one I would consider a loss is SyFy which recently has decided they actually want to run something decent on occasion, but there it is only a few shows.
I investigated through Suddenlink’s help system and after a considerable amount of time, I got an answer as to why these channels and only these channels are marked as DRM. It turns out it is a contract requirement imposed by NBC Universal on Suddenlink. In this case, I would expect the same restrictions to be in place on other cable networks as well. Regardless, as long as NBC is imposing this restriction on the cable companies, I will never be viewing these channels.
NBC, you are going to lose viewership through this and your DRM requirement doesn’t do anything to curtail copying of the content. It is only stopping legal uses such as recording the content for my own purposes. Though I hardly expect you to face reality seeing as how this fight has raged on for well over a decade and you still don’t get it.
I’ve now been using this setup for about about a month. I’ve mostly recorded content and it works quite well. The content comes down in MPEG2Video and AC3 audio. The bitrate is high enough to produce good quality of each (though not the top bitrate that AC3 can do). The video seems to always be in interlaced at 60 fields per second. So, if you want to make a permanent recording, you’d want to detelecine this to 23.976 progressive frames per second (assuming the original content was in that to begin with). Of course, you’d also want to remove the commercials too ;)
Anyway, if you are considering setting up a DVR, Plex connected to an HD HomeRun deserves some serious consideration. Your cable provider may be different about which channels are marked as DRM, but sometimes this can be investigated ahead of time. Just expect that you will run into many who do not know what you are talking about with CableCards.
Alex V. - Jan 14, 2018
Nice article and thanks for addressing the Suddenlink/DRM issue. Have been watching Lon.TV videos considering the HD HomeRun option and your post answers that topic.
Justin K. - Jan 22, 2018
Very nice summary of what to expect concerning DRM and Suddenlink. Thank you for the write up.