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Jellyfin Review: With this live TV DVR, you get what you pay for

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At first sight

Expert assessment


Inexpensive, or maybe even free Record over-the-air and online M3U playlist sources Nifty playback speed controls


Difficult setup with little guidance Ugly apps with inconsistent functionality Technical problems abound

Our verdict

Open source enthusiasts may like this over-the-air DVR service, but most other users should stay away.

Price at time of review

Free open source software

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As an over the air DVR solution, Jellyfin appeals to a highly specific class of cable cutters.

With enough technical know-how, you can install a whole house DVR for your TV antenna with little or no subscription costs. Jellyfin can also record certain streaming video sources for free, and can host other video files, such as ripped DVDs or PlayOn recordings, all for free. You can then stream that content to your phone, computer, and connected TV devices.

But Jellyfin won’t be worth it for most people. Its interface is crude, setup is a pain, and the software is full of minor glitches and feature omissions that add up to a lot of frustration. Some open source software enthusiasts may find these compromises acceptable, but other do-it-yourselfers should look for more refined solutions such as Plex VCR OR DVR channels Instead.

This review is part of TechHive’s in-depth coverage of the best DVRs for cable cutters.

Some assembly required

origin 1SiliconDust’s HDHomeRun tuner can be used to bring local channels into Jellyfin.

Silicon powder

To be clear, this review will focus on the Jellyfin’s DVR capabilities rather than its broader media server capabilities. But like any media server software, it requires you to put a few pieces together.

To begin with, you need a Windows, Mac or Linux computer, ideally an always-on desktop, to run the server software, with ample storage space for your recordings. (I suggest at least 500GB.)

This is a solution for tech-savvy users rather than beginners.

For tuner support, Jellyfin works with SiliconDust’s HDHomeRun to capture over-the-air broadcasts from an antenna, and this tuner must be hardwired to your home router. SiliconDust tuners start from $110 for a dual-tuner model and scale up to $200 for four tuners with ATSC 3.0 support. Unlike PlexJellyfin does not support any USB or PCI tuner.

The final piece to consider is TV Guide data, as Jellyfin doesn’t provide any of its own. you can do it sign up for Schedules Direct for $25 a year or try compiling your data in the XMLTV format. The latter requires regularly running a command line or Python script on your computer, setting up a PHP file on a web server, or tinkering with Docker containers, all based on instructions from online hobbyists random. If you can hack it together, you will get the guide data for free.

Installing Jellyfin

origin 1Using Jellyfin’s web dashboard, you can add an HDHomeRun tuner and connect your ride data.

Jared Newman / Foundry

Once you’ve put the pieces together, you can install the media server software on your computer and load the web interface, either by clicking a link in Jellyfin’s system tray icon or by visiting localhost:8096 in a web browser.

From here you can create a login and specify the folders where Jellyfin should store your TV and movie files. If you already have existing media files in those folders, Jellyfin will make them available in your library.

You can then use the Jellyfin dashboard to set up Live TV service, which detects your HDHomeRun tuner and allows you to plug in TV guide data. Like DVR ChannelsJellyfin can also put online video sources in the M3U format, allowing intrepid users to record from free streaming services like Pluto TV alongside legally dubious IPTV sources.

origin 1Jellyfin’s apps should automatically detect your server, as long as it’s on the same Wi-Fi network.

Jared Newman / Foundry

Jellyfin offers few hands in all of this. Setting up Live TV, for example, resides behind a separate dashboard menu and isn’t part of the standard setup process, and Jellyfin doesn’t have a built-in way to get guide data. There’s also no guidance on setting up streaming away from home, which I’ve repeatedly failed to get working. All of this reinforces that this is a solution for tech-savvy users rather than beginners.

It’s time to start streaming

origin 1Jellyfin home screen on Fire TV devices.

Jared Newman / Foundry

Once you have everything set up, you can use Jellyfin to stream content to other devices in your home. Jellyfin offers client apps for Roku, Fire TV, Android TV, Apple TV, LG WebOS, Windows, Mac, Linux, iOS and Android. For devices on the same network, Jellyfin will automatically detect the service so you can connect and log in.

But once Jellyfin is actually up and running, the problems start piling up.

origin 1Instead of a grid guide, Jellyfin’s Roku app provides this clunky list of channels.

Jared Newman / Foundry

For one thing, the experience is extremely inconsistent across devices. Jellyfin on Fire TV and Android TV looks different than Jellyfin on Roku and Apple TV, and features may vary from one to another. For example, both the Roku and Apple TV apps lack proper grid guide and schedule view, and don’t support recording a live channel from the playback screen.

origin 1If you want a grill guide with proper support for browsing channels on your TV, you’ll need to use Jellyfin’s Fire TV or Android TV apps.

Jared Newman / Foundry

Regardless of the platform, Jellyfin is also behind other over-the-air DVRs in terms of features. The DVR doesn’t highlight potential tuning conflicts, for example, and while the grid guide lets you filter channels by genre, you can’t mark channels as favorites without using the HDHomeRun website. There’s no built-in ad skipping either; of gelatin documentation it just suggests messing around with Python scripts using code from a random discussion on Reddit.

The live TV experience is also riddled with glitches. App crashes were common in my experience, as were promotional graphics for over-the-air channels not loading. At one point, Jellyfin’s Apple TV app, whose live TV features are marked “experimental,” failed to free up an over-the-air tuner when I closed the app, causing cryptic errors on other devices. On Fire TV, the grid guide is not equipped to handle many channels, requiring you to click a “Load Null Channels” button while scrolling, and when loading a channel, you have to click the play button a second time to start playback.

origin 1Jellyfin offers no help handling tuning conflicts and only offers cryptic error messages when they occur.

Jared Newman / Foundry

Jellyfin has it Some useful features. You can control playback speed on Fire TV and Android TV, for example, and on these devices you can also browse the full grid guide while watching live TV channels. And while the Roku app isn’t quite as comprehensive, it does have the ability to search live help with voice commands.

origin 1Jellyfin’s series recording options are useful, but the “Keep up with” setting doesn’t show up on TV devices.

Jared Newman / Foundry

Jellyfin also offers some granular recording controls: You can set buffer start and stop times, limit recordings to a specific channel, and control how many recent episodes of a show to keep. But again, some of these features are only available through the Jellyfin web app.

All of this suggests that Jellyfin is still geared towards general purpose media server use. By comparison, the live TV component seems like an extremely rough afterthought or work in progress.

So who is it for?

The downside of all these complaints is that Jellyfin may ultimately cost you nothing more than what it takes to piece together the hardware needed to run the media server. If you can figure out the XML help data setup, or are just using it to grab .M3U playlist sources, Jellyfin is completely free. Once you have your recordings, browsing your library and playing videos works fine.

But if you value polished software and consistent experiences across platforms, or simply don’t want to deal with a litany of setup headaches and technical issues, strongly consider paying for your own DIY DVR setup instead. DVR channels it’s a great solution for $8 a month or $80 a year (including guide data) and Plex VCR it’s a solid alternative with a $120 lifetime service option. Both are easier to set up and use, have smarter software, and make it easier to skip commercials. If you are not ready to build a media server, Table OR AriaTV it will give you an over-the-air DVR with even less setup hassle.

While it’s nice to have a free and open source over-the-air DVR as opposed to proprietary media server software, Jellyfin still has a long way to go before it’s a truly competitive solution.