Services like Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon Instant provide you with a breadth of pre-recorded TV shows and movies on your mobile device. But what about that can’t-miss sports game that’s happening right now? If you want to watch live TV on your iPad, laptop, or smartphone, your options are far more limited.
Currently, the leader in the space is a piece of hardware called the Slingbox, a $300 device that can throw whatever’s on your TV to your tablet, phone or laptop.
But it’s got some competition: the Broadway TV Streamer. It’s a device that’s been around for a couple of years, but it’s recently received some enhancements, like the ability to record live TV shows and play them back later.
Like Sling Media’s Slingbox, the Broadway (from a company called Hauppauge) is designed to capture the live TV signal from your cable box or your antenna, and stream it to a web-connected mobile device. It, too, works with laptops, iOS devices and Android devices. Alas, much like the Slingbox, the experience isn’t quite wrinkle-free. But if you’re craving access to live TV or cable channels while you’re outside the living room, the Broadway is a more budget-friendly option that gets the job done for the most part.
Once everything is in place, viewing is straightforward. You access your Broadway using the web browser — there are no native apps to download.
The Broadway’s biggest shortcoming: a set-up process that, depending on how your TV is get-gadget up, can be slow and painful. Another shortcoming is the lack of HDMI support — you have to connect your set-top box or HD antenna using a coax cable, S-video, or a composite video RCA cable.
For me, getting it running was a hassle. I first needed to connect the Broadway unit directly to my router via Ethernet, and to my set-top box as well. (The initial setup requires plugging the box into your router using a cable, which is a pain, but later you can configure the device to operate wirelessly). Next, I configured the system using a web-based setup wizard. I stumbled again here, since my DVR (a 2008 DirecTV model) was not included in Broadway’s database of known devices, so I had to teach the Broadway how to use the remote control for my set-top box. This is mostly a trial-and-error process that has you clicking on each channel button on the remote directly into the included IR blaster so the system can learn it. Thankfully, you only have to do this once.
The device then goes through a process to determine what television and cable stations are available. With my DirecTV DVR, it was never able to identify any stations, even after repeated tries. You can manually input channels yourself, another lengthy process that’s a one-time affair.
When I connected the Broadway to a TV antenna instead of my DirecTV’s DVR, it picked up 40 or 50 over-the-air stations. Connecting to an antenna also doesn’t require the whole remote-control learning process, which makes configuration much easier.
Once everything is in place, viewing is straightforward. You access your Broadway using the web browser — there are no native apps to download. A list of channels appears on the left, and a viewing panel sits on the right. You can expand the viewing window to take up the full screen at either a 16:9 or 3:4 aspect ratio.
Video is compressed using the H.264 standard — it streams to iPads and iPhones by way of native H.264 playback in the browser, but if you’re viewing on a laptop or an Android device, it will stream to the browser via Flash, so support may vary from device to device.
Due to the compression, the viewing quality is mostly so-so. My selected shows sometimes appeared grainy — certainly not true HD quality like what you’d get on the TV set itself. As expected, streaming quality was better when I connected the Broadway using Ethernet instead of Wi-Fi.
As long as your Broadway is online and connected to the internet, you can access it from anywhere in the world. You’ll need to do some port forwarding on your router, and you’ll need a connection fast enough to stream video. But you can watch live TV on your iPad from the beach as long as there’s enough bandwidth available.
The 6-inch plastic puck has a few USB ports on it, and if you plug a thumb drive into one, you can record live TV shows onto the USB drive, then watch them later from your remote location. It’s a nice additional feature. It, too, is controlled through the same web interface.
You can channel-surf using the Broadway’s web interface, but there is a delay of 10-30 seconds when selecting a new channel over the Broadway. Also, when you change the channel on your tablet or laptop, the device will change the channel on the television it’s connected to — much to the surprise of any family members innocently watching TV in the living room. This isn’t a problem if you hook it up directly to a TV antenna (and skip the TV entirely), or if you use a secondary TV and cable box that’s used less frequently by others in the house.
Compared to other streamer boxes, the Broadway is on the hefty side at just under 1.5 pounds. On the front is a power button (marked with a bright white LED) and a USB port. On the back, you’ve got your Ethernet, cable or antenna TV connector, stereo audio inputs, S-Video, composite, two more USB slots, and an IR receiver port.
If you’re looking to catch live TV on the fly wherever you are, the Broadway is one of the more affordable options on the market right now at $160. It does offer some capabilities yet to hit the Slingbox, like USB storage. But it lacks the Slingbox’s 1080p streaming abilities. It’s not perfect — I needed a beer after setting it up — but once configured, you’ve got access to a reasonable quality stream of your home TV feed wherever you are.