Tablo DVR Review – Best Over the Air DVR for 2017

By | September 5, 2016

Are you looking for a DVR (or PVR) for the TV signal you are getting from your antenna?

The Tablo Digital Video Recorder for Over-The-Air HDTV with Wi-Fi is an excellent choice. With the Tablo DVR, you can tune up to 4 channels (depending on the model you select). The Tablo lets you pause live tv, schedule (up to 4 simultaneous) recordings with complete guide data for the channels available where you live, and you can send the signal to multiple televisions, tablets, ipads, smartphones and computers that you have in your house. You can also stream TV/Recordings to your device when you are not home, over your internet connection.

It is an incredibly handy device for cord-cutters, and one that I recommend highly.

 

Please feel free to read the whole article, or jump to one of the headings that you are interested in:

What are the Features of the Tablo DVR?

The Tablo DVR provides the following features:

  • Tune up to 4 simultaneous channels from your antenna (on the quad tuner model, up to 2 on the dual tuner model)
  • Fantastic TV signal quality – the signal quality is better than what you get through Cable or Satellite TV. Most stations provide a full crystal clear HD signal.
  • Send the TV signal to your TV via the Tablo app on your Roku, Amazon Fire TV, Apple TV, Android TV or your IOS or Android smartphone or Tablet. Note the Tablo does not directly connect to your TV, and requires a Set Top Box (see the next section for more details).
  • Send the TV signal to any computer, Mac, Windows or Linux, by loading up the Tablo webpage at http://my.tablotv.com.
  • Google Chromecast can also be used by casting the signal from Android or a PC
  • One Tablo DVR with an antenna connection, can send the signal to multiple devices in your house simultaneously.
  • Pause live-TV (if you need to step away from your TV, you can hit pause, and resume your show when you get back without missing a thing!)
  • Schedule recordings (very intuitive interface to schedule recordings, using up-to-date guide data).
  • Browse and watch recordings (interface is very intuitive).
  • Can stream live antenna TV or recordings to your phone or tablet, even if you are not at home!
  • Can watch a different show then the one you are recording.
  • Can record multiple shows sumultaneously.

What Else Do I Need to Get for the Tablo DVR?

  1. A Set Top Box (or Smartphone/Tablet/Computer): The Tablo DVR does not connect directly to your TV (via HDMI). The Tablo TV works in conjunction with a wide range of TV boxes (like Apple TV, Amazon Fire TV, Android TV, and Roku). To watch you will need to have a Set Top Box at each TV (or watch via the web browser on your PC or Mac, or watch on your Tablet/Smartphone if you desire). If you don’t already have a Set Top Box, I suggest getting a Roku Premiere, as it is quite inexpensive, and also allows you to watch Netflix, Youtube, and many other streaming services on your TV. The Roku Express is another option that is very inexpensive.
  2. An External Hard Drive: The Tablo DVR does not come with a built in hard drive. If you want to be able to pause-live-tv and schedule recordings, you will have to buy an external hard drive in addition to the Tablo TV.The Tablo will work without it, but you not be able to record.They chose to do this as different people will require a different amount of storage. If you’re the type that deletes your shows after you watch then, you can get away with a 500GB hard drive like this one (this will give you about 250h of storage). If you like to keep everything forever, you’ll want a large drive, like this 8TB hard drive. (which gives you 4000h of storage). If your not sure, I suggest getting a 3TB hard drive (which will give you about 1500h of storage). In my personal setup, I have a 3TB hard drive.
  3. An Antenna: You’ll need an antenna. If you don’t already have one set up, please read my section on selecting an antenna here.
  4. A Wi-Fi Router: To get the signal around your house, you’ll need a Wi-Fi router. The Tablo supports Wi-Fi, so this should work, although if you have wired Ethernet in your house this would be the best solution. Power-line Ethernet is also an excellent option.

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How Does the Tablo DVR Work?

The Tablo DVR connects to your antenna, and makes the over-the-air signals available to a very large variety of devices in your house. The Tablo DVR communicates with your devices using your home network (the same network you get your internet on).

The Tablo DVR does not connect directly to your television, and even though it provides DVR functionality, it does not include a hard drive – you will have to purchase one separately, I give some suggestions in the section above.

To view live TV, schedule and watch recordings, you will need the Tablo app on your set-top-box or phone/tablet (or access to the Tablo webpage in a web browser on your computer). Within the app, you will be able to watch available shows from your antenna, browse guide data (up to 13 days in advance is usually available), and schedule/watch recordings.

The device running the Tablo app communicates to your Tablo device using your home network. I highly recommend using a wired connection to your Tablo and to your set-top-box, but if that is not possible Wi-Fi can work well, provided you have a good Wi-Fi router, and you don’t have too much signal interference where you live.

Another awesome feature of the Tablo is you can connect to your device even if you are not at home. Even being away from your home, you can schedule a recording, or stream a recording to your phone or tablet (like if you are stuck in an airport awaiting a connection). This feature has to be enabled on your Tablo DVR, and will use your internet connection to send the live or recorded video to your device.

Connecting and Using your Tablo DVR

To watch live TV, and schedule/watch recordings on your television, you will have to get a supported set-top-box device to receive the signal from your Tablo, and display it on your television. My recommendation for this is to get either a Roku Premiere or an Amazon Fire TV set-top-box. Both of those boxes support the Tablo App which includes the full functionality provided by the Tablo DVR device. In addition, you can also watch content from Amazon Prime, Netflix, YouTube, Sling TV, and many other internet based streaming services.

The Roku and Amazon Fire also offer stick versions. If money is tight, or you don’t have the space for a full set top box, then consider getting a stick version. You can get more information on the Roku Streaming Stick here, and on the Amazon Fire stick here. The cheapest option is to get a Roku Express box, but you will be sacrificing some speed with this unit.

The sticks plug directly into the HDMI port on your television, and connects into your network via Wi-Fi. They are powered by a micro-usb port, so you will either have to connect that to a wall jack, or if you have a USB port on your TV (as many provide these days) it can be powered from your TV directly.

If you choose a stick option, you want to make sure you have a very good Wi-Fi connection (with minimal interference from your neighbors) and a strong signal from a high quality Wi-Fi router – video transmission is not very forgiving if there is any signal interference.

When you get your Tablo, you will first connect up the power, the antenna, the hard drive and the network (or if you are going to use Wi-Fi, then you will need to set up the Wi-Fi following the directions here).

Here is an image of the front and back of the Tablo DVR showing the connections:
Tablo DVR Showing PortsI believe the ports are fairly self explanatory. The power brick goes in the power port, the antenna connects to the coax connector, and your USB hard drive needs to be plugged into one of the USB ports. If you are using a wired (or power-line) ethernet connection to hook up your Tablo to your home network, then you will plug the network into the ethernet port.

The Tablo DVR does not necessarily need to be close to your Television. This can be handy as you can place your DVR where you get the best signal. Personally I set up my antenna in my attic, as I get a nice strong signal up there, so my Tablo DVR is also in my attic. I ran an ethernet cable into my attic as well to transport the signal around the rest of my house.

Once you have your Tablo DVR set up, then you will need to install the Tablo App on your set top box (try browsing the app or play store for your device to find the app).

Once installed, load up the app, and it will guide you through connecting to your Tablo DVR. If you want to view your Telelvision on a PC or Mac computer, then you will have to load up the Tablo webpage in your browser: here is the link: http://my.tablotv.com.

The installation walks you through connecting to your network, formatting your hard drive, scanning for channels on your antenna, and downloading guide data.

Once everything is setup, you can then watch live TV, schedule recordings and playback recordings. You definitely can record a different show then you are watching. Depending on whether you have the 2 or 4 tuner version, you will be able to record more then one show at the same time, or multiple people can watch different channels at the same time – up to the number of tuners available. If multiple users want to watch the same channel, that uses up only one tuner.

If you want to stream a recording or live tv to your device when you are not at home, a tuner will be used as well (to convert the video to a lower bitrate). Note that streaming to your device when you are not home will use up a lot of bandwidth, please ensure you have enough internet bandwidth to avoid being charged extra fees from your internet provider. Information on how to set up remote streaming is available here.

What are the Guide Data Options?

The Tablo DVR will work without a Guide Data subscription, however you will not have any guide data to use to help decide what to watch or to schedule recordings. The Tablo works better with a Guide Data subscription. When you get your Tablo, it includes one month of free guide data.

After that you can subscribe for more guide data at https://account.tablotv.com/. In the USA guide data is currently prices at $4.99USD/month, $49.99USD/year or $149.99USD/lifetime. In Canada guide data subscriptions are $5.99CAD/month, $59.99CAD/year or $179.99CAD/lifetime.

Note that if you buy a lifetime subscription, it will stay with your account, even if you have to get a new Tablo DVR for some reason (like if it gets fried because you didn’t hook it up to a surge protector).

What Stations Are Available?

The Tablo DVR is designed to work in the USA and Canada. Depending where you live, you should be able to get a lot of channels on your antenna, including NBC, CBS, ABC, PBS, FOX, This TV, and more. If you are in Canada, you should be able to get CBC, CTV, City TV, and Yes TV more. To research the channels available, this tool is very handy.

Some Pros and Cons

Pros

  • One Tablo DVR needed to stream to all your televisions and devices.
  • Streams to devices in your home, and also up to one device when you are not home.
  • The Tablo App is very attractive, and easy to use.
  • Can Pause Live-TV, Schedule Recordings, and Watch one Show while recording another (in fact on the 4 tuner model you can record 3 different shows simultaneously different from the one you are watching).
  • While expensive, a lifetime Guide Data subscription stays with you, even if you need to replace your Tablo DVR.

Cons

  • Relatively expensive
  • Only one month of guide data is included, after guide is available for a subscription fee. The Tablo DVR will work without a subscription however, but it will be harder to schedule recordings.
  • Hard drive not included. This does allow you to select an external hard drive with the right size for you.
  • Antenna not included. Again you can select one with the correct power for your requirements.
  • Does not connect directly to your television. Requires purchase of a set top box in addition to the Tablo DVR to watch TV.
  • Can be challenging to setup.

Are there any Caveats with the Tablo DVR?

This is an awesome box, but it can be tricky to set up. If you are not technically savvy, it may be a good idea to get someone over that is to help you get it all going. A device like the Tivo Roamio does not offer as many features, but is easier to set up.

Additionally, using Wi-Fi for video transport can be tricky. Video is not very forgiving with any issues in your Wi-Fi signal, and you may get pausing or pixelation in your video if there is too much interference, or if your Wi-Fi router is overloaded.

Personally if I was to use Wi-Fi for video I would purchase a second Wi-Fi router, and use it only for my video devices. I would also ensure that it was set to use a separate frequency from my main Wi-Fi router.

Many people use Wi-Fi with no issue. it may be worth trying it out first, but if you have any issues, I suggest using a wired ethernet connection, or failing that, a Powerline ethernet adaptor, like this DLink AV2-2000, to connect your Tablo to your home network, and also your Set-Top-Box(s) to your home network.

How does the Tablo DVR Compare to the Tivo Roamio?

With one Television and no need to stream to your smartphone/tablet or computer, the Tivo Roamio is less expensive then the Tablo, once you work in the price of unlimited guide data. The Tivo Roamio can be purchased for $314.99 with lifetime guide data (note the guide data for the Tivo goes with the device, so if you have to replace it, you will be paying for guide data again, as it is worked into the price of the device).  With the Tivo Roamio you hook the device directly to your antenna and to your TV. No additional Set-Top-Box is required – the Tivo also provides access to many internet streaming services like Netflix and YouTube. The Tivo also does not require that you connect it into your home network.

The Tivo Roamio does not support streaming to your your smartphone/tablet/computer natively. However you can purchase a Tivo Stream device for $129.99 (at the time of writing) which offers this feature. With the Tivo Stream you can also stream to your device when you are not home. Since this feature is built into the Tablo, we will include it in our analysis below – bear this in mind if it is not a feature you need (although I must admit it is incredibly cool).

The Tivo comes with a 1TB HDD, which should be plenty for most people. If you need more storage you can add an external hard drive, so that is similar to the Tablo. It isn’t clear what would happen if the internal hard drive fails however – I don’t know if the Tivo Roamio will need to be replaced, or if it can be configured to work with only the external hard drive. With the Tablo, you would just have to replace it and your Tablo DVR would still work great.

The Tivo Roamio has 4 tuners, so is similar to the 4 tuner Tablo – this may be more then you need, in which case you can save some money again with the dual tuner model of the Tablo DVR.

The Tivo Roamio does allow you to share your TV signal with other Televisions in your house. To do so you have to purchase a Tivo Mini device for each TV you want to connect to your main Tivo Roamio. Each Tivo Mini costs $149.00 (at the time of writing, check the link for the current price).

The Tivo Roamio will use your home network (via wired or Wi-Fi) to send the signal to your Tivo Mini devices, so if you have multiple televisions (and/or you want to use a Tivo Stream to send the signal to your Phone/Tablet/Computer) you will have to hook the devices to your home network.

The Tablo DVR is more cost effective if you have multiple TV’s. With 2 TV’s the Tivo Roamio setup is more expensive if you include the Tivo Stream device – without this device, a Tivo Roamio + Tivo Mini is still the cheapest way to go. If you include the Tivo Stream to offer similar functionality, the total cost for the Tivo Roamio set up is $314.99 + $149.00 (Tivo Mini) + $129.99 (Tivo Stream) = $593.98. This includes a lifetime subscription to guide data.

For the Tablo DVR case you will need one Tablo DVR, one external HDD (I’ll use a 1TB model so we’re comparing similar features), and two Roku Express Boxes to view the video on your TV. The total cost (for the 4 tuner model) is $279.99 (Tablo) + $149.99 (Lifetime Guide Data) + $52.99 (Hard Drive) + $29.00 (Roku Express Box) + $29.00 (Roku Express Box) = $540.97.

If you have 3 or more TV’s, the Tablo DVR is cheaper regardless of whether you include the Tivo Stream or not.

Both setups are expensive, but depending on your needs one option could be cheaper then the other option. And you’ll pay off the expense fairly quickly when you cancel that cable bill! Ahh – the feeling of freedom!

A cool feature that the Tivo Roamio does provide that the Tablo DVR does not is the ability to automatically skip over commercials. You can fast forward over commercials on the Tablo, but it is not automatic. If that is a something important to you, then perhaps you should look more into the Tivo Roamio.

Both choices are excellent, but personally I went with the Tablo DVR option as I preferred having full control over the size of my Hard Drive, and also liked the idea that my lifetime guide data subscription would be kept even if I somehow fried my Tablo device.

For more information please check out our review of the TiVo Roamio OTA DVR.

Where to Buy and Get the Best Price?

My preferred retailer is Amazon. As of the time of writing, amazon.com sells the 2-Tuner Tablo for $193.99, and the 4-Tuner Tablo is available for $279.99. If you are in Canada, I suggest ordering the Tablo from amazon.ca, the 2-Tuner Tablo is available for $266.98CDN, and the 4-tuner Tablo is available for $369.98CDN. If you are Canadian, an extra plus is that Tablo is a Canadian company, so you have to support your boys – and it is indeed a top notch product! If you purchase from amazon you get a 30 day free-return policy (amazon pays for the shipping in both directions). And the units are protected by a one-year warranty.

These prices are currently the best you will find online and in store for a new unit.

If you want to save a little money, consider ordering a refurbished Tablo device (when available). Here is a link to a refurbished 2-Tuner Tablo DVR, and here is a link to a refurbished 4-Tuner Tablo DVR. At the time or writing the refurbished 2-Tuner Tablo DVR is priced at $139.99+$13.50 (shipping), and the refurbished 4-Tuner Tablo DVR is priced at $199.99+$13.50 (shipping). These are USA links, I unfortunately could not find links to purchase refurbished units in Canada. The refurbished units are restored to like new condition and come with a 90 day warranty.

For the external Hard Drive, I list some excellent suggestions in the section above titled “What Else Do I Need to Get for the Tablo DVR?“.

For Antenna’s, I give suggestions on my Recommended products page.

I love ordering from Amazon. It is incredibly convenient. Shipping is fast. And if you don’t like what you purchased, you can arrange for them to create a return shipping label. You just have to repackage up your item as best as you can, put it back in the original shipping carton, and drop it off in a mail box, or at the post office (I usually drop it in person at the post office to be sure they receive it!). Amazon will issue your refund when they get the product, and quite often I have received my refund while it is still in the mail!

Conclusion

One of the concerns I hear often from people about why they continue to pay for cable TV, is that they have grown to love the excellent set of features provided by most modern cable TV providers. Features such as pause-live-TV, scheduling recordings with up-to-date guide data, being able to watch your signal on multiple televisions in your house, are all features that are challenging to achieve if you should decide to cut the cord, and watch antenna TV. Many of my friends continue to pay a monthly bill because of this.

The Tablo DVR solves all these problems, and although not cheap, provides good value – especially since you will not need that pricey cable bill any more. Your savings will pay off the cost to purchase you Tablo, and other required equipment in a relatively short period of time.

Of all the over-the-air DVR options on the market today, the Tablo TV is my number one choice. If this is a product you are interested in, I highly suggest giving it a try.

If you have any comments or questions, please feel free at ask them in the comments below.

 

Plug, help me help you. If you do decide to purchase a Tablo DVR from amazon, please use one of the links in this article. I will receive a small commission from the sale (at no cost to you), and this helps to support my growing family, and encourages me to write more helpful articles and reviews! Thank you.

5 thoughts on “Tablo DVR Review – Best Over the Air DVR for 2017

  1. quick test

    I have been unable to find the real specs on this anywhere on the net. Is it fast or gig ethernet? Wonder why they did not use USB3 ports in this day and age? Would be nice to be able to pull recordings remotely for processing / archiving. What is the format of the recorded file and is the size / compression rate adjustable?

    Reply
    1. Mike Smith Post author

      As far as I can tell, the ethernet is only fast (100 mbps). The ports are USB 2.0. I don’t know why they didn’t use USB 3.0, but USB 2.0 can still do 400 mbps, so that should be plenty fast, especially considering hard drives typically can only write 150-200mbps tops. There is some control for the recording quality. You can set it to HD 1080 at 10 Mbps, 1080 at 8 Mbps, 720 at 5 Mbps, 720 at 3 Mbps and 480 at 2Mbps. I believe the recording format used is HLS (using H264 video and AAC audio). I have never tried to pull the recordings off for manual processing, but you should in theory be able to connect the hard drive to your computer and just transfer the files off for archiving I would think.

      Reply
  2. Pingback: Tivo Roamio OTA Review - Best DVR For Small Households

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