Tablo – The Best DVR When You Have More Than One TV

Tablo

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!

DISCLOSURE: This is a professional review site that receives compensation from the retailer or manufacturer when you purchase through the affiliate links such as the ones on this page. I test and/or research each product or service thoroughly before endorsing it. This site is independently owned and the opinions expressed here are my own.

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.
  • Dawn

    I bought the 4-tuner Tablo and set it up on our tv with Chromecast dongle. Once it was operable, I suddenly realized we weren’t able to watch free network shows with Tablo using our tv remote controller to control functions — a big bummer! I wasn’t aware fast forward or rewind function only worked from the app loaded on my laptop (a giant and unwieldy remote control). Even if I loaded the app to my smart phone, it’s much different experience from traditional remote control.
    Then I went to test Tablo operation on our 2nd tv which is connected to Roku 3. Just downloaded Tablo app to the Roku and had way better functionality of Tablo using the Roku remote. Tablo operation on Roku has the familiar remote buttons to fast forward, rewind, pause, etc. Yay!! A better choice for users who like traditional remote controller. I’m so ecstatic to get rid of the monthly shakedowns by DirecTv $90 cable bill for BASIC package. Thank you for sharing your knowledge and advice!!

    • Hi Dawn,

      Thanks for sharing your experience about using the Tablo with Roku vs. Chromecast!

      Best,
      Brian

  • Dawn

    Thanks for all the helpful info! I want to drop satellite since we mostly view through Netflix & Amazon. Still want to record network channels (CBS, NBC, ABC, etc.). Since my Vizio doesn’t have a tuner or coaxial cable plug, do I need a separate HDTV antenna? If so, which do you recommend? YouTube TV ($35/mo) serves my area and offers DVR cloud storage w/48 channels — more than basic broadcast channels & at $420/year it’s nearly same price to 4-tuner Tablo setup (cables, antenna, etc), not including $5/mo tv guide add-on for Tablo. Considering which is better use of my $400 bucks. I appreciate your advice. Thanks!

    • Hi Dawn,

      If you haven’t already, make sure there are free broadcast TV channels in your area by entering your zip code into the station finder:
      http://disablemycable.com/station-finder/

      An outdoor antenna will get you the most channels with the most reliability. If you can’t do that, here are some indoor ones that recommend:
      http://disablemycable.com/antennas/

      If you’re not in a good area to get TV reception, go with YouTube TV. It’s cheaper to try YouTube TV than to go with a hardware antenna and DVR setup, but it’s more expensive in the long run.

      So, you’ll have to decide for yourself, but perhaps you could try YouTube TV for now, since it’s cheaper to try. Plus, broadcast TV reception can be flaky depending on where you live and it would be bad to get all of that equipment only to discover you can’t get your favorite channel.

      Best,
      Brian

      • Dawn

        I finally found this thread again – yay! =) thank you very much! We’re in a strong signal area. We’ve tested YouTube tv and it’s pretty nice EXCEPT you cannot fast forward through commercials on some recorded shows. That part killed the deal for my hubby. Plus we had to buy a $90 Chromecast device to cast the app to our 4K tv. And the casting is wonky sometimes – delayed response or no response sometimes when changing functions. The next trouble is we started casting from IPhone app but it’s a small screen so we wanted to cast using Samsung tablet to have larger viewing screen for switching channels, etc. DEVICE IS NOT supported – ugh. Being on the front end of technology is an effort. So now, I’m buying a tuner/DVR to records hubby’s network shows and he can FF commercials, and now debating to cancel YouTube tv.

        • Hi Dawn,

          Thanks for sharing your experiences! Very good to know.

          Best,
          Brian

  • JKM N MD

    Will Tablo work with the Amazon Fire Stick?

  • Devy Khou

    Brian,
    You talk about on-air broadcasting. Does the TABLO work with basic cable? I live in an apartment complex which provides free basic cable coming from a coax outlet in the wall.
    Thanks for the review. So helpful.
    DK

    • Hi Devy,

      No, Tablo does not work with any form of cable TV.

      Best,
      Brian

      • Devy Khou

        Thanks for the info.

  • BK

    Meant to say TABLO, stupid autocorrect! TABLO is available now on Amazon!

    • Hi BK,

      Yes, thanks for pointing that out! Tablo is back in stock at Amazon!

      Brian

  • BK

    Table Is available now on amazon!

  • Joe B

    Where is Tablo, not available on their website, Newegg, bestbuy or Amazon. Moving away (literally) from cable, I’ll have internet, Tablo seems like the perfect solution, but a little leery to try since it is not available at most sites. Other thoughts? I’ll have an outdoor antenna and can get all major channels except NBC, which is fine. I will have 3-4 tv’s, would like to be able to record and watch DVR on at least 2 sets. If not Tablo, thinking a dvr+ on the den tv and something like the mediasonic 180 on the bedroom tv to record there and just antennas on the other tv’s. Does this make sense?

    • Hi Joe,

      Wow, looks like they are out of stock. Maybe that’s a good sign because it shows it’s in demand? I would just wait for more stock to arrive.

      For multiple TV’s, Tablo really is the best solution, in my opinion. You can record on any TV and watch the recording on any other, unlike those other solutions.

      Brian

  • Carol Heath

    Hi Brian,

    Love your website! We are trying to figure out how to ditch cable. If we keep the wireless internet, put an indoor antenna somewhere in the house where it gets good reception, along with a Tablo and an external USB hard drive, what else do we need? We have a smart TV in the basement and an older TV upstairs. We also have a Blu Ray

    Payer. Do we also need a Roku for each TV?

    We are just starting this transition. Bought an indoor antenna today, only to find very poor reception in the basement. Husband ready to give up, but I am determined to tell the cable guys to take a hike! Came across your website and found hope, please help!

    Carol

    • Hi Carol,

      An antenna probably won’t work in a basement. The higher up the antenna is, the better.

      If you’re going to use a Tablo, you just need one antenna. Put it as high up in your home as possible, and use that for all of your TVs.

      Yes, each TV will need a Roku with this scheme.

      Best,
      Brain

  • Bill Eastman

    $50 per year or $150 lifetime optional so available. I’d suggest 4 tuner since a not inb use tuner is needed to generate thumbnails.

    • Great, thanks for the info Bill!

      Brian

  • Glenn

    Hi Brian, great article on the Tbalo thanks! I was considering the HDHomeRun box but this sounds much better for a DVR. I do already have cable run to 2 of my 3 TV’s so plan to use those for now but this might be an option to go wireless for the DVR and guide alone. Does this work with Apple TV 4?