One of my favorite parts of an Emergency Operations Center is the wall of screens up front that provide all sorts of situational awareness information. Typically at least one screen is dedicated to monitoring local or national news.
Typically these displays are managed by expensive and complex AV setups, installed by professional vendors. For my “homelab” EOC (call it my HOC), I wanted to put together a simple multivewer that allowed me to watch multiple local news stations at once.
I specifically was interested in watching Over The Air (OTA) broadcasts versus pulling up online feeds. This was for two reasons. First, online streams are often DRM protected and you cannot pull the raw feed directly you must view it through a browser, plus you often need a login (and that authorization periodically expires). Secondly, I wanted to be able to monitor the news even if my internet goes down.
There are a few devices for bringing in OTA signals, but the obvious choice for my needs was something from Silicon Dust’s HDHomeRun series. These boxes have a single antenna input to receive OTA signals and then have multiple built in ATSC tuners and sends the tuners’ streams over the local network.
I purchased an HDHomeRun Flex 4K which has four tuners. 2 that support both ATSC 1.0 and ATSC 3.0 (the new NEXTGEN TV standard some stations are starting to add to their 1.0 broadcasts) and 2 that only support ATSC 1.0. It also has a USB port where you can add an external hard drive for recording channels.
You can watch the streams from the HDHomeRun one at a time in a dedicated HDHomeRun app (available for most platforms), via a home media server app like Plex, or you can use the stream URLs to watch the feed directly in a third party app.
While it’s easy to watch a single channel using the methods above, it’s a little tricky to watch four at a time. On Windows, you can open four stream URLs in four discrete instances of VLC Player but on Mac multiple VLC windows are not natively supported. I found that the popular (also open source) VLC alternative, IINA, worked great. You can open multiple streams and arrange the windows on your display as desired.
But I wanted something a little more integrated. For internet streams, I use a website called VidGrid that neatly takes in four stream URLs and allows you to watch all of them at once in a grid with simple controls for audio and temporarily soloing a specific feed. I spent hours searching for something that would work well with the LAN video feeds from the HDHomeRun to no avail.
I broadened my search, realizing that if I looked for multiviewer apps for security cameras, most of which send video over IP these days, I might be able to find something that worked for me. After trying (and buying) many apps, I ended up settling on the straightforwardly named app CCTV Viewer.
This is technically an iPad app, but it will run on an M1 Mac. It is a little tricky to control without touch, but so far the only hard limitation I’ve run into is that I’m really not sure how to delete a group of streams once I’ve created it.
Upon first launch, or in the future when you create a new view or long click on a video stream, you will get a configuration menu. You can ignore the various security camera integration options and simply select a layout that corresponds to the number of incoming feeds you have from your HDHomeRun devices (you can run multiple on your network if you want more than 4 feeds). To make it easy, on this configuration page, the app shows an IP address you can type into your web browser to configure things in an interface better suited for desktop users.
For my setup, I selected the “4 Cameras” option and proceeded to label each camera with the name of the network I wanted to monitor, and the direct stream link to each feed which you can find on the admin website your HDHomeRun device provides under the “Channel Lineup” page. Simply right click on the channel and copy the link address and paste it into the configuration page in CCTV viewer.
Once you’re done setting things up, you’ll have a silent multiview of the channels you’ve configured. To solo a specific channel (and enable audio) you can simply click on the feed. To return to the multiview, click and drag from the bottom to simulate a swipe up.
This will also reveal the bottom interface where you can select which camera group is active and access the app’s general settings menu where you can enable/disable channel labels and change the app’s background color.
With that done, you should have a working news multiviewer that you can display on your desktop or any attached monitor/projector screen. This is great for situational awareness during emergencies, or just for fun to monitor multiple sporting events or anything else. Here in the Bay Area with a pretty imperfectly placed unamplified indoor antenna, I receive over 70 OTA channels, many (including all news channels) in high quality HD.