The Intel NUC: GoRite’s Tuner Lid is (Almost) Here!

I’m about to make some of you very jealous.

Beginning with the very first NUC I ever touched I knew the design was perfect for home theater. It was tiny, powerful, and quiet.  Using it to watch streaming video was a no-brainer.  So was live TV, as long as you had a tuner. Why watch live TV through a computer? Well, with the right setup and a good tuner your NUC becomes an excellent DVR.  I “cut the cord” years ago, and I’ve used NUCs to record live TV many times. I’m a tech geek, so it’s fun for me to make stuff like that work.  But I’ve never been crazy about using external tuners. I’m probably a little weird about it, but extra stuff connected to my NUC bugs me, and a USB tuner sticking out of the back ruins the clean look (I said I was weird, ok?).  So you can imagine my excitement when I read on GoRite’s “Coming Soon” page about their NUC lid with a built-in TV tuner (PN#: GR-NUC-TV).  As far as I was concerned “soon” couldn’t come fast enough.

Well, “soon” is here, at least for me. I’ve been given an amazing opportunity; GoRite has provided me with a sample of the new tuner lid…and asked me to put it through its paces.  So, like a kid at Christmas, I ripped into the package the moment it arrived.

The Big Two

There are two reasons I’m excited about this lid. The first is obvious: built-in tuner…woohoo!  The second has to do with which tuner they chose for the lid: It’s a Hauppauge…woohoo again!

Over the years I’ve used various tuners, from a Silicondust HD Homerun network tuner, to a Hauppauge USB tuner, to some cheap knock-offs.  I can tell you without hesitation that name brands matter when it comes to tuners. The knock-offs worked, but were prone to overheating, flaky behavior, and weak signals.  Sure they were cheap, but something that’s cheap and doesn’t work is…well, let’s just say I’m more into value than low price.

The Homerun was awesome, but had occasional network issues where it would become unavailable until I power cycled it.  Also, I had a dual tuner model and over time found I just never needed the extra tuner. The Hauppauge tuner, on the other hand, was and is rock-solid.  It…just…works.  Of all the tuners I’ve tested, it has the best signal strength, and I’ve never had it fail. Even after I stupidly did this:

usb tuner
This is what happens when you yank on the cable while your tuner is still plugged in.

It’s hard to tell from the picture, but I damaged the tiny barrel connector, so it won’t stay securely in the tuner. I have to hold it together with a rubber band, but the darned thing just keeps on working.  So you can understand why I’m very, very happy with GoRite’s taste in tuners.

What’s in the box?

I need to preface the following comments by saying GoRite hasn’t finalized the package contents yet. What I received here was everything that’s possible. Some items may not make it into the final retail package. The only thing I’m sure you’ll get is the lid itself (and an instruction booklet, I’d assume). That being said, let’s have a look.

In the box:

  • The Tuner Lid (Yay!)
  • Connector cables (one for each board connector)
  • Telescopic antenna (Meh…I’ve got a rooftop antenna)
  • Remote (Awww..that’s adorable)
  • WinTV/Driver Installation CD (Only really needed for the WinTV serial number)
  • Hauppauge Manual (In case you don’t know what you bought)

GoRite included two connector cables with the lid to cover both connector types on the NUC boards. I’m not sure if the remote or antenna will make it into the final version.  Admittedly, I’m not your typical NUC user, and I have remotes and antennas laying around everywhere. Someone buying their first NUC and getting the lid so they can cut the cord may not, though. So I’m on the fence about whether they should be included or not.

Pre-Production

Just in case you’re not familiar with manufacturing processes, I should explain a little about “pre-production”.  When a product is nearly ready for regular production, often the company will make “pre-production” or “tester” units.  These are units that are functionally identical to what will eventually be sold, but that can be a little rough around the edges. They’re used for evaluation and to fine tune the design.  So the lid itself looks great, but the opening for the connector isn’t a great fit:

20160627_070139

Again, this is to be expected. At this stage we’re going for function over form.  I considered adding a rubber grommet around the coax connector, which would fill in the gap, but decided it wasn’t necessary. Actually, the lid looks pretty darned good for a pre-production unit. Other than the opening, you wouldn’t know this wasn’t a production lid. Also, it’s solid.   The casing they built to house it keeps it well secured inside the lid:

20160627_070702
Not going anywhere

Lids in General

My only gripe…and this isn’t about this lid specifically…it’s the finish.  I know the gloss black finish is designed to mimic the original NUC lid, and it does that very well. But just like the standard NUC lid, it’s prone to scratching.  Something as nice as this shouldn’t have scratches all over it, and it’s easy to scratch it up when you have to flip it over on your workbench to install anything.  I would love to see GoRite offer a more rugged alternative.  The “Thin Canyon” NUC had a rough, tough, and scratch-proof plastic lid, and it was perfect.  I suppose I could just start popping lids off and coating them with Plasti-dip, but…hey…actually, that sounds kind of cool!  Ok, new post coming soon.

Installation

As with all the GoRite lids, installation is a snap (that joke just never gets old).  The hardest part is feeding the cable through the case, as there’s not much wiggle room.

lid connector
I need smaller fingers

But with something as tiny as the NUC I guess I can’t really complain.  We asked for small, we got small. Anyway, I’ve installed several of their lids now, and I’m getting pretty good:

As you can see, it makes for a much cleaner look than the USB tuner.

Remote

If you’ve read my previous post on remote control options, you know I have a few remote controls hanging around.  The supplied remote is functional, but any of the ones I already have beats it on looks and usability.  It’ll work in a pinch, but I can’t say it would be my first choice. Just look at it next to one of my “Goodwill” remotes:

20160629_202321
The hourglass shape makes a difference

 

Software Configuration

Software can make a big difference with your TV tuner experience. There are dozens of media centers to choose from, and which one you pick can make the difference between “this is the coolest thing ever!” and “I’m going back to the satellite dish!” I’m not an expert on them by any means. My preferred media center solution is Kodi, running on Openelec, but I’ve used Media Portal and a few others. Windows Media Center has a simple TV tuner setup process and solid performance, but  I stopped using it when Microsoft decided they could charge $10 for something that’d been free for years.  I’m funny like that.  I’m exclusively a Kodi user for TV recording these days.

I started with a Windows 7 installation, and Windows did detect the tuner but didn’t install a driver. The included installation CD had drivers on it, but rather than connect a DVD drive I just downloaded the latest driver from the Hauppauge website.  It installed easily enough, so next I installed WinTV.  Again, instead of going to the CD I just downloaded it from the website. On a side note, the CD included WinTV v8, but when I went to the support page for the specific tuner model, it listed WinTV v7 for download. Heading to the main support page, I found WinTV v8 for download. The CD had the serial number on it, and I was able to use that to complete the installation.

WinTV

WinTV is a serviceable and relatively full-featured application. It’s not as user-friendly as, say Windows Media Player. The best way I can describe it is “finicky”. It had a tendency to hang a bit when switching channels, especially when using the supplied antenna. And the interface doesn’t have anything like a “set top box” feel. But it works. It’s easy enough to set up the tuner and scan for channels, and it gets you where you need to go.

Windows Media Center

Just for fun I then tried the tuner with Windows Media Center (the only reason I’ve kept this Windows 7 build alive).  Nothing much to report on here, except that everything worked perfectly.  I was able to configure the tuner, scan for channels, and download guide data without a hitch.  Just as it should be.

Openelec, Kodi, and TVHeadEnd

Without getting into the setup and configuration details (which would easily fill multiple posts) I’ll just say getting a tuner set up in Linux is an involved process.  You need to deal with Linux drivers, “backend” services, “frontend” interfaces, remote configuration…the hoops you have to jump through can be frustrating.  I’ve been working with Linux and TV tuners for a few years, so I was able to get everything up and running quickly. I used Openelec, Kodi, and TVHeadEnd.   The tuner in the lid was actually recognized by TVHeadEnd without the need for additional drivers.  Strangely, it was detected as an “LG Electronics” device:

tuner_lid_tvheadend

 

In any case, I was able to configure the tuner and scan for channels with no issues, which was nice.  Fewer hoops…less jumping.

Signal Strength

Signal strength is a tricky thing to test because it relies so much on the antenna.  To demonstrate that point, I tried the tuner lid with three different antennas: the included (telescopic) antenna, an omni-directional (flat) antenna, and my rooftop antenna.  The difference in signal strength was dramatic. Below are the results of channel scans for local digital signals using each of the antennas.

First, the supplied antenna:

tuner_weak_antenna
A few stations, but nowhere near the number available in my area

Next, the omni antenna:

tuner_omni_antenna
A few more, but still a short list

Finally, the rooftop antenna:

tuner_roof_antenna1
Part 1…
tuner_roof_antenna2
Part 2…
tuner_roof_antenna3
…AND Part 3…36 total!

As you can see, there is a massive difference in signal reception depending on your antenna.  My rooftop antenna picked up three times as many stations as the next best thing.

Final Thoughts

The new TV tuner lid from GoRite (so new it’s not available yet) is a welcome sigh of relief for any NUC owner who is ready for a tuner but wants to keep their NUC looking sharp.  It fits right in with the rest of the GoRite feature lids, and has the same slick look.  It’s easy to install, fits well, feels solid, and has the advantage of a Hauppauge tuner under the hood. The lid on its own is a home run. I can comfortably recommend it to anyone looking to “cut-the-cord” with a NUC as their HTPC.

The included accessories (which are, again, up in the air) aren’t really needed. The supplied antenna is relatively weak, the remote is functional but not great, and the WinTV app, while usable, is easily replaced by any number of media center applications.

GoRite’s going to have a hard time convincing me to give this lid back!

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