I recently detailed my transition from satellite TV subscriber to cord cutter (you can read that story here). The experience has taught me that, as much as I enjoy Netflix, Amazon Video, and other on-demand streaming services, I still value the live TV experience.
Services like Sling TV, PlayStation Vue, and DirecTV NOW can deliver live TV at more reasonable prices than the cable/satellite companies, but the one drawback to these online TV packages is that local channels are usually only available in select markets, if at all. The truth is, if you want to cut the cord but retain access to all the broadcast channels in your area, over-the-air is still the best option ... provided you live in a place where you can tune in the signal with some measure of reliability.
Of course, watching over-the-air TV channels does have its own downside--namely, you can't pause, rewind, skip commercials, and record your favorite shows. That's where the over-the-air DVR comes into play. Yes, the over-the-air DVR is alive and well. Tivo is probably still the most recognizable name in standalone DVRs, but they certainly aren't the only player in what has grown into a competitive and innovative category.
Over the past few years, Nuvyyo has made a name for itself in this space with its Tablo suite of networkable DVRs. The newest model is the two-tuner Tablo DUAL ($249.99), and it's the first Tablo model to include onboard storage. Previous products required that you bring your own USB storage to the party, but the new Tablo DUAL gives you 64 GB of internal storage to record up to 40 hours of HD. Of course, there's still the option to add more storage capacity (up to 8 TB) via USB.
Curious to see if this new product could fill in the vital missing piece of my cord-cutting experience, I requested a review sample. Let's see how it did.
When unpacking the Tablo DUAL, the first thing you'll notice about the product is that it has no AV connections of any kind. That's because it's really not a traditional DVR/set-top box like one you'd get from Tivo, Dish, DirecTV, or Comcast that connects directly to your HDTV. The Tablo hails from the new(ish) genre of network DVRs, pioneered by devices like the HDHomeRun. The Tablo is essentially a network video router to which you attach your over-the-air antenna; the signal is then delivered over your network to compatible playback devices like streaming media players, smartphones, tablets, and computers.
The real plus to this approach is that, because the box isn't tethered to your TV, you can put the Tablo DUAL (and the antenna connected to it) anywhere you want in the home. If you're using an indoor antenna, no longer are you stuck trying to find the best spot for the antenna within a roughly 10- to 15-foot radius of your HDTV (or forced to run--and hide--a longer cable). You can find the best place in your house or apartment to position the antenna, then just plug the Tablo box into the closest power outlet. This would prove to be hugely helpful in my setup.
But let's back up for a second. The box itself is smaller than previous Tablo boxes. Roughly a five-inch square that sits 1.46 inches tall, it's about the size of most of today's big-name streaming media players. It sports an RF input to connect your antenna, a USB 2.0 port to attach more storage, and an Ethernet port for a wired network connection. 802.11n Wi-Fi is also onboard.
Physical setup is a simple as connecting your OTA antenna, connecting an Ethernet cable from your router (if you're going the wired route), and powering up the Tablo DUAL. I mated the box with a non-amplified Leaf Mini indoor antenna and opted for the freedom of a wireless connection.
To complete the rest of the setup process, you'll need either a computer (go to my.tablotv.com) or a mobile device. I downloaded the Tablo app to my iPhone 6 (an Android version is also available) and followed the simple step-by-step instructions: connecting the Tablo to my Wi-Fi network; naming it; and putting in my zip code or using location services to get the TV schedule for my area. The Tablo app then begins its scan to tune in OTA channels. The Tablo found 37 channels in my area (compared with 36 channels when I used my Samsung TV's internal tuner), including all the major networks: CBS, NBC, ABC, FOX, PBS, and CW.
Here's the thing. I live in a first-floor apartment, and there are no windows near the only viable place in my living room where the TV can sit. Although the Leaf Mini antenna can tune in 36 channels when connected directly to my TV, the signal strength of many of those channels isn't very strong or reliable. I'm constantly readjusting the antenna to get the best reception for each channel. With the Tablo system, I was able to position the Leaf Mini antenna across the room, near my patio door, and hide the Tablo box discreetly in a nearby corner. Signal strength and reliability proved to be much better in this location--and the Tablo interface includes helpful signal strength indicators to assist with antenna adjustment, if needed.
The next step is to configure the program guide. Tablo offers a 14-day program guide that requires a subscription fee (after a 30-day free trial that begins immediately upon completion of initial setup). The subscription costs $4.99/month, $49.99/year, or $149.99 for a lifetime subscription. You can choose NOT to subscribe to the Tablo program guide and just use the device to watch live TV and schedule recordings manually by channel/date/time. If you go this route, you'll still get 24 hours of program info, but you'll lose some of the more advanced DVR tools and features (more on this in a minute).
Setting up the program guide is as simple as checking off the channels you want displayed and hitting "Add to Guide." The app begins to load data, building a list of colorful thumbnails for all the TV shows, movies, and sporting events that are available. If you press the three-line Options icon at the top left of the app screen, you'll see a status indicator that the app is "updating guide" with a progress bar. Tablo recommends you wait to set up any recordings or make advanced settings adjustments until the initial download is done. You can dive right in to watch live TV, but the guide won't have all the program info in place. The initial download took only about 10 minutes, but it did take a couple of hours before all the program info loaded in the guide.
That's the core setup process. For me, it was slick and seamless to get live TV streamed to my iPhone in roughly 10 minutes. But of course, I don't just want to watch TV on my mobile device. I want it on my big 65-inch HDTV. For this, you need a compatible streaming media device, and pretty much every major platform is supported. The Tablo app is available for Roku, Amazon Fire TV, Apple TV, Android TV, and LG's WebOS. It's also Chromecast-compatible. I downloaded the app to an Amazon Fire TV, launched it, and waited just a few seconds for it to find and automatically sync with the Tablo on my network. Again, it was so easy and worked without any problem.
Click over to Page Two for Performance, The Downside, Comparison & Competition, and Conclusion...