Working Around ATSC 3.0 DRM with the Channels App’s Custom Channel Feature

I recently explored a unique solution for encrypted ATSC 3 TV stations with a special feature of the Channels App that allow for creating custom channels. You can see how I set it up in this video!

The Channels App consists of a DVR server running locally on a device like a NAS, Raspberry Pi, or PC and client apps that run on Apple TV, iOS, Fire TV and Android. The server application conencts to an HDHomerun and TV Anywhere sources for recording and streaming to client devices. You can learn more about Channels in this playlist. (Disclosure, Channels is an occasional sponsor on the channel)

One unique aspect of Channels is its ability to add custom channels through an M3U playlist. For example, one could use a hardware video encoder with an HDMI input and have that video sent into channels as a custom source.

However, Channels doesn’t run a listening server, meaning it needs to connect to an external source vs. having something sent to it via OBS. This led me to investigate an open-source Docker project called Restreamer, designed for video streaming but adaptable for integrating TV tuner video into Channels. Notably, all ATSC 3 tuners supporting DRM that I’ve seen do not encrypt the HDMI output. This allows consumers to legally record over-the-air television, as HDMI encryption has not been implemented by broadcasters and thus does not require the viewer to break encryption which is illegal under the DMCA.

My setup involved a Linux Mini PC connected to an HDMI capture dongle and the Zinwell TV tuner I recently reviewed. The installation of Docker and the Restreamer application was straightforward for anyone familiar with Docker. The setup on the Channels app involved adding a new source, configuring it with the right parameters, and mapping it to the actual guide data.

The custom channel I created was then fully integrated into my channel setup, behaving like any other channel despite its origin as an ATSC 3 DRM encrypted signal. It displayed correct guide data and allowed recording, just like other channels.

This proof of concept does show it’s possible to integrate DRM encrypted channels into an unrestricted home DVR. But of course this will only tune one channel at a time unless multiple tuners are connected to multiple capture cards.

Of course none of this is nonsense necessary with the current ATSC 1.0 broadcast standard that does not encrypt broadcast signals!