Many people have asked me how to record and play back broadcast TV shows when they have multiple TVs. The Channel Master Stream+ (which I also recommend) 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.
My recommendation for a "whole home" broadcast TV recording solution is the Tablo line of DVR's by Nuvyyo (Nu-vee-o). Note, these DVRs work with a TV antenna; they won't record cable TV. And, you'll need a Roku or other streaming player to watch your recordings.
Tablo is a small black box, kind of like an oversized Roku, that you plug your antenna into. The Tablo Dual Lite requires an external USB hard drive (which you have to supply) to store your recordings (unless you use their cloud recording feature, which will have a fee so I didn't review it). The regular Tablo Dual has 64GB of internal storage, so no external drive is necessary (but I'd still recommend one if you're doing a lot of recording).
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. Thus, you can use one Tablo to watch recordings on all of your Internet-connected TVs and devices.
Both Tablo Dual models have two tuners, so you can stream or record two channels at the same time, or record one while watching another. There is also the Tablo 4-Tuner model which can stream or record four shows at the same time.
Many folks have asked me what kind of remote control the Tablo uses. The answer is, there is no Tablo remote control. You'd use the remote for whatever device you're using to control your Tablo.
To clarify, in order to make and view Tablo recordings, you have to control it through the Tablo app running on a streaming box or smart TV, or a browser on a computer.
So, if you're using a Roku to view your Tablo recordings, you'd be using the Roku's remote to control the Tablo app. If you're using a smart TV, you'd be using your TV's remote. If you're watching on a computer, you'd use your computer's keyboard and mouse.
The specific model I would recommend (and the one I test in this article) is the Tablo Dual Lite for $140. This is the lowest-cost Tablo model, but it requires an external USB hard drive sold separately. These are not hard to come by; you can purchase one at almost any computer/electronics store, or you might already have an old USB hard drive lying around (as I did).
If you want to get up and running without an external hard drive, there is a cloud recording option, but that has a fee, so I wouldn't use that personally.
Or, you can get the regular Tablo Dual (without the "Lite") for $170. This has 64GB of internal storage (approximately 40 hours of HD recording, according to the manufacturer). That might sound like a lot, but power users can easily exceed this, which is why I recommend the Lite version. You can also attach a hard drive to the regular version though.
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 on 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 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 (note I had to use my non-5GHz network). 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.
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!
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.
To watch live TV, select that in the menu and you'll see a program guide. Simple select the channel you want to view.
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. Picture quality won't be quite as good as raw broadcast TV, but the difference didn't bother me, and it's still better than satellite or cable TV picture quality.
You can pause and rewind live TV (back to the time you started watching that channel). For live TV and in-progress recordings, you will not see the video while recording, so you have to kind of guess if you're trying to skip over a commercial.
However, on recorded programs, you will see a sped-up preview image as you fast forward.
In older versions of Tablo software, it took up to 17 seconds to change channels, which was a real bummer! This has improved with subsequent software revisions, and now it takes about 5 seconds to switch channels for me. Still not ideal for surfing, but much better!
You also have the channel guide. Most of the time, I don't channel surf by going from one channel to the next but rather I step through the guide and only watch things that look interesting.
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!
If you want to download your recordings for viewing offline, there is an Android app called ota2GO. I have not tested it but it's pretty highly rated in the Android store.
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 24 hours into the future. It's easy to record one of those shows. If you want to record a show more than 24 hours out, you have to do it manually, which is a bit more work.
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!
After owning my first (previous-generation) 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 of tricks:
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 find the Tablo on Amazon:
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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.
My two major complaints have been vastly improved in the software. Changing channels is much better now. You can now see video while fast-forwarding recordings, but still not live TV.
I also am not crazy about 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, and there is a lifetime option which is a good deal.
These shortcomings are not show-stoppers. I love my Tablo!
Check out my other site, thefrugalnoodle.com, with ideas on saving money and living simply.