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Channels review: Turn your iPad or iPhone into a handheld TV

Glenn Fleishman | Aug. 2, 2016
The Channels app lets you view over-the-air broadcasts and some cable programming in iOS with the right third-party hardware.

You can swipe left and right to jump back 7 seconds or ahead 30 seconds; those parameters can’t be changed, but they’re mostly the right duration to replay something you missed in the buffer or skip a commercial. You can also scrub through the recorded buffer with a finger. The app lets you select closed captioning and alternate audio tracks options (not always available).

Not just on your iPhone or iPad

The app supports AirPlay, so you can pass the audio or audio and video to another supported device. If you have a fourth-generation Apple TV and plan to watch a fair amount of broadcast programming, it may make sense to invest $25 Channels. Channels for iOS is cheaper ($15) and gives you the flexibility to roam, but you may get tired of messing around with AirPlay. At the moment, the iOS version of the app offers a programming grid, which isn’t yet in the Apple TV version.

You can’t directly use Channels for iOS on a Mac, but there’s a reasonably clever workaround. Plug in an iOS device to the Mac with a Lightning cable, and then launch QuickTime Player and select New > New Movie Recording. Pick the iOS device as the source in the dropdown menu. Even without recording, you’ll get the live display from the device, including while Channels is running. (The audio slider may be set to zero in QuickTime Player: jiggle the pointer over the screen and then adjust the audio output.)

With the HDHomeRun Prime model that supports a CableCard in addition to OTA broadcasts, Channels can decode normal ClearQAM unencrypted channels and encrypted QAM stations via the CableCard, but the app doesn’t yet have certification for digital-rights managed (DRM) programming. The developers still haven’t decided whether to pursue that. Cable operators may use DRM on only premium offerings (like HBO), on all non-broadcast stations, or on everything. If you’re interested in this option, check with your cable operator or discussion forums for your provider to figure out compatibility. (The FCC has plans to get rid of the CableCard in favor of software integration, too.)

Channels is not a digital video recorder (DVR); it only offers an extended recording buffer from the currently selected live channels. For DVR purposes with an HDHomeRun device, you can use Geniatech’s eyeTV software, MythTV for OS X, or HDHomeRun DVR (currently in a paid beta for Mac). Fancy Bits also has a DVR app in the works, but doesn’t have a release date.

Bottom line

If live television has been a missing or irritating-to-use piece for your viewing pleasure, Channels plus a networked tuner pulls it neatly into your iPhone, iPod touch, or iPad.

 

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