Tablo Generation 4 Review: My New #1 DVR Pick!

by | Last updated Feb 11, 2024

I was a huge fan of the Tablo broadcast TV DVRs for a long time. But then, in 2022, they eliminated their lifetime channel guide subscription option and required a monthly fee. To me, that defeated the whole point of free broadcast TV!

So, I was super excited when I heard about the brand new generation 4 Tablo with NO subscription fee! Tablo has completely re-branded with a completely new logo and website, and white color instead of black. I rushed out and ordered it immediately!

If you want the short version of my review – the Tablo 4th Gen is my new #1 pick for the best DVR for most people. Owners of the previous generation Tablo probably shouldn’t upgrade though, for reasons I’ll explain below.

Note – this is NOT a paid endorsement for Tablo. I purchased my Tablo myself and am not beholden to anyone to give a positive review!

Quick Facts

Tablo is a broadcast TV DVR, or “digital video recorder”. It records TV that you get using an antenna. You plug in an antenna and watch live TV or your recordings using an app on your iOS or Android device, or Roku or Fire TV, with support for other devices coming soon. It does not connect directly to your TV via HDMI or any other port.

Tablo 4th Gen has 128GB of internal flash memory storage which can save about 50 hours of TV shows. You can also attach an external USB hard drive for additional storage capacity.

Tablo 4th Gen showing power, Ethernet, USB, and coax antenna connectors
Tablo 4th Gen showing power, Ethernet, USB, and coax antenna connectors

It has two tuners, so you can watch one show while recording another, or record two shows at the same time. A four-tuner version is available for for $139.99. That will let you record up to four shows at the same time.

This Tablo supports the current ATSC1.0 TV standard of hi-def TV. It does not support “next generation” ATSC3.0 TV. But fear not, broadcasters will support ATSC1.0 TV at least through 2027 and likely as much as a decade after that. So, don’t worry about ATSC1.0 going away any time soon.

The Tablo 4th Gen comes in a small box with Apple-like elegant packaging. It comes with instructions, power supply, Ethernet cable, and wall-mounting screws. See my unboxing video for details.

Setup Using iPhone

An Internet connection is required to use Tablo. You can set it up either using an Ethernet cable connected to your router, or Wi-Fi. I chose Wi-Fi setup using my iPhone.

Note, there are now two Tablo apps in the Apple App Store: “Legacy Tablo” and “Tablo”. Tablo Gen 4 uses the regular “Tablo” app.

Tablo apps in the Apple App Store
Tablo apps in the Apple App Store
Tablo app login screen
Tablo app login screen

After I downloaded the app, I tried to log in using my old Tablo account information, but it didn’t recognize my credentials. I created a new account using the same email address and it didn’t balk, meaning that the old and new Tablo accounts are completely separate and independent. Even if you have an old Tablo account, you’ll have to create a new one.

I chose to have the app guide me through the antenna setup process, and it has a nice feature where it tells you which direction to point your antenna, and has an included compass to help you do that properly. I used my trusty Mohu Leaf as my antenna.

Tablo app station finder
Tablo app station finder
Tablo app compass
Tablo app compass

Next was the Wi-Fi setup process, which is similar to setting up other products like Ring doorbells where you have to temporarily set your phone to use the device’s Wi-Fi network in order to enter your Wi-Fi network name and password. That worked flawlessly for me.

After that, I had to update firmware which took a while. It took more than a few minutes so I left to do something else and came back later.

Next was the channel scan process, and then the channel guide download process. Again – these take a while.

After that, I was up and running watching live TV! Overall, it was a very painless setup process, on iPhone, at least!


Watching and Recording TV on iPhone/iPad

I really like the simplicity of the new Tablo app. It has three modes: Library, which shows your recorded shows, Home, which shows suggested shows, and Live, which shows the channel guide.

The 14-day channel guide is simple and well-designed. I like how it shows both the station logo and channel number on the left (unlike the Air TV app, Sling TV, which only shows the station logo). Click any show to watch it or to record one or all episodes of that show. Simple!

Tablo channel guide
Tablo channel guide on iPhone
Selected TV show on Tablo with options to play or record
Selected TV show on Tablo with options to play or record
Tablo Gen 4 recording options (on iPad)
Tablo Gen 4 recording options (on iPad)

If you watch a show on iPhone, it is always displayed in landscape mode. On iPad you can watch in landscape or portrait modes.

Picture quality looked excellent to me, at least as good as any other DVR apps I’ve tried (more on this below).

Tablo picture quality on iPhone app
Tablo picture quality on iPhone app

When playing recordings, skipping backward and forwards is instantaneous using the -20 and +30 second buttons, or you can drag the dot on the timeline with your finger. It all works great.

If you scroll past the live TV channels, you’ll see the streaming channels. I’m not a huge fan of having broadcast channels mixed with streaming channels, but I don’t mind the way it’s done on Tablo.

I encountered only one glitch while testing: the picture and sound went out of sync on one show. I had to switch to a different show and return a few times to clear it.

Overall, viewing and recording TV was very easy with the Tablo iPhone/iPad app!


No Viewing Away from Home (“Tablo Connect”)

Having said all of this, one big minus of the Gen 4 Tablo is that you can’t watch your recordings or live TV when away from home, something that I could do with my Tablo Dual Lite. For some folks, this could be a showstopper for the Gen 4 Tablo!

Here’s Tablo’s explanation of why the Gen 4 doesn’t support out-of-home streaming. Basically, they said it’s because of the bandwidth needed for the non-transcoded video stream, meaning they sacrificed this feature for better picture quality. However, they said they are “exploring options” to make this possible in the future. So, it’s not impossible but I’m not going to hold my breath for this feature.

If you want to view live TV or recordings away from home, check out the older version of the Tablo, or AirTV.

No Manual Recording

While recording by clicking a show is super convenient, some users actually like the ability to manually set a recording time and date. This might be because the channel guide is inaccurate in their area, i.e., if they live between two TV markets and are receiving different channels than what the guide says.

As of now, there is no way to manually set the recording time and date in the Gen 4 Tablo. Perhaps this will be added in a future firmware update.

The Tablo Roku App

The Tablo Roku app channel guide
The Tablo Roku app channel guide

The Tablo Roku App works similarly to the iPhone app but has some important added features.

First, rewind and fast-forward work on live TV, which is awesome!

Second, it has the wonderful Netflix-style grid of movies and TV shows filterable by category so you can easily find new content to record! This was a killer feature on the old Tablo and I’m so glad it’s on the new Tablo Roku app (even if it isn’t on the iPhone app)!

Tablo Netflix-style grid showing upcoming science fiction movies on broadcast TV
Tablo Netflix-style grid showing upcoming science fiction movies on broadcast TV
Tablo Netflix-style grid showing upcoming romantic comedies on broadcast TV
Tablo Netflix-style grid showing upcoming romantic comedies on broadcast TV

Update: Problems with the Roku App

As the Tablo Gen 4 has had more time in the marketplace, there have been many folks complaining online about bugs in the Roku app such as having it crash or reset unexpectedly. The solution for many has been to purchase a $20 ONN Android streaming box from Walmart.

Of course, no one should have to do that! Tablo customer support says they are aware of the issue and are releasing a solution.

I did most of my testing on iOS so I didn’t encounter these bugs, but there are a lot of folks out there who have reported problems, so they are legitimate. Hopefully Tablo’s fix will solve these issues.

Other Apps

Currently, there is no web app for Tablo Gen 4. That means you can’t watch live TV or recordings from your Tablo Gen 4 in a browser on your computer. Hopefully this is coming in the future.

Also coming soon are apps for Apple TV, Samsung, LG, and Vizio TVs.

Currently, there are Gen 4 Tablo apps for Roku, Fire TV, Android TV, google TV, and iOS.

Tuner Quality

I tested the new Tablo Gen 4 against the old Tablo Dual Light by doing channel scans on each using the exact same antenna and coax cable. Each unit picked up exactly 145 channels.

Next, I did a channel scan on my AirTV 2, which previously was able to find more channels than my Tablo Dual Light, but this time the AirTV 2 was only able to lock onto 105 channels. Notably, it wasn’t able to find the local ABC station while both Tablos were.

It’s hard to draw firm conclusions from these somewhat contradictory results other than to say “your results may vary” and that all of these units were able to pick up a ton of channels. Or perhaps Tablo has made a firmware fix that improved its tuners?

For what it’s worth, the Tablo Gen 4 includes a built-in antenna signal amplifier that can be toggled on or off from the app.

Storage

The Tablo Gen 4 has 128GB of onboard flash memory storage, which comes out to about 50 hours of video recording time. This is great because you can start using it right away without needing a USB hard drive.

Of course, when you need more storage you can plug in that USB hard drive, up to 8TB in size (or about 1000 hours of HD storage according to the manufacturer).

As a Hail Mary, I tried plugging in my Gen 3 Tablo hard drive into my Gen 4 Tablo. It recognized the drive, but not the recordings. It would have been super cool if I could view recordings made on my old Tablo on my new one, but I figured that was a long shot.

Just to make sure it was working though, I plugged in a USB flash stick. On the Settings page of the iPhone app, it asked me if I wanted to format it. After formatting, I was able to record to it with no problem! This is pretty cool because a lot of the other DVRs can’t record to USB flash sticks.

As another Hail Mary, I tried plugging that flash drive into my PC to see if my computer would recognize the files. Alas, it could not, but that was a long shot; I didn’t really expect it to (but it would have been super cool if it did).

Better Picture Quality When Using External Storage

The previous generation Tablos transcoded the video to lower quality for greater recording time and less bandwidth requirements.

The Gen 4 Tablo has the ability to play and record full-quality video – the same quality you would see with your antenna connected directly to your TV. This happens if your Wi-Fi network has enough bandwidth (or if you are using Ethernet) AND if you are streaming to an external USB hard drive. If you are streaming to the built-in flash memory storage, it will compress the video to get the full 50-hour recording time.

Overall, this is a pretty cool feature – those who care about picture quality can simply use external storage.

Free Ad-Supported Channels (FAST)

The Tablo app includes some free Internet-streamed channels including Bloomberg TV+, World Poker Tour, ion Plus, Court TV, Grit, HSN, and QVC. Several DVR brands do this now. What sets Tablo apart, though, is the ability to record shows from these channels, just like you would record broadcast TV shows. Very cool!!!

Unfortunately, during my testing, I did find the recording of FAST channels to be buggy. Often the recording would stop before the show was over. I never had this happen when recording broadcast TV channels, only the streaming ones. Hopefully, this will be fixed in a future software update.

A less important bug was that when I recorded a FAST show, recording would also be enabled for the next episode instead of just the one I selected. This is easily remedied by selecting a future recording and disabling that.

No ATSC 3.0

Some TV enthusiasts are disappointed that the new Tablo Gen 4 does not have support for “Next Generation TV” ATSC 3.0 which would offer 4K picture quality, among other things. Adoption of that new standard has been slow among DVR manufacturers, with only certain Silicon Dust’s DVRs supporting it (although as of now they don’t support the new DRM standard, as far as I know).

ATSC 1.0 will be around at least until 2027, and probably 2028 and beyond, so don’t be worried about it becoming obsolete soon. As of this writing, the ATSC 3.0 standard is still in flux and, in my opinion, not ready for prime time, pardon the pun.


Internet Access Required to Watch

Most of the time, this isn’t an issue but some people care about this. The Gen 4 Tablo requires that it be connected to the Internet in order to watch live or recorded TV.

When I first heard about this limitation I did this experiment: I tuned to a live TV channel, then unplugged my Internet gateway. At first, the picture remained and I could still watch, but when I exited out of the app and tried to watch a different channel, it just hung.

The same thing happened when watching a recorded show. When I unplugged my Internet gateway, I could still watch it, but when I tried to watch a different recording, it hung.

So, if your Internet goes out while watching a show, you can probably finish the show, but you won’t be able to tune other channels or watch other recordings.

This is a minor bummer because one of the great things about broadcast TV is the ability to watch TV even when your Internet is down. Also, with the old Tablo, you could still watch TV and your recordings with no Internet. Because of this, the need for Internet seems like an artificial requirement, perhaps to gather data on our viewing habits, or due to contractual obligations with the streaming service providers.

In the comments below, reader Wade points out that you could add a splitter to your antenna cable and feed the other antenna signal directly to your TV for viewing when there is no Internet.

Thermal Management

Some users had heat issues with the previous generation Tablos, causing some to even place a PC cooling fan below their units.

The new Tablo bottom case is warm to the touch, but not as hot as the old Tablo. It has cooling holes on the bottom, but I wish it had some on the top. I haven’t had any overheating problems, but I’ll keep an eye out on the forums and we’ll see if any thermal issues arise for other users.

Customer Support

If you go online and look at the forums for other DVRs, you’ll find people complaining about a glaring lack of customer support from those companies, where it’s virtually impossible to speak to a human being.

Not so with Tablo. Their phone number with support hours is listed right on their support page:

Tablo customer support page
Tablo customer support page

To research this article, I called their customer support and got a human being in about two minutes. That is actually a huge deal.

Furthermore, I reported a bug where I couldn’t rewind or fast forward live TV (after pausing). Less than a week later, there was a firmware update that fixed the problem. Now, I don’t know if they did that based on my bug report, but it at least shows that development is continuing.

Closed Captioning

Tablo Gen 4 supports closed captioning when playing back live TV. I have not verified, however, if it records closed captions and will display them on playback. It’s on my “to do” list but if anyone knows, please leave a comment below!

Should You Upgrade from Your Old Tablo?

Even though I do like the new Tablo Gen 4, there are quite a few cases where it would be disadvantageous to “upgrade” from a previous Tablo:

  • If you have the lifetime deal for the old channel guide, you probably shouldn’t upgrade.
  • If you are using features like commercial skip or watching your recordings and live TV away from home, don’t upgrade. The new Tablo can’t do either of those.
  • If you are using a four-tuner Tablo, you’ll have to wait for a four-tuner Gen 4 Tablo to come out. There isn’t one now.
  • If you are expecting the recordings on your old hard drive to be viewable on the Gen 4 Tablo, you will be disappointed; they aren’t compatible.

So, there are many existing Tablo owners who probably shouldn’t “upgrade” to this version.

If you are currently paying a fee for your Tablo channel guide, it’s a bit more murky. The new Tablo will eliminate that fee. However, the makers of Tablo said they are working to make the no-fee guide work with the old Tablos, but it’s unclear when that will come out.


Conclusion: Tablo Gen 4 is My Pick for Best Broadcast DVR for Most People

It’s great to have a Tablo DVR with no subscription fees for the channel guide. Granted, it’s missing some features of its predecessors such as remote viewing, channel skip, and four tuners. But, if you don’t need those features, the Tablo Gen 4 DVR might be the best bet for you. It’s easy to set up and use, and it has the awesome Netflix-style grid of upcoming shows. On top of that, it has great customer support compared to the competition. If you’re looking for an easy-to-use box to record broadcast TV shows, check out Tablo Gen 4!

Pros

  • No subscription fees for the 14-day channel guide – finally!
  • 50 hours of internal flash memory storage included.
  • Can connect to your network via Ethernet or Wi-Fi.
  • Pretty painless setup process. Easy to use.
  • Much better customer support than most other DVR companies; you can actually talk to a human being if you call them.
  • Roku app has a filterable Netflix-style grid of upcoming movies and TV shows making it fun to find new content to record.
  • Better picture quality if you record to external storage.
  • Has the ability to record shows from the included free ad-supported streaming services!
  • Low $99 cost! Cheaper than the old Tablo Dual Lite, which is $149.99.
  • Four-tuner version is available for $139.99.

Cons

  • No remote viewing or commercial skip offered.
  • Users report lots of bugs and crashing with the Roku app. iOS and Android are much better.
  • No ATSC 3.0.
  • Can’t view recordings from a browser.
  • No Apple TV app yet.
  • Only works in the United States. Does not work in Canada (due to streaming licensing issues).
  • Can’t watch live TV or recordings away from your home network.
  • No manual recording (by entering date and time); you only can record by clicking on a TV show.
  • Can’t watch live or recorded TV when your Internet is down.

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Brian Shim, DisableMyCable.com

I'm an electrical engineer (BSEE Caltech) with twenty years of experience designing industrial and consumer products, and now a web developer who loves to share ways to save money on TV content, Internet access, and cell phone plans! Read more about me here.

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Will
Will
12 days ago

Well Brian i have got the Tablo working but the outcome is terrible. Have to return. This device is not ready for prime time. Tablo cannot maintain its reception. I was looking at a program on Tablo and after an hour it started buffering and then the reception error timeout data continuing to pop up. Totally disappointed but glad I can get my refund. This is trash, and I hope a new company that is serious about there product brings out a new ota

Will
Will
13 days ago

Ok you are not going to believe this, but I have to hold off bashing Tablo to the fullest. I decided to try one more thing since I had ran out of options with the timeout video data error. I changed my new antenna and put on the wall instead of the window and I put the 4th generation tablo on the Floor and Boom! It is working! So far. My legacy still wasn’t able to get reception but we will see if it continues to work. So my suggestion for all who got this error at least give it one last try on the floor.

Will
Will
13 days ago

Tablo socks! They have did something that has messed up there devices. I keep getting the waiting on video data on my old and new 4th generation device and it is going back to Amazon. I had my antenna in the same place for almost a year and all channels are clear when connected to the TV, but when connected to my legacy tablo I just recently started getting this error. So it has to be an update. These companies are so greedy to make a profit they rush this stuff out without it working. They have lost me as a customer and many more people so they better get ready for bankruptcy. And don’t ask me what connections I have tried cause I tried them all .

Greg C
Greg C
1 month ago

I went with the Tablo 4th Generation yesterday and I’d like to share my experience. It’s not all good.

Setup is obvious especially with ethernet. It went smoothly with the exception of the Roku app, and a sort of ignorance on Tablo’s part with regard to location.

The application asked for my location. It picked a lineup based on my zip code. The challenge is, it is clear that the setup program knows I have many towers I can point at. Being in NJ I pointed at NYC. The channel lineup was completely wrong for the towers I pointed at and it was quite confusing for a while. I decided to type in an NYC zip code. It was only after I typed in “the wrong zip code” the guide lined up. On to the next problem.

the roku application would not let me save my channels after I rescanned because after scanning the application focus no longer works with the pointing buttons. The only way to get out of scanning window is to quit the whole application. Coming back in, repeating the scan, no luck. Deleting the application, reinstalling it, it still did not work. Today is Dec 27 2023, and I was on the latest version. I was able to fix things by:
-doing scan from IOS application. That alone was not enough as the lineup did not reflect in the Roku app even after deleting it again.
-Deleted application from roku again and shut down roku
-Reset TABLO using reset button
-Bring up both, then reinstall Tablo on Roku.

This worked. Note, there are two TABLO applications on ROKU with slightly different look, and no other mention but “TABLO”. Once you go into the app store you will see one is “older generation”. If you run that one, it will not find the new TABLO so at least it “fails hard”.

Next issue: Unable to connect to WABC NYC. This is apparently common as it requires an ultra strong vhf antenna. Here is an area that the review also does not cover but one where the TiVO has shined for me in the past.

1) The Tablo does not show 7.1 WABC. The TiVO would show it as lineup is purely based on what you “should” get. In my case it would have shown at low to no strength, so that you could attempt it. Tablo, by just using the channel scan, does not clue you in the channel exists and that a solution may be available.
2) The Tablo “Aim and Pray” antenna alignment system pales in comparison to the TiVo’s “signal meter” where you can pick a channel and display a bar code with signal strength. Corresponding to the 3 different strengths is a tone. You can change the angle of the antenna until you get the correct signal strength for the channel you want. This is a huge deal. At least with TiVO I could “attempt” wabc. If you are alone, you can turn up the volume on the TV when you are on the roof and listen for the good signal tone! With TABLO I don’t see a way to do that including manually adding that frequency.

I have ordered an Antennas Direct “element” antenna, which is only available online. It’s big and ugly but with my clear sight line to the city it will probably fix it.

I found by comparison that the TiVO led the horse to water and made him drink. The Tablo tried to strand the horse several times.

Other issues:
I was able to record some shows with the Tablo. But the search on the Roku did not turn them up. It only offered options from other streaming applications. To me this means the integration is broken on Roku in more than one way.

The HDHomerun team did give up on Roku as we’re hearing it’s a difficult platform to develop for. I get that. But just letting you know, if you have a Roku, this is not a great option; however in some ways it’s your only option.

Last edited 1 month ago by Greg C
Greg C
Greg C
1 month ago
Reply to  Brian Shim

sorry about that Brian I got that wrong! I was exploring the application that allows you to take HD home run videos and watch them remotely. hd homerun are actually on Roku.

Keith
Keith
1 month ago

Pretty new to this but just out of curiosity, when you saved a recording to external storage and tried to play it on a computer it wouldn’t play. What is the file format it uses to save with. Will be getting a Tablo very soon and was just wondering. BTW great information. Thanks for all your work here it really does help us newbies.

Byron
Byron
1 month ago

does Tablo TV record IPTV?

Jack
Jack
2 months ago

Regarding your comment,”However, the makers of Tablo said they are working to make the no-fee guide work with the old Tablos, but it’s unclear when that will come out.”, Tablo is providing a 14 day guide for the Legacy Tablos. They are required to provide this at no cost to customers that bought the lifetime subscription. Charging $5 a month for this service to others is their method of forcing legacy customers to upgrade. They can drop the 5$ monthly charge to honor the customers on which they built their business but they choose not to do so. Having said that, thanks for the great review.

mark kennedy
mark kennedy
2 months ago

Hi Brian,

Great review! I just upgraded to the Gen 4 from a legacy Tablo. The difference is night and day! No buffering whatsoever. I have one question for you. You mention “When playing recordings, skipping backward and forwards is instantaneous using the -20 and +30 second buttons” in your article. Are these buttons somewhere within the software of the app? Or, the roku remote? Thanks !

mark kennedy
mark kennedy
2 months ago
Reply to  Brian Shim

Thank you!

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