Review: Tablo DVR – Perfect for Cord Cutters Who Want It All

It feels really great when you revisit a pastime that you once enjoyed. For me that’s watching the local news. How else will I know how the weather is affecting people in the community or see people complaining about gas prices? I know it’s old fashion, considering you can always get up to date news on the internet with a few key strokes. Maybe it’s just laziness or the fact that I’m doing a lot more juggling with a newborn that adds to the appeal of watching news on the TV now. It’s also nice to have a TV running for guests who aren’t as entertained by the sight of a host prepping a meal  or dying to watch a sports game. Let’s not forget how out of the loop one can feel when read live tweets an award show without being able to watch it.

I wish I didn’t have to write this. Unfortunately ABC seems to be the only broadcast network that supports Chromecast streaming of their live broadcast. Here’s an overview of broadcast network offerings for cord cutters

Network Chromecast Support Notes
NBC no
  • no Chromecast support
  • Roku app has limited catalog
Fox yes (see notes)
  • Chromecast support but no live TV
CBS yes
  • $6/month service
CW no
ABC yes
  • requires authentication
  • Roku app available

Years ago, I was a happy Homeworx HW-150PVR user during an era when Time Warner piped unencrypted QAM signals. Once that ended, the usefulness for the Homeworx PVR also vanished. It had a basic interface but worked for recording shows like Jeopardy (a series Sony refuses to make available on Hulu or even purchasable elsewhere) episodes.

At this time, the Tablo does allow casting via Android devices but not iOS (please don’t ask about Windows phone because I honestly don’t know). I would expect iOS support coming soon. It doesn’t make any sense for developers to not provide Chromecast support across all mobile platforms. And what’s the deal with people offering Airplay support, but not Chromecast support?

The device itself seems well built. It has a plastic shell with a metal bottom to ensure heat dissipation. Tablo went this route to avoid fan noise drowning out your precious couch potato experience. There’s no HDMI output from the device so all the controls are done using your phone, tablet, or desktop. While this may seem like an impractical design for some, it’s granted me flexibility of storing the Tablo in the only room in my house that’s connected to the attic antenna. The Tablo is made in Canada. I can’t think of any other gadget I own that’s made in Canada (are Blackberries made in Canada?). I can tell the Tablo holds up well over time too considering my unit was used but still feels new.

The bad There’s a subscription fee. $5 a month is basically the cost of drink plus side at a fast food restaurant, so you probably won’t go broke. And yes, all the information that Tablo provides is essentially free using a Google search, but what Tablo offers is a service and it’s a very pretty one.

There isn’t any support for Chromecast with the iOS app, yet. This is somewhat curious considering most developers tend to start with iOS support first. This difference between the iOS and Android app has been relatively long term compared to other services that provide parity within a short gap of weeks or a few months.

I recently tweeted at Tablo and their response indicated they are focused on working on an Apple TV app. I’m guessing there’s more people that would fine the Chromecast support useful than an Apple TV app.

My desktop doesn’t seem to want to play with the Tablo. I can get the guide/settings to load, but watching actual live streams and recordings doesn’t seem to work. The webapp works just fine on my laptop though.

Speaking of settings, can we also talk about how confusing quality settings might be for novices. Why doesn’t Tablo just label their settings like “Low”, “Better”, “Good”, “Best”. I highly doubt people need to know about whether or not their 1080i streams are being downsized to 720p. From a technical standpoint, I’d also think that downsizing uses more processing power than just lowering the bitrate.

The good I love how polished the experience feels. I didn’t really bother to use the stable Roku channel and just dove head first into the “Preview” channel, but I tend to think that nearly everything’s beta and just hope for few bugs. There are a few shortcomings to the Roku app like not being able to access all settings, but it definitely looks nicer than the typical default Roku app interface (I’m looking at you Rdio). The UI is slick on my Roku 3 and live channels load up relatively quick (I would still recommend tuning into the channel you’re planning on watching a program on maybe a minute or two before).

The antenna seems to pick up signals well enough. I had to elevate and stabilize my attic antenna to eliminate some of the issues I was having with KABC. That particular channel seems to be harder to pick up than most in my area.

There’s no custom UI for the Tablo video watching. You get a 30 second rewind button though

The base model has two tuners, which means you can watch something different than you’re recording. If you’re in a house with multiple viewers, you can even step up to the 4 tuner model. I can’t ever see the need for this.

For the price (about $200 new or $150 for a used model on eBay), it’s hard to complain. Tablo offers a very reasonably priced lifetime subscription for those with $150 who hate bills and are confident in the service to get better as their Tablo’s survive the test of time.

As far as connectivity goes with other services, Tablo deserves a nod. There’s a channel available for Plex, allowing you to Chromecast through a few hoops and watch your recordings and live TV on the go.

SNL via Plex. Actually, I think I like this playback interface even better than Tablo’s (or lack of)




Many folks will also be curious about Tablos ability to export recordings to a local desktop. While you can’ easily play files straight off your external USB storage, there is an unofficial app (Tablo Ripper) that pulls files from the Tablo very easily and is an easy recommendation for anyone who wants to archive their recordings and even share with a friend via Dropbox/Google Drive. If you’re comfortable with just storing recordings on your external drive, this bonus ability probably isn’t important to you.

Plex on iOS

Tablo is based in Canada and it’s possible they’re dealing with legal hurdles before they introduce this feature as it’s obviously not a technical deficiency of the Tablo.

Speaking of recordings, I also love the Auto-Delete feature. No matter what your hard drive size, your oldest recordings will get deleted if the Tablo needs the space. I have a 60GB drive hooked up to mine which is tiny by today’s standards. I won’t be able to save thousands of hours, but I’ll never have to worry about missing a recording as long as I can keep up them with a reasonable delay (no one wants to risk spoilers anyway).





Overall, Tablo has a lot of potential. They’re certainly busy with firmware updates and engaging with their loyal community. I don’t see any red flags that stop me from recommending one to cord cutters who want DVR with their OTA offerings. I’ve been cautious about watching living TV while it’s recording but never ran into any issues and being able to watch video on the go makes the subscription well worth the fee. The Tablo just works like you want it to.

Update (11/19/2015): ABC now offers a Roku ABC app for Roku

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