As a nerd and as a cord-cutter, I can say with authority that cutting out cable TV by using an antenna DVR can get nerdy fast. There have been numerous devices that make it easier for the less tech-inclined to grasp, and the Amazon Fire TV Recast is the most successful. Then there's products like the Tablo Quad.
Nerdy doesn't necessarily mean bad, just that the Tablo Quad can require more tech know-how than most products. In everyday use, it does what you need from a OTA DVR: it enables you to record and watch up to four channels at once, peruse a two-week channel guide and even stream on the go. Soon, it will also be able to auto-skip commercials for you, too.
Unfortunately, you might need to become very acquainted with your router's setup page to get it to work. And Tablo works with some devices better than others. If you're a Mac/iOS fan it's all good, but PC/Xbox One users get the shortest shrift with an outdated, unusable app on one hand (Windows 10) and the inability to listen to recordings with surround sound on the other (Chrome).
For experienced nerds, the Tablo Quad is a solid choice: a flexible recorder offering excellent performance both inside the home and out. Newbies need not apply.
What is this thing?
There are two main types of digital video recorder (DVR) for cord cutters. Both connect to an OTA antenna and let you record, pause, rewind and fast-forward through TV programs broadcast for free, over the air. Traditional set-top boxes like TiVo Bolt OTA or Channel Master Stream Plus are very similar to standard cable box DVRs: tuner boxes with hard drives that connect directly to a single TV. Streaming networked DVRs like the Recast, Air TV and Tablo Quad connects to your home network rather than to a TV. This allows them to stream live TV and recordings to multiple TVs as well as to phones, tablets and PCs, both inside and outside the home.
The Tablo Quad isn't simply the Tablo Dual with two more tuners slapped into it, it's a new, wider design with several tweaks. For example, while the Tablo Dual offered 64GB of "onboard storage," the Quad doesn't come with any at all. Instead, it enables you to install your own 2.5-inch storage drive inside, up to 8TB. That's a boon to people who don't want an umbilical USB drive messing up their space (though it can utilize one of those, too). An internal 1TB drive is about $40, so you should factor that into your cost. Alternately, an external USB drive of the same capacity runs $50.
At CES , Nuvyyo announced that the Tablo Quad will appear at the same time as a beta Commercial Skip feature (late Q1 2019). While I wasn't able to use the feature as part of this test, I will update this review once I have the chance to use the feature.
Here's the specs:
- 802.11ac Wi-Fi and Gigabit Ethernet
- Record up to 4,000 hours of HD content (with an 8TB drive)
- Supported platforms: Roku, Amazon Fire TV, Android TV , Apple TV and Chromecast , smart TVs , iOS/Android, PC/Mac, Xbox One and Nvidia Shield TV
- Tablo TV guide data costs: $5 a month, $50 a year, $150 lifetime (includes one free month)
New entrants in the past year or so have made streaming DVRs a hotly contested product category. These include the Amazon Fire TV Recast and Sling's AirTV. All of these models perform the same task as the Tablo with the main differences being the interface and the associated costs. While both of these newcomers anticipate you will sign up for the company's other services -- Amazon Prime and Sling TV, respectively -- each device's 14-day guide will work without paying extra, something that the Tablo won't do. Of course, if you add the cost of a $99 yearly Prime membership or the $25-a-month Sling TV subscription, the costs balloon. It's worth noting the Tablo DVR will work without a subscription, but users will only get one day of data at a time and will need to manually set up recordings more than one day away.
OTA DVR cost comparison
|Amazon Fire TV Recast
|Tablo Dual Lite
|TiVo Bolt OTA
|Accessories ($40 HDD, $50 USB HDD, $20 antenna, $40 FireTV)
|Lifetime subscription cost (does not include Prime or SlingTV costs)
After turning the device on and connecting an antenna, I was able to use the iOS app to set up the Quad. Like many wireless devices, the Tablo sets up its own Wi-Fi network which you connect manually to, and then the app does the rest. Once the unit is found, the app goes through a channel search, and unlike most other DVRs , it actually removes SD channels from the list -- it is up to you to click the checkbox if you want to add these to your service.
It took a couple of reboots for my PC and Roku to find the Tablo, but once it did I was able to stream live TV within the house. The real trick came when trying to enable external streaming -- the "auto setup" failed on my Netgear router, and so I had to manually set up port forwarding rules deep within the router's menu. For techies, this will be fine, but for non-geeks the nested menus and rows of numbers within could be terrifying. It took a few tries, and a few emails to Nuvyyo, but I finally got it to work. To confirm it wasn't an isolated case I also set the recorder up at a different location on an Asus router, but the app also required me to manually enter port settings.
I reached out to Nuvyyo to find out if there was a certified router list, and this is what the company said: "If your router supports UPNP (which most do) and it's turned on, you should not need to do any port forwarding. This is why Nuvyyo does not supply a 'certified router list'." Sadly, the Netgear router I used already had UPNP enabled, so your own mileage may vary.
Cutting the cord
As one of the oldest cord-cutting companies, you'd expect the Tablo experience to be one of the most intuitive and user-friendly, and once set up it does indeed perform quite well, both in terms of image quality and ease of use.
Each app's user menu offers the Live TV guide at the top and then breaks out programming according to type (Movies, Sports, etc.) with Scheduled and Recordings appearing at the bottom. You can set the page that greets you when you open the app, and for most people it would either be Live TV or Recordings.
The Live TV guide isn't the prettiest example of the Excel spreadsheet-like grid I've seen, but it's certainly functional. Some other DVRs allow you to watch Live TV while simultaneously perusing the guide, with a little preview window, and while the the Tablo doesn't let you browse the full guide it does enable a "quick guide" overlay on the current channel with the up/down buttons on the remote.
The iOS app is sensible, and recording is straightforward -- press on the show name, then press one of the Rec icons that appears. However, the app isn't especially ergonomic (for example, the familiar "back" button is a cross instead of an arrow and it is situated in the opposite corner compared to most other iOS apps).
Moving to the Roku app and the process is a little different -- clicking on a show in the guide gives you a menu which offers the ability to Watch, Record or Go To Show (series info).
Image quality is very good, with only a slight softness at the highest 1080/10 Mbps setting compared to standard broadcast on the same TV, but depending on your network you may need to wire the device with Ethernet to prevent stuttering in this setting. I found the picture was especially impressive when viewed on a phone remotely. With a healthy connection i didn't experience any stuttering, overt jaggies or image breakups with the default settings. Watching live TV on the bus or on a lunch break is what Tablo does best.
It's worth pointing out that if you record in "surround sound," some platforms won't play any sound at all on those recordings, namely PCs and Xbox One. Even though the company recommends the Tablo web app on Chrome or Firefox on PCs, it doesn't play surround content -- it ends up silent. Worst of all is the Windows 10 app. It hasn't been updated since 2016, and I found that some of the button behaviors weren't working at all. For instance, I couldn't click "Connect" or play back either recordings or Live TV using the "Play" icons.
Should you buy it?
I liked using the Tablo Quad. It's fun, and it gets the job done -- and I was particularly pleased with the clarity when used on the go. On the flipside, it was a pain to set up and make it work with my devices, a problem I didn't have with the (cheaper) Recast. Tablo certainly has its fans among the cord-cutting community, and for the enthusiast, it offers most of the features you'd want. In addition, while I haven't reviewed the cheaper Tablo Dual Lite, it's an attractive option for users who don't need four tuners or the internal drive capability.
Meanwhile, people who don't necessarily want to get their hands dirty -- or want to pay a guide fee -- would likely be better served by the Fire TV Recast instead.