Apple TV just became the best box for streaming live broadcast TV


Channels, an app for watching live television through the new Apple TV, has received a substantial update with timeshifting support.

The app, which first launched in December, works in conjunction with SiliconDust HDHomeRun networked TV tuners. Users plug an antenna into the tuner, then connect the tuner to a Wi-Fi router. This setup allows for streaming live channels to other devices around the house, using companion apps such as Channels for Apple TV.

Channels is the first app for HDHomeRun tuners to support timeshifting without complicated plugins. The app begins storing up video when users first tune into a channel, caching up to 30 minutes of programming. Users can also pause live video for up to 30 minutes. Although the app doesn’t offer full-blown DVR, it’s still useful for rewatching a bit of dialog that you missed, or pausing through the first 15 minutes of a show so you can skip all the commercial breaks.

The Channels app’s timeshifting features do have some limitations. Most notably, switching channels at any time will immediately wipe out all cached video. Channels also isn’t able to implement the “What did he just say?” feature of Siri, which can replay the last 15 seconds of video with closed captioning turned on. Developer Jon Maddox says this feature requires the use of Apple’s built-in video player, whereas Channels uses a custom video player to support MPEG2 playback.

To make room for the new timeshifting features, Channels has also removed the swipe-based shortcuts for cycling through channels. In its place, there’s a new drop-down menu for switching channels, accessed by swiping downward on the Apple TV touchpad. (This is arguably an improvement over the old system, since users get a better view of what’s currently on.)

It’s worth noting that Channels is not an official companion app for HDHomeRun tuners, but rather a third-party offering. Officially, HDHomeRun offers apps for Windows, Mac, Linux, Android, Android TV, and Amazon Fire TV devices, but none of those apps support timeshifting. In essence, Channels has now leapfrogged HDHomeRun’s official apps in terms of functionality.

These features don’t come cheap, however. Channels currently charges $15 for its Apple TV app, and will be raising the price to $25 after February 8. That’s atop the price of the HDHomeRun hardware, which costs $100 for the basic over-the-air model, and $150 for one that supports HD playback over wireless networks.

Down the road, Channels does intend to support the full DVR system that SiliconDust is building for its tuners. Apple TV users can get similar functionality today with a Tablo networked DVR, though the up-front hardware cost is greater compared to HDHomeRun’s system.