What is Tablo DVR
The Tablo DVR is possibly the best DVR for cord-cutters who travel. The ability to watch your content around the world works smoothly with little setup. Past the ability to cast content on your DVR and watch live TV worldwide, it is a solid and beautiful DVR.
The user interface is consistent across multiple devices, and the performance is smooth across all platforms. Only Roku had a different interface, similar to most Roku apps. With easy-to-use categories for finding movies, sports, and TV shows, the user guide is amazing.
The real benefit to the Tablo is its ability to sync with a laptop or tablet so you can stream your content around the world. All you have to do is enable “Remote Access” in the settings, and connect to the DVR on your home network one time. After that, the laptop or tablet will automatically sync to your Tablo DVR each time you launch the application. No passwords or registration is needed; it just simply works. I was able to travel cross country with my laptop and keep the connection for over 30 days without reconnecting it to my home network.
Even though ChromeOS is not listed as an officially supported OS, the “My Tablo” app works smoothly on ChromeOS.
These features make Tablo DVR the ultimate DVR for cord-cutters who travel.
- Works great with ChromeOS
- Super simple setup
- Consistent UI across platforms
- Great UI overall
- Still synced cross country a month later
- No ability to remote access the Tablo with a Roku
- Quality is limited to your upstream, so DLS users may have issues with that
Comparing Tablo DVR models
Tablo currently offers six over-the-air DVR models, distinguished by their number of tuners, storage configurations, and connectivity options.
Tablo’s networked DVRs do not plug directly into your TV, but instead stream video on the Tablo app on smart TVs, streaming players, game consoles, phones, tablets, and laptops (here’s the full Tablo compatibility list). This effectively gives you a whole-home DVR for broadcast TV, all from a single antenna, but it does require bandwidth of around 10Mbps per stream over your Wi-Fi network.
Here are those options:
- Tablo Dual Lite ($150): Two tuners; you must supply external USB storage
- Tablo Quad ($200): Four tuners; you must supply an internal hard drive or external USB storage
- Tablo Dual 128 GB ($170): Two tuners, 128GB built-in storage, which can be supplemented by user-provided external USB storage
- Tablo Quad 1 TB ($240): Four tuners, your must supply either an internal hard drive or external USB storage
The main downside with these models, aside from their bandwidth requirements, is that they don’t stream broadcast channels at their native quality. This is mainly noticeable on 480i and 1080i channels, where frame rates are limited to 30 frames per second.
Surround sound on these devices also has one strange quirk: If you enable it for your Tablo, any devices that can’t decode surround sound won’t play audio at all. Many Android phones can’t decode surround sound, so if you want to watch on an Android phone, you’ll need to sacrifice 5.1-channel audio on your TV.
Tablo’s HDMI DVRs, by contrast, can connect directly to your TV and include their own remote control; plus, they preserve your antenna’s full broadcast quality. Here are those options:
Like Tablo’s networked DVRs, these models can also stream to other devices around the house—and they preserve full broadcast quality while doing so—but device support is limited to just Roku, Fire TV, and Android TV. That means you can’t watch on your phone or computer, nor can you access local broadcasts from outside the home.
Tablo is also developing an HDMI model with support for ATSC 3.0, also known as NextGen TV, but this model won’t support streaming to other devices around the house. ATSC 3.0 is still in its nascent stages, with little content taking advantage of the new format, so I’d recommend avoiding this model for now.
Tablo subscription vs. other services
To get the most out of a Tablo DVR, you’ll need a guide data subscription, which costs $5 per month or $50 per year. Without it, you’ll miss the following features:
- 14 days of guide data (instead of one day)
- Recording by series (instead of just by time)
- Out-of-home streaming
- In-home streaming for Tablo HDMI models
- Cover art and TV series info
- Various genre views and category filters
Prior to August 30, Tablo offered a lifetime guide data subscription, but it has discontinued that option for new subscribers, citing the need to pay for ongoing software and customer support. (Customers who already have lifetime subscriptions get to keep them.)
Back in July, Tablo also discontinued automatic commercial skipping for new customers. This required an additional $2-per-month subscription, but apparently didn’t garner enough interest to justify the costs.
These changes make Tablo DVR less compelling feature-wise than Plex DVR ($5 per month, $40 per year, or $120 for life) and Channels DVR ($8 per month or $80 per year). Both of those services include automatic ad-skipping at no extra cost, and they also let you stream from an antenna at full broadcast quality, but they’re also a lot more complicated to set up.
Revisiting the Tablo experience
For a deep dive into Tablo’s DVRs, you can check out our newly refreshed Tablo Dual, Tablo Quad, and Tablo HDMI reviews. Here, I’ll just offer a brief summary:
Performance: At the outset, Tablo’s interface can be painfully slow as it loads cover art and guide data. While this improves over time, you might still hit some annoying delays when loading Tablo’s “Prime Time” show menu or making changes to your recording list.
Channel load times: Because Tablo must transcode video before playback starts, expect initial load times of around six seconds. That said, Tablo will remember your recent channels and reload them instantly if it has the tuners to spare.
Playback features: Tablo offers a mini-guide for flipping through live channels, and you can pause or rewind live channels—up to the point you started watching—without having to record them first. Tablo also supports watching recordings-in-progress, so you can jump in partway through and fast forward through commercials.
DVR features: This is where Tablo really distinguishes itself from cheaper options such as AirTV and the Mediasonic HomeWorx. For series recordings, Tablo offers granular options such as start and stop buffer times, limits on how many recent episodes to keep, and controls over which channels to record from; plus, it still supports manual recordings for good measure. Tablo also alerts you to scheduling conflicts with red warning labels in the channel guide and DVR schedule, and it provides a menu for freeing up your tuners.
Once you’ve built up a recording library, Tablo has options to delete the full series, or just the episodes you already watched. All this means you have lots of control over your precious hard drive space.
Ad skipping: While Tablo no longer offers automatic commercial skipping, it does at least provide visual thumbnail previews for completed recordings, so manually fast forwarding through commercial breaks isn’t a huge hassle.
Out-of-home viewing: This only works with Tablo’s networked DVRs—and even then, only on a subset of devices—and you must make sure to set the feature up before you leave the house. But at least in my latest tests on a Fire TV Stick, it worked without issue.
Should you buy a Tablo?
With the recent demise of Amazon’s Fire TV Recast and TiVo’s waning interest in DVR hardware, Tablo still occupies a sweet spot among over-the-air DVRs. Its whole-home streaming setup works with a wide range of devices, and its recording features are top-notch.
But without lifetime service plans or automatic ad skipping, Tablo’s footing isn’t as solid as it once was. For a subscription-free option, the $200 AirTV Anywhere might be good enough if you don’t mind more limited DVR options. And if ad-skipping is a must, the more technically elaborate setups of Plex DVR or Channels DVR may be worthwhile.
It’s worth noting, however, that none of those products come from companies whose sole business is over-the-air TV. Hopefully the folks at Nuvyyo can harness that antenna enthusiasm into new ways of standing out against the competition.
Does Tablo have a monthly fee?
You may choose to continue your TV Guide Data Service subscription for $4.99 USD/month ($5.99 CAD/month) or $49.99 USD/year ($59.99 CAD/year). (*Starting August 30th, 2022, Lifetime subscription plans will no longer be available for purchase.)
What channels do you get with Tablo?
In the United States, customers in most areas will be able to get FOX, NBC, CBS, ABC, PBS, and CW networks. In Canada, most will be able to get CBC, CTV, Global, CityTV as well as regional and language-specific content.
Is Tablo TV free?
Tablo can help! With an Over-the-Air TV antenna and a Tablo OTA DVR, you can watch and record free live, local TV in full HD, anytime, anywhere. It’s the best way to enjoy network sitcoms and dramas, local news, and sports without the cost or commitment of cable.
The Tablo DVR is attractive and delightfully easy to use after setup. Its super simple ability to cast content on your DVR and watch live TV on a tablet or laptop while traveling around the world is really the stand-out feature of this DVR. The straightforward and beautiful UI is a close runner-up for its most enticing feature.
The Tablo DVR is a rare beauty; it delivers a smooth interface with high-quality performance in a solid, well-made, and easy-to-use DVR.