Many people have asked me how to record and play back broadcast TV shows when they have multiple TVs. The Channel Master DVR+ works great with one TV, but if you want to watch your recordings on a different TV, you have to unplug it and physically hook it up to that TV. Not really feasible.

So, I purchased Tablo, a “whole-home” solution to record and play back broadcast TV on multiple TVs and device. After testing it for a while, I must say, I am now a huge fan of Tablo!

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What is Tablo?

Tablo is a small black box, kind of like an oversized Roku, that you plug your antenna into. It also requires a external USB hard drive (which you have to supply) to store your recordings.

Tablo Rear Panel

Tablo rear panel with power connector, reset switch, Ethernet port, two USB ports and coax antenna connector. As of this writing, you can only use one USB port at a time.

Tablo connects to your home Wi-Fi or wired network.  If you have Internet access, you probably have a home network, and if you have Wi-Fi, you definitely do.  Tablo transmits live TV and your recordings to other devices on the network such as computers, tablets, smartphones, Roku, Apple TV, Amazon Fire, Chromecast, and now, Xbox. With one Tablo, you can play live TV and your recordings back on any of these devices.

2-Tuner or 4-Tuner Version?

Tablo comes in two versions: 2-tuner and 4-tuner. The number of tuners tells you how many shows you can watch or record at the same time on your Tablo. So, if  you have two tuners, you can watch one channel while recording on another.

If your household watches TV on more than one device at a time, I recommend getting the 4-tuner Tablo.

Benefits

The most obvious benefit is that you can make and play back recordings on any TV in your home that is attached to one of the compatible set-top boxes. It’s a whole-home recording solution!

But, I was surprised to find that I also enjoyed watching TV in my computer’s browser and on my iPad. That was something I did not expect! In effect, it turned my computer screen into another TV. This could be great if you have people fighting over TVs in your home. Very cool!

Another benefit is that if you have multiple TVs, you only need one antenna with Tablo, and you don’t need to buy separate antennas or run coax cable all throughout your house to get broadcast TV. Tablo does it all wirelessly with one antenna!

Finally, you can put your Tablo and your antenna anywhere in your home, as long as it’s in Wi-Fi range. It doesn’t have to be next to your TV. You can put it in your attic, where it can get better reception, or in a closet, just as long as the antenna is somewhere with a good line-of-site to the stations.

Tablo with USB Hard Drive

Tablo with USB hard drive in my closet!

Setup

Tablo was easy to set up. I plugged in power, an antenna, and a hard drive and then started the Wi-Fi setup process. I used an iPad to connect to the Tablo’s Wi-Fi network, then entered my home Wi-Fi name and password. I also had to do two firmware updates, but that wasn’t difficult. After that, I let the Tablo scan for broadcast TV signals.

I used a ten-year-old USB hard drive I had lying around, and Tablo worked just fine with it. So for me, the hard drive was virtually “free”. If you don’t have a spare external USB hard drive though, you’ll have to purchase one, which does add to the overall cost of ownership.

Tablo did a good job of finding TV signals, finding about the same number as my Channel Master DVR+. That was good news.

User Interface

Next, I checked out the Tablo user interface in a browser on my computer. From the get-go it was gorgeous, presenting TV shows, movies, and sporting events in a nice Netflix-style grid (if you have a subscription – more later). All of the movie and TV show artwork was there. I actually felt like I had Netflix at times!

Tablo Movies

Tablo movie guide on Windows browser ($4.99/month subscription)

Note, this is based on using the Tablo channel guide subscription which expires after a month and is $4.99/month. More on this later.

Live TV

To watch live TV, select that in the menu and you’ll see a program guide. Simple select the channel you want to view.

Table Channel Guide

Tablo live TV channel guide ($4.99/month subscription)

The video quality was great. You can adjust the quality based on your network speed. I used the recommended HD 720 5Mbps and I was happy with that. You can go up to HD 1080 10Mbps though.

You can pause and rewind live TV (back to the time you started watching that channel). One big downer though, is that when you rewind and fast forward, you don’t see the current picture. That is, if you’re fast forwarding for example, you don’t see a sped up version of the video. You just see the last frame frozen on the screen. If you’re trying to fast forward past a commercial, you have to completely guess when to stop fast forwarding based on the time counter alone. This is a real pain! (Tablo has told me they are going to make the video visible during fast-forwarding of recorded shows in a future software update).

There’s one more issue. It takes a long time to switch between channels. I’m talking anywhere between five to eighteen seconds, usually at the longer end of that range. Clearly, this is not a good solution for rapid channel surfing. But, the program guide is good, I didn’t find myself needing to surf that much. I just selected which shows I wanted to watch from the guide! So, this is not a show-stopper for me.

Recording

Scheduling a recording is super easy. Just click on a show, movie, or sporting event in any of the grids, then choose which episodes (if there are several) to record.

If you are subscribing to their directory service, you can easily record the entire season of a show (also known as a “season pass” feature), so that you don’t have to set up the recording every week.

Recording quality was great. No dropouts (other than due to reception problems) or crashes during playback. I like the fact that if you pause playback, watch other shows, and come back to your recording, it will remember where you left off. That is key!

I did find that after I woke my computer up from sleep mode, that the audio and video of Tablo’s playback were badly out of sync – like a whole second or two! But, I discovered an easy fix. I just grabbed the playback pointer and nudged it forward and back, and audio and video were back in sync! Problem solved.

The only problem I found was, like I said before, that when fast-forwarding on my Roku, the picture on your screen freezes, makes it hard to guess when to stop.

Tablo on Roku 3

The Tablo app on Roku 3

The Subscription

One big caveat here is that my review is based on using the one-month free trial of the Tablo channel guide. This is what delivers the beautiful Netflix-style grid and cover art. After the first month, the subscription costs $4.99 per month, or you can pay $150 for a lifetime subscription.

If you don’t want to pay, you can still get a “manual mode” which enables “access to basic recording and Live TV functionality”.

After my 30-day free subscription expired, I tried out manual mode and boy did I miss the subscription!  In manual mode, you get a channel guide that only goes 12 hours into the future. It’s easy to record one of those shows, but I’m not sure how you would set up a recording for a show further than that in the future.  I think you just have to wait until it’s less than 12 hours from when you record.

You can set up repeating recordings without the subscription, but you have to tell Tablo exactly when the show repeats (days and times).  Kind of a pain, and you could be wrong.

So, even though I hate paying monthly fees, I would seriously consider subscribing at five bucks a month or $150 lifetime. The grid is so nice that it makes me feel like I have Netflix even though I don’t!

Customer Service

After owning the Tablo for over a month, I powered it down to do some tests and when I powered back up, I was unable to connect to it by Wi-Fi.

I emailed Tablo support and got a response within 24 hours, but still was not able to connect. They suggested that I call their support line, 1-844-TABLOTV (822-5688). After two rings, a support person picked up.  The call went right to someone who could help me – no menus, no waiting – amazing!!

He was able to walk me through the setup process on my iPad and I was up and running again in a few minutes!  A couple tricks:

  • Always start the connection process connected to your home network, not the Tablo’s network.  That was one of the mistakes I had made.
  • It might also have helped to delete the existing Tablo from the Tablo iPad app by tapping the “Edit” button in the upper right corner of the app.

So, although I had a little hiccup in functionality, nothing was wrong with my Tablo, and I found out that their customer service is excellent!

You can get your Tablo here:

Conclusions

I am a huge fan of Tablo. It’s a great solution for recording broadcast TV when you have multiple TVs, or if you want to watch on multiple devices like computers and tablets. It’s much more convenient to set up compared to running coax through your home (unless your home already has it). It’s extremely easy to use and reliable.

The biggest downside for me is not seeing the actual video when rewinding and fast forwarding, making it nearly impossible to cleanly fast forward past commercials. I’m hoping Tablo fixes this in a future software update. It also takes a long time to switch between live TV channels, but the guide mitigates that. Finally, I hate paying monthly fees for the guide, but it’s so nice that it just might be worth it if you watch a lot of TV.

But, these shortcomings are not show-stoppers. I love my Tablo! I’m definitely NOT returning it!

Tablo Advantages:

  • Can record and play back on multiple TVs, computers, tablets, and phones
  • Does not need to be near a TV; can put in your attic next to your antenna while your TV is in your basement
  • Easy to use interface and channel guide with move poster artwork
  • Can use Tablo as an alternative to wiring coax cable throughout your home

Tablo Disadvantages:

  • Requires Roku or other set-top box to view live TV and recordings on a TV
  • Requires external USB hard drive (sold separately or use one that you already have)
  • Requires Wi-Fi or wired home network (most people with Internet access have this)
  • A bit more complicated to set up than the Channel Master DVR+
  • User interface has some quirks: you don’t see video while rewinding or fast forwarding, and changing channels takes a long time; not good for channel surfing
  • The “nice” channel guide (which is virtually a requirement for recording) requires $5/month subscription or $150/lifetime.
  • Bottom of unit gets really hot (too hot to touch).

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Questions?

If you have a question about this article, leave a comment below. If you want advice on TV reception, leave your zip code. I try to reply to all comments. I hope this article was helpful to you. - Brian



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