ClearStream TV Review - 10 Facts You Should Know
ClearStream TV is a digital TV tuner with a twist: It tunes in over-the-air television broadcasts (with the help of an antenna you purchase separately), but instead of sending the programming directly to your TV, it streams the video signal over your Wi-Fi network. Install the ClearStream TV companion app on your favorite streaming device, smartphone, or tablet, and you can watch, pause, and rewind live TV.
I’ve been using it for a week and discovered some of its quirks and advantages.
How it works
ClearStream TV looks like an oversized USB stick. It houses an ATSC TV tuner for North American over-the-air broadcasts, plus an 802.11n Wi-Fi adapter. The tuner doesn’t support the QAM standard (neither encrypted or unencrypted) that the cable-TV industry uses, so you’ll need to provide a digital TV antenna to pull in your local broadcasters’ signals.
The ClearStream TV’s output can be accessed only on your home network, and you’ll need an app to watch it. ClearStream TV manufacturer Antennas Direct has a free one available for devices running Android 4.2 and above, iOS 8.4 and up, tvOS 10.2 and above, and Roku 7.5 and higher.
On first use, you must connect your client device to the tuner itself over Wi-Fi and use the app to connect it to your home Wi-Fi network. Once that’s done, you can reconnect via your Wi-Fi network and set it to scan for channels. This takes a while: up to 6 minutes on a scan in San Francisco.
The ClearStream TV connects to to your digital TV antenna with a coax cable.
Experiences in use
The main menu of the ClearStream TV app on iOS.
I tested this out on the Android and iOS apps and found the iPhone app to be a bit more polished than the Android app, but they both had shortcomings. One of those areas is the initial channel scan. The channel list is local to your device, rather than the tuner, so you need to scan every time you install the app on a new streaming box, smartphone, or tablet. That’s a hassle but only one you’ll occasionally confront.
The app is simple to use. There are only three menu items: live television, a TV-programming guide, and the settings.
To watch TV, you just click the “Live TV” menu button and a few seconds later the channel appears. Both apps show live TV above a program listing, but the iOS app allows you to scroll through the guide for all channels. On Android, you just get to see what’s on the channel you’re watching.
Changing channels on both apps is a clunky experience. Unlike a regular TV, where the picture changes quickly as you channel surf, you’ll have to wait several seconds before the picture appears on the ClearStream TV. That’s because the video-decoding process restarts each time the channel is changed.
It’s even more annoying if you’re watching through a Chromecast. The connection drops each time the channel is changed, forcing you to hit the Chromecast icon, choose your screen, and resume casting. Antennas Direct said that’s due to the way the system is designed.
The device can be accessed by one user at a time, and since it’s a single tuner, it can be tuned to only one station at any one time.
Clearstream TV’s iOS app (left) displays more information than the Android app.
Closed captions on the iOS app (top) and Android app.
Both the iOS and Android apps support closed captions. On the iOS app you can choose between four CC streams—useful for programs with multilingual captions—while the Android app just takes the main CC stream. But captions are much easier to read on Android devices.
Both apps can buffer up to one hour of live TV, so that you can pause and rewind live TV. An entry in the settings app lets you determine how much storage space this feature uses, with the default being 2GB on iOS. The Android app doesn't state how much storage is required.
But this is not a DVR function. There’s no way to record TV shows, either as you watch them or when you’re not streaming.
And it runs hot. Really hot. After a few hours of use, I measured the temperature of the device at around 55° C (130° F). That’s hot enough to make you want to drop it when you touch it and much hotter than most electronic devices.Antennas Direct says it plans to increase the cooling vents on the tuner stick in the future.
The next version of the ClearStream TV will apparently have more vents.
WHY YOU SHOULD BUY ClearStream TV
The ClearStream TV succeeds in its job of getting over-the-air TV on your streaming boxes and mobile devices, but the software lets it down.
- Watch and record live network TV shows using the free ClearStream TV app on your smartphone or tablet, anywhere in your home, or watch broadcast TV wirelessly through your streaming media player [single tuner connects to one device at a time; download the app to all your streaming devices and switch between devices at your leisure].
- Record your TV shows through the app, to watch later or on-the-go, anywhere, anytime, no Internet connection required. Set reminders to watch or record your TV shows within the ClearStream TV app; you’ll get a notification 5 minutes before they begin.
- Pause and rewind live TV for up to 1 hour, and then you can fast-forward through commercials.
- Includes a free 24-hour program guide to preview all your upcoming TV shows.
- The advanced performance of the ClearStream TV lets you place your HDTV antenna in the best location to receive over-the-air TV content from networks like ABC, CBS, NBC, Fox, PBS, Univision and more, with no subscriptions or monthly fees.
- Connects to any TV antenna and uses a standard coaxial cable, just like the one used to connect the antenna directly to your TV.
- The free ClearStream TV app is available for download on Roku, Chromecast, Amazon Fire TV, Amazon Fire stick, Kindle, Apple TV, iOS and Android smartphones and tablets.
- Minimum OS requirements: Android 4.2 or above, iOS 8.4 or above, tvOS 10.2 or above, Roku V7.50 B4099 or above, and Amazon Fire devices from 2013 or newer. Power Cord:Cable length 4 ft
- Streams to only one device at a time
- No DVR
Live local TV on Amazon Fire TV, Fire Stick and Roku
This second coming of the TV antenna is bringing about lots of app-oriented ways to watch and stream OTA channels that are pulled in from a TV antenna.
That shouldn’t be much of a surprise, either. Getting local major networks like NBC, CBS, PBS and more in uncompressed HD quality free for life is a pretty attractive option. Compare an uncompressed HD channel like NBC from a TV antenna versus the one coming in through a cable cord then look at your monthly cable bill of $100 to $200 per month.
You might soon find yourself antenna shopping. And many companies are now ready to offer you antennas and related products.
Mohu is about to release the Mohu Airwave, a new wireless antenna that will transmit OTA channels over a WiFi network. The company promises a channel menu that’s a cable-like experience without the cost.
Dish Network, the parent company of Sling TV, released the AirTV Player, a 4K streaming device that combines a Sling TV subscription and OTA channels into a single menu when paired with an AirTV adapter and antenna.
Television manufacturers are getting in on the act, too.
TCL released a new version of its popular Roku TVs, the S-Series 4K TCL Roku TV. Element has a new line of 4K HDR televisions with Amazon Fire software baked in to the TV. Both TVs are set up to make the most of your TV antenna by integrating menus from OTA channels and popular streaming platforms like Netflix, Hulu and Amazon Video. All you need to do is buy an antenna with your TV.
Let’s not forget software companies.
Plex, a popular software hub, made a huge leap into this same realm on June 1 when the company announced support for rewinding and pausing live OTA channels. Plex is compatible with HDHomeRun tuners and Hauppauge WinTV-dualHD dual tuners. It works on any major streaming device like Fire TV, Fire Stick and NVIDIA Shield TV. You can even turn your Shield TV into a DVR and media server with Plex.
How I tested Clearstream TV
I tested the ClearStream TV with four streaming devices over the course of a week. Amazon Fire TV, a Roku Streaming Stick (R6400), a Samsung Galaxy S5 smartphone and a NVIDIA Shield TV were all used to compare how the ClearStream TV worked. Antennas Direct sent me a ClearStream TV for review purposes.
Clearstream TV will work with any TV antenna, but I used two different indoor antennas made by Antennas Direct during testing. The ClearStream Eclipse and Micron XG were used with their included amplifiers. I did no testing with an outdoor antenna.
I used a Netgear R6400 (AC1750) wireless modem with a 50mpbs down/10mbps internet connection. I live in a metropolitan area and get about 48 channels with a TV antenna connected directly to my TV.
The tests were done around three parts of my house so I could get a feel for how the ClearStream TV performed with a variety of setups. This included having the ClearStream TV tuner in one room with my TV and streaming device in another. I also tried it out with the ClearStream TV in the same room as my television and streaming device.
ClearStream TV with Amazon Fire TV
With Amazon Fire TV, the ClearStream TV performed best when the tuner was setup in the same room. I could peruse channels easily by clicking on the side of wheel button on my Fire TV remote. The channels don’t appear as quickly as when you are watching live TV with an antenna directly connected to your television. There is a lag of a few seconds from time to time.
The tradeoff is that you can pause and rewind what you’re watching. Rewinding and pausing worked well. The tuner maintains up to 60 minutes of watched TV, but once you change the channel the saved portion of what you watched is gone. You’re starting all over again – channel surfers beware. The channel guide is rudimentary and scrolls vertically.
I initially connected the ClearStream tuner and Eclipse antenna to adjoining room where my office is set up. This is one of the ideal spots in my home to receive OTA signals with the antenna – whether it’s wired directly to my TV or another tuner. When the ClearStream was in another room, I noticed some pixelation or freezing with two channels that I normally have no problem with. The broadcast towers a pretty close by. Your best performance is going to be when the ClearStream TV is in the same room. If you needed to have an antenna in a separate room for get the most channels, I suggest running a long coax cable so that you can keep the ClearStream TV in the same room as your Amazon Fire TV or Fire Stick and WiFi router.
ClearStream TV with Roku
Using a Roku with the ClearStream TV was easily the best experience in terms of its picture quality and user interface.
There was one shortcoming.
ClearStream TV doesn’t support rewinding and pausing on a Roku. Antennas Direct says the lack of rewind and pausing capabilities is because Roku has limited onboard memory and other restrictions that prevent the feature. It’s too bad.
The picture quality looked slightly better on the Roku. Switching channels was faster and a better experience. The channel guide within the Live TV menu had a lot to do with it. Hit the up or down arrow on your Roku remote and the guide appears in the upper right corner.
You can scroll through your channel lineup while continuing to watch what’s on the screen. The Roku remote has no ability to punch in the channel number, so unobtrusive scrolling menu is really nice.
If you go back to the main menu, the main program guide is even better. Its layout is similar to what you may see with cable, or Pluto TV with details about shows that are coming within the next 10 to 24 hours. Overall, the Roku app for ClearStream TV is far more developed than what’s on Fire TV.
ClearStream TV with Google Chromecast or NVIDIA Shield TV
There is no native app for ClearStream TV when you’re using a Google Chromecast or NVIDIA Shield TV. So that means you are casting your signal from a smartphone or tablet to your streaming device. The Shield TV isn’t listed as a compatible device, but has a built-in Google Chromecast.
I casted my live channel feed from a Samsung Galaxy S5 to my NVIDIA Shield TV to see how it would fare. The picture came up clear once it was cast onto the television screen, but casting to the Shield TV stopped once I changed the channel. So I had to peruse my channels on my phone and recast it to the Shield TV once I settled on something else to watch.
You might have a different experience with just a Google Chomecast, which I didn’t have on hand to test out.
ClearStream TV with Andriod Smartphone
ClearStream TV worked great with my Galaxy S5 smartphone. The picture was bright and crisp. I could change channels with very little lag. Overall, the mobile app worked at a fast clip.
When you’re setting up the mobile app, you will want to put your smartphone close to the tuner. The first time I set up the mobile app, I scanned channels when I was one room away from the ClearStream TV tuner. I only came away with 18 channels. Later on, I re-scanned with my phone only a few feet away from the tuner and got 45 channels.
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