How to Watch Local Channels on Roku

By | September 1, 2016

The Roku set top box, and streaming stick have become very popular in recent times.  It provides an inexpensive way to watch popular internet based streaming content, like YouTube, NetFlix, Amazon Prime, Crackle, etc., on your television, instead of your computer. Many people wonder if there is a way to stream local channels on Roku; there are a few options available currently to do this.  The options presented in this article will require some additional equipment to enable them to work.

In this article we look at options to watch local channels on Roku without cable TV using an Antenna.  We look at the Tablo DVR, and the HDHomeRun to stream local channels to your Roku. I note that there is another box that used to be an option called “Simple.TV”. Currently it is not available for purchase, so we have not written about it. If this changes, we will update the article.

 

Table of Contents

Tablo DVR Option – Recommended
HDHomeRun option – Hard but Cheaper

Tablo DVR – Recommended Way to Get Local Channels on Roku

The coolest way to get local channels on Roku, with DVR features, like Pause Live TV and the ability to schedule recordings, and play them back later, is using a box called the Tablo DVR. The Tablo DVR works a little differently than you may think. We are used to hooking up our cable box to the cable from the cable company in one port, and to our television in another port. With the Tablo DVR this is not how it works.

The Tablo is designed to connect to your antenna for OTA (Over the Air) live TV. You connect your well-positioned antenna into one port of the Tablo, and your home network – the same network you receive your internet connection on – into the other port. For tips on improving your reception, please see my article on cutting the cord.

For the purposes of connecting to your home network, the Tablo supports both a Wi-Fi connection and a physical connection via a cable. I highly suggest using a physical cable to make the connection, as using Wi-Fi for video can be iffy at times, especially if you have a multiple devices connecting to the same wireless router. You may also have issues if you live in an area where many of your neighbors have wireless connections, and as a result there is a lot of frequency overlap.

I discuss more about hooking up the Tablo to your network in my article on cutting the cord. One thing I don’t discuss there is that if you do choose to use a physical cable to connect your Tablo DVR to your internet router, you would plug one end of the cable into the Tablo, and the other end into an empty LAN port on your router. If you don’t have any empty LAN ports, you should purchase an additional 5 or 8 port switch for this purpose. Another decent option to hook your Tablo DVR is via a powerline-ethernet solution. The powerline adapters take advantage of the electrical wiring in your house to transmit the signal from your Tablo to your TV and your router. If you do still want to use Wi-Fi for video, I highly suggest to purchase a second wireless router for this purpose, and only hook up one video device to it at a time. The second router will set its wireless network on a different frequency then your main Wi-Fi network, decreasing the chances of wireless interference.

For some good antennas, I suggest you have a look at my recommended equipment page.

The inventors of the Tablo decided to forgo including a hard drive inside the Tablo DVR. Their rational was to allow the user to decide on the capacity best suited to their needs. Another plus in doing this is that if your hard drive fails, you don’t have to buy a new Tablo, only a new hard drive. So in addition to the Tablo DVR, and antenna, you will need to purchase a USB 2 or 3 hard drive.

If you are the type of person that records show, watches them, and then deletes them, you can get away with a smaller hard drive, which these days would be something like this 500GB Hard Drive (this will give you about 250h of storage). If you are one that records a lot, and likes to keep a copy of everything, then you may want to get this 8TB Hard drive (this is the max supported size and will give you about 4000h of storage). If you’re not sure, I’d just get something in the middle, like this 3TB Hard Drive (this gives about 1500h of storage) which would be ample for most people (this is the size I chose).

Once your Tablo DVR is hooked up, you have to configure it, and then you can use it to watch TV with full DVR on your Roku.

To do this, you will have to go to Roku Channel store, and install the Tablo channel. You can also add the Tablo channel to you Roku at this link. Your Roku should be hooked up to the same network as your Tablo (preferably via a cable or powerline-ethernet connection and not wireless again!).  If they are on the same network, the Tablo app will magically find the Tablo DVR, and set things up for you.

You will then be able to watch live TV in the Tablo channel on your Roku. The Tablo comes with one month of guide data for free. After the free month you can continue using the Tablo without guide if you like, or you can purchase a guide data subscription for a small monthly fee. At the time of this writing the monthly fee for guide data is $4.99USD in the USA and $5.99CAD in Canada. There are also annual and lifetime options. More details can be seen at their website: TabloTV Guide Data Subscription Information Page.

Note if you do get the lifetime guide data subscription, the subscription stays with you, and not the device, so even if you replace your Tablo, or upgrade to a new version in the future, you should not have to pay for guide again.

From the Tablo Channel on your Roku, you can Pause Live TV, schedule recordings, and watch pre-recorded recordings.

And since the storage for all the recordings is attached to the Tablo DVR device, you can watch your recordings on a different Roku (or smartphone, computer, tablet) then where you scheduled them, which can be a very handy feature!  The Tablo has apps for every conceivable device/computer you may have in your home.

Depending on whether you get the 2 or 4 tuner version of the Tablo, will determine the number of Roku’s (or other devices) one Tablo device can feed in your house, and/or the number of simultaneous recordings you can schedule. If you need to feed more than 4 TV’s you can always purchase an additional Tablo DVR.

My recommendation currently to watch live local channels on Roku with DVR features, is definitely the Tablo DVR for its convenience, nearly plug-and-play ease of use, and extensive device support. A drawback is that the Tablo is a bit expensive, especially if you work in the price of guide data and external hard drive over its lifetime.

For more information and the latest pricing, you can have a look at the Tablo products at Amazon (they open in a new tab):

For additional information on the Tablo DVR, please see my Tablo DVR review.

HDHomeRun – Hard but Cheaper way to get Local Channels on Roku

The HDHomeRun is a box that is similar to the Tablo DVR. It allows you to hook up a TV antenna to one port, and hooks into your network via a wired or wireless connection depending on the model chosen.  The CONNECT model shown above does not support Wi-Fi at all. You can get the EXTEND model which does provide a Wi-Fi transport option. Once the video is on your network, you can view the signal on various devices in your house. This article looks at some ways to get the signal onto your Roku device.

Note, the warnings I made about using Wi-Fi for video above apply here. If you choose to use Wi-Fi, please be sure you don’t have too many wireless networks from your neighbors visible in your location, and it is highly suggested that you purchase a second wireless router, and use that network only for your video. The HDHomeRun does not directly allow you to watch local channels on Roku. But you can stream the feed from your HDHomeRun to your Roku via some software that runs on your computer.

You cannot directly stream the local channels from your HDHomeRun to the Roku. The reason is that the Roku does not support the compression protocols used for over the air TV. For the technical folks, over the air TV uses Mpeg-2 video compression and AC3 for audio. Neither of these compression methods are supported on the Roku.

There are a number of ways to convert the feed from the HDHomeRun into a format that is supported by Roku. The easiest program to achieve this that I know about is called HDHRFling. You can visit the website for the software at this link. The latest stable version requires a Microsoft Windows PC, and supports all releases from Windows Vista up to Windows 10 (the website does not list windows 10, but I have tested it and it works). They have an alpha release in the works which will work on Mac, Linux and Windows. The software is free to try, and costs $14.99 to purchase a license. The free version only lets you watch for 10 minutes, to encourage you to buy a license. But that 10 minutes is enough to prove that it works.

The cost of buying an HDHomeRun plus this software is much less expensive than buying a Tablo box, which is a plus, but you have to run your computer all the time, or at least have it running when you want to watch local channels on Roku! The software also includes a free source of guide data, and provides some DVR features (although the DVR features are not made available on the Roku). The software also sets up a web interface which allows you to watch your local TV channels on any other computer in your house on the same network as the computer running HDHRFling.

Before installing HDHRFling on your computer you should install the HDHomeRun software stack, which you can download from HDHomeRun’s website. After you install HDHRFling, it will try to detect your HDHomeRun. If it can’t find it, you can figure out the IP address using the instructions in my article on how to cut the cord, in the section on how to measure your signal. The steps there explain how to open the web interface of your HDHomeRun. Once you have done that, you can note the IP address of your HDHomeRun (a sequence of 4 numeric digits separated by periods, i.e. 192.168.1.101). Note that number and enter it into the “HDHomeRun Prime Address” on the settings tab and save.

On the Guide Tab, fill in your Zip or Postal Code, and select the (Local) Broadcast – Antenna option for guide data, and save.

After this, you can test by clicking on the launch browser button. You should see a guide and if you click on one of the channels, it will bring up a window allowing you to watch local channels on your computer via the HDHRFling application.

If that works, the next step is to install the Roku Channel for HDHRFling on your Roku. Here is a link to add the HDHRFling Roku channel to your Roku. You will have to log into your Roku account, and then the channel should be added to your Roku. Once you see the channel on your Roku, load it up. If you don’t see it right away, power cycle or reboot your Roku, and it should pop up shortly after.

The first time you load HDHRFling you will have to enter the IP address of your computer. The channel can try to find it automatically if you select “attempt autoconnect”.  But if that fails (it failed for me), you can find your computer’s IP address on the top of the of the HDHRFling application window on your computer. Another way to get your computer’s IP address is to hit windows-R, and type cmd, then type ipconfig, and look for the IP address of your computer in the listing. Enter the IP address using the on screen keyboard on your Roku, and then select test connection.  If you get a “success” message, you are good to go, so select confirm.

Next you may have to authorize your Roku to the HDHRFling program on your computer. The auto authorization did not work for me. To manually authorize, load up the Settings page on the HDHRFling channel on Roku, and then the Authorize option. If you see that the app is authorized already, your auto authorization worked, but if not, you will see a number there.

Note the number down. Back on your computer, open up the HDHRFling application, and select the Roku tab. Enter the number in the box titled “Authorization Id”, and click on the Authorize button. Back on your Roku you should be able to select “Test Authorization” now, which should succeed.

At this point you can go back to the main menu, and then select Watch TV. You will be presented with a Guide. You can select the channel you want to watch, and hit OK on your Roku remote. The channel will load and you can watch local channels on Roku! I noted that when the channel is first tuning on Roku, it has a few pauses, but after the first 10 seconds the stream was very smooth.

This method allows you to watch local channels on Roku for less money than the Tablo, but it does require that you have a computer, and the whole experience is a lot less polished, and more challenging to setup than the Tablo.

Also, while the HDHRFling program does support making some DVR recordings on your computer, the DVR features are not made available in the Roku channel.

Another option to watch local channels on Roku from the HDHomeRun is using a software called “HDHomeRun View for Plex”. I will not describe that approach here, but will let you have a look at the website for that project. Here is the link: plex hdhomerun viewer.

The HDHomeRun is a great little box which allows you to stream TV channels from an antenna to various devices in your house. Unfortunately the format output from the HDHomeRun is not supported by Roku. We have looked at an application running on your computer, called HDHRFling which can convert the signal from the HDHomeRun into one that the Roku supports. This is a very workable way to get local channels on Roku. I would only recommend this setup to those that are technically savvy as it is not as easy a process to get it working.

Having DVR is a very nice option, but if money is a big concern, the HDHomeRun CONNECT costs $89.99 (at the time of writing), versus $219.99 for the 2 channel Tablo. If you include the $14.99 for the HDHRFling software, you are saving quite a bit of money going with the HDHomeRun. If you don’t have a Roku yet, I would suggest you get the Amazon Fire TV instead. It supports nearly everything that the Roku does, but also can play the video from the HDHomeRun natively.

For more information and the latest pricing, have a look at the HDHomeRun products at Amazon (they open in a new tab):

Conclusion

In this article we have looked at two methods to watch local channels on Roku. The Tablo DVR is more expensive, but provides a slick plug-and-play method to get your local channels on your Roku, and the Roku channel supports full guide and DVR functionality. The HDHomeRun is less expensive, and not natively supported by Roku, but we have described how to use one ready-made software program called HDHRFling to convert the format from the HDHomeRun into a format supported by Roku so you can watch local channels on Roku. I definitely recommend choosing the Tablo DVR if you can afford it. But if money is tight, and you are more technically savvy, the HDHomeRun along with the HDHRFling software can be a good option.

If you have have any questions about getting either HDHomeRun method setup on your Roku or if you need help getting your Tablo setup, please feel free to leave a comment below, and I’ll help you the best I can. Also, please comment with your experience watching local channels on Roku, and let us know if you have any other way to achieve this.

 

3 thoughts on “How to Watch Local Channels on Roku

  1. Sam

    Shouldn’t you be able to use the Roku Media Player’s DLNA support to directly play the DLNA stream from the SiliconDust HDHomeRun?

    Reply
  2. Pingback: Should I Upgrade to the Roku Premiere Plus Streaming Media Player?

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