HDHomeRun devices block VPNs (or: How DRM is the devil)

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My friend moved the other day to an area with worse OTA channel signal. We’re both cord cutters who rely on free OTA channels as part of our setups (in case you didn’t know, the major networks like NBC, CBS and PBS still broadcast their signals over-the-air and anyone with a inexpensive antenna can pick them up and watch them for free.)

We also recently discovered WireGuard VPN, and successfully linked both our home servers together as if they were on one network. So we both were thinking the same thing when he got the idea of giving me his HDHomeRun (an OTA receiver) and having it set up at my apartment (much closer to a lot of the broadcast towers) and just forward the device through the VPN to his apartment.

This is a great idea. Unfortunately, HDHomeRun’s creator SiliconDust is one step ahead of us.

Long story short, after several hours of trying to connect our two local networks (LANs) together and have him access the device (this after I had to do a rather large overhaul of my home network setup to accommodate the new device), it just wouldn’t work.

We tried port forwarding the device, so he could just hit my home network at a specific port. No dice; HDHomeRuns seem to dynamically adjust what port they use to actually stream, so I would have to open virtually every port on my network to get it to work.

(Plus, this annoying little bit of code here makes it so channel URLs specifically use the local IP, which ruins any automated workflow:
function geturl(channel) {
return 'http://'+window.location.hostname+':5004/auto/v'+channel;
}

We tried using the VPN to allow LAN access to his server. That gave working access to every device on my network … except the HDHomeRun.

Finally, we came to the conclusion: HDHomeRun devices are hard-wired to block VPN connections.

And the reason: (likely) DRM, or digital rights management.

Basically it boils down to this: just because the local Atlanta NBC affiliate is broadcasting its content for free doesn’t mean it wants people in San Francisco getting the content for free. DRM restrictions, which SiliconDust would obviously want to adhere to if they want to be considered a legitimate company, are 1) very annoying and 2) very common.

SiliconDust is a bit cryptic about this in their troubleshooting guide: “If your PC has any VPN software installed, make sure you are not connected to the VPN.”

(Did I also mention that SiliconDust offers a proprietary HDHomeRun app and a subscription-based HDHomeRun DVR, so perhaps it’s in their best interest to make it so you can’t easily access and record your live TV channels remotely without using their services and paying them for it?)

I wish I could end this on a positive note, but unfortunately not. Our 72 hours of setting it up and trying six ways to Sunday to connect to it were all for naught, and he’s since taken it back to his place.

Your loss, PBS.

TL;DR: HDHomeRun devices won’t work behind a VPN connection because reasons.

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