As more and more TV viewers cut the cable for the wealth of other options, one feature that’s often missing from the new home entertainment configuration is a DVR. Nuvyyo Inc. attempts to fill that service while not strapping themselves to 20th century standards. The Tablo Over-the-Air (OTA) DVR records live broadcast HDTV, but also functions as home media server; sending live or recorded video to TVs, tablets, or even cell phones far away from home.
It’s only been in the last five years that TV networks have been mandated to provide HDTV digital signal. In 2015, 1% of Americans cut the cable. That doesn’t sound like much, but it’s a worrying trend for the cable companies who have spent decades as the only game in town for some of your favorite TV shows. Network TV is available for free on antenna, and cable-only companies like HBO are starting to provide subscription services. Combine that with Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Video, and hundreds more targeted streaming services and the traditional cable system is looking more outdated every year.
Today, one in five households has cut the cable, or has never had cable TV. In Canada, that number is one in four. Perhaps it makes sense that a Canadian company would come up with a 21st century way to record and play back video from over-the-air sources.
Built into the Tablo box is two or four tuners, depending on the model you choose. Each tuner can receive a signals from a single TV antenna you set up. Once configured, the first 24 hours of schedule are downloaded. A few hours later, you get the next two weeks. You can browse the schedule by channel and time, or let Tablo present you with all the TV shows and movies available for recording in the foreseeable future.
You don’t need to have the Tablo plugged into a television for it to work. In fact, you can’t. There’s no HDMI out. The device works like a home server, delivering live and recorded television to computers, phones and set-top devices. A $4.99 per month Tablo subscription isn’t necessary for it to work on an internal network, but you miss out on a lot of features including access to your TV shows from anywhere on the Internet.
When it was announced in 2013 through an Indiegogo campaign, Tablo only had native apps for tablets, and a limited number of ways you could watch content. Now you can watch on almost any iOS or Android device. TV playback is possible through apps for Roku, Android TV and Amazon Fire TV, and you can stream it to Apple TV using Airplay or to a Chromecast. Failing all those options, you can simply log into my.tablotv.com in Chrome and watch on your computer.
The Tablo only comes packaged with a network cable and power adaptor, so you’ll need to supply the antenna, coaxial cable, and hard drive. The Tablo has two USB 2.0 ports, and each provides enough bandwidth to record up to four HD streams simultaneously. Because there’s no HDMI port, the Tablo doesn’t need to be near a television, and even though it has an ethernet port built in, it doesn’t need to be near a network jack either. The Tablo has 802.11n dual-band WiFi built in.
Really all you need to do is hook it up to an antenna and download the app to an iOS or Android device and you can get set up. The step-by-step instructions make it easy to configure the Tablo, set up a one-month free trial to their subscription service, and start recording.
Right away you can watch Live TV on your phone, computer, or supported media players. There’s also a Tablo channel for Plex servers, but since channels only work through the web browser (instead of methods like the Plex app for PlayStation) there’s no real advantage.
The Tablo 2-tuner model costs only $219.99 USD. Unless there are a lot of TV shows on at the same time that you need to record, the 2-tuner model should cover nearly all of your recording needs. For $299.99 USD you can get a 4-tuner model that pretty much guarantees that you’ll always record everything you want to get. However, that’s not where the costs stop.
You’ll need a hard drive. My recommendation would be a one terabyte portable drive that can be powered over USB. They can be found for around $50-60. If you have one lying around that’s fine but it will be formatted before use. Make sure there’s nothing on there you can’t stand to lose.
The subscription is not necessary. However, I found while testing that the device is severely crippled without it. Another way to think of it is that the subscription offers so many essential features, you can’t stand it when your free first month expires. Over The Air broadcasts the next 24 hours of broadcast schedule alongside digital TV, so the Tablo can pick that up and use it. However, you lose features like cover art, and organizing shows by genre. Without the Tablo subscription you also lose Series Subscriptions where the Tablo takes responsibility of recording all new episodes of your favorite series by itself. It’s like an iTunes Season Pass, but you don’t have to wait until the next day to start watching. A subscription is also necessary to watch live and recorded television when you’re away from home.
When you’re already paying for Netflix, Hulu, HBO Now, etc. then adding another $5-10 per month service can be frustrating. Didn’t you cancel cable for just this reason? The per month cost is only $4.99 USD, but you can save $10 per year by paying $49.99 up front. If you’re just not interested in yet another scheduled ding to your credit card bill, you can work the cost of a lifetime subscription into the initial setup cost. For $149.99 your Tablo subscription will never expire. Personally, I’d like to see it a little cheaper than having to pay three years up front, but it’s comparable to what many of us pay in cable fees every couple months.
If you don’t have an OTA antenna to pick up HDTV signals, you’ll need to buy and install one. Indoor antennas are a cheap and easy option, with most models about $20-40. If you live further from broadcast antennas, you may need to set up one outside your house. The antennas themselves can cost as much as $80-100. To find out what channels are available by antenna, there’s a tool on the Tablo TV website you can use.
If you’re not handy, I would recommend looking for professional installers. That way it’s properly grounded from lightning strikes and configured to pull in the most channels possible. Professional installation can easily cost $500, but even when you work in the cost of the Tablo and a lifetime subscription the whole setup should pay for itself within a year.
If you’ve had cable TV for your entire life, it will take some adjustment to your habits. I cut the cable during the writer’s strike in 2007 when the Internet just didn’t have the video streaming options we have today. I had to completely give up on cable-exclusive TV shows like The Daily Show. In 2016 many of these shows are available on the channel’s web site streaming for free, or they can be bought through digital download services like iTunes and Google Play.
The Tablo OTA DVR is one part of your solution and to get it up and working can cost from $219.99 up to $1,000 if you opt for the lifetime subscription and a professionally installed antenna. However, that upfront investment will you get 21st century-style streaming to your smart devices everywhere. You will need to look at how much you pay every month in cable fees and how long it would take to earn that investment back. For most people it will likely take under a year. If your Internet or telephone services are bundled with cable TV, then you might have to factor in the cost of breaking them up. Don’t factor in the cost of services like Netflix or Hulu. If you already have them then that cost won’t change, especially when you’ll probably be getting more use out of them in the future.
In the end, you have to make the decision that’s right for your viewing habits. The Tablo OTA DVR has the Internet-friendly features that should be an essential part of your efforts to cut the cable.