Hands On: Tablo Dual Over-the-Air DVR Streamer

Cord cutters have something to rejoice about with Tablo brand DVRs. These full-featured DVRs let you not only record local over-the-air (OTA) live broadcasts but pause, rewind and fast forward through them as well. Tablo has been slowly making its name in the streaming OTA arena, and with new recording control features and an app for “every” media player, it has become a viable alternative to relying on cable or satellite boxes with built-in DVRs. I had a chance to check out the new Tablo Dual OTA DVR and, while it’s not quite all I’d want it to be, it’s been one of the best over-the-air TV recorders I’ve tried.

Made by Ontario-based Nuvyyo, the Tablo Dual OTA DVR is a two-tuner recorder that lets you watch one show while you record another — or record two different channels simultaneously. It includes 64 GB of storage so you don’t have to add an external hard drive, and it’s ready to use right out of the box. Unlike other network-based TV tuners, the Tablo works with Wi-Fi or an Ethernet connection.

There is no connection between a Tablo DVR device and the TV. Instead it connects to your home network and streams locally to the Tablo app on a number of devices. Any Smart TV or media player with the app can stream from the Tablo. You don’t have to have secondary Tablo devices (as you do with TiVo) to watch content you record throughout your home.

Tablo apps are compatible with AirPlay and Chromecast and available for a range of devices, including Roku, Amazon Fire TV, Apple TV, Xbox One, Xiaomi Mi Box, and the Nvidia Shield as well as iPhones, iPads, and Android devices. Tablo-compatible smart TVs include sets from LG and Samsung as well as Roku TVs, Amazon Fire TVs, and Android TVs. See the complete list of Tablo-compatible devices at tablotv.com.

Simple Setup
Setup couldn’t have been easier. The Tablo phone app is required for setup, so first I had to download the app to my iPhone. Because it streams to an app and isn’t connected to a TV, I could choose the best place for my antenna and put the Tablo Dual near it. I connected the Dual to a Mohu antenna, plugged in its power cord and then connected it to a Wi-Fi bridge with an Ethernet cable. Tablo does a good job of walking you through the setup process so connecting to Wi-Fi was uneventful. As soon as the app opens, it looks for a Tablo device and a button appears; you tap it to connect the Tablo to the app. With permission, the app uses the location of the phone to search for local channels. After a couple of minutes, it found all of the major OTA channels in my small town and I was able to choose which channels I wanted to include in the program guide.

The Tablo Dual comes with a 30-day trial subscription to the Tablo TV Guide, which displays two weeks of local channel data. If you want to keep the guide after the trial ends, you have three payment options: $5 a month, $50 a year, or $150 for a lifetime subscription. Without a subscription, you get a simple 24-hour listing of shows with no metadata, show information, or graphics. Besides providing detailed information, a subscription makes it possible to record all of the shows in a season and see what shows are coming up in the near future; it also provides access to the Tablo Connect “out-of-home streaming service.”

Tablo Connect lets you stream live local channels and DVR recordings to apps when you are away from home once you enable it by checking the Remote Access box in the Tablo Dual’s setting menu. You can stream to apps when you’re on the road and connect to your home DVR with an Amazon Fire TV stick. Unfortunately, Roku and Apple TV apps aren’t compatible with Tablo Connect because they have to be on the same home network as the Tablo DVR. In other words, you can’t stream Tablo to a Roku Streaming Stick Plus (my favorite streaming device) when you are traveling.

Recording with Options
The Tablo Dual offers several great recording features. Thanks to a recent software update, you can choose to start and stop a recording on time or add a time cushion before or after the show. There is also an option to choose how many episodes you want to record, and markets with more than one network affiliate — two channels that carry ABC or CBS, for example — you can specify which channel you want to record.

While the Tablo Dual is easy to set up and offers some great recording features, the Tablo app is a bit clumsy and missing some basic controls. For one, you can’t directly access the guide or a menu while you’re watching a show, which means I had to back out of playback mode to get to the guide. A direct-access button would be a nice addition. The bigger problem is that the guide can’t share the screen with (or overlay on top of) what you’re currently watching, which means I had no way to keep an eye on the show I was watching while perusing the Tablo TV Guide. Luckily, the current program continues to fill the temporary cache so I was able to go back to where I left off when I exited the guide.

The other issue is you can’t change channels from the current program. If you want to channel surf, you’re out of luck. Changing channels can only be done from the guide. You also can’t search for TV shows through the media player and TV apps: Search is available only in the mobile app, which allows you to search for shows and set up recording when you find one you want to watch.

In a phone conversation, Nuvyyo CEO Grant Hall acknowledged the app’s current limitations and said the company is working on technology that will enable channel changing and an overlay guide. The company had been focused on creating an app with parity for all popular media players, he explained, but is now ready move on to the other issues, although he wouldn’t say when those updates might be implemented.

The company has succeeded in creating a solid app that works with many devices. I was able to use the Tablo app on my Apple TV, Roku Premiere, Amazon Fire TV, and Xbox One, and the experience was similar across devices. I also noticed that when I stopped playback of a recording on one player (my Apple TV), it would play from where I left off when I opened it on another device (my Amazon Fire TV).

Despite its limitations, I really liked using the Tablo Dual. While most shows are available the next day on Hulu, there are times that I want to watch a show immediately after it airs. Recording it on the Tablo makes that possible. The guide is clean and uncluttered and the app was always responsive, whether I was pausing, rewinding, or skipping ahead while watching live TV. Pausing a recorded show brings up thumbnails of the show, which makes it easy to fast forward through the commercials. It’s not an automatic commercial skip, but I liked being able to control when and where to skip because there were ads that I actually wanted to watch from time to time. As a frequent traveler, I also liked being able to watch my local TV stations from wherever I happened to be. The Tablo provided a nice lifeline back home.

For those who want to cut the cord and still get local channels, Tablo is a good option. Once Nuvyyo adds channel changing and a guide overlay, it will be the perfect replacement for your current DVR and, at $199, it costs less than many of its competitors. The company also offers a four-tuner model for $299 but it requires an external hard drive for recording. While there are other live TV and DVR options, I’m pretty sure I’ll keep the Tablo connected for recording and streaming my local channels.

For more information, visit tablotv.com.

brenro's picture

I'm in the process of assembling everything I need to cut the cord. The Tivo OTA DVR is my front runner. Would love to see an article comparing them all head to head.

Old Ben's picture

Since you asked, we loved our Tivo Roamio OTA DVR. We had the version that came with the lifetime subscription service. The only reason we stopped using it is because we moved to the mountains and only get two channels reliably. We were forced back to pay TV (Dish) and frankly are disappointed with the GUI compared to TiVo.

The TiVO guide service worked flawlessly and made it really easy to record shows. The DVR is scalable too, so you can add external hard drives to increase capacity. We really enjoyed the commercial skipping capability as well. For many shows, especially prime time shows, a few hours after recording the show, you could optionally hit a single button to skip to the end of a commercial break.

The other great thing with the TiVO interface is that you can search across multiple different service providers. If you are searching for a particular show, the box can check the upcoming schedule, your recordings, and any streaming services you're subscribed to (e.g., Netflix or Amazon prime video).

The only real complaint I have is that the TiVO mini boxes, which enable access to the DVR from other TVs require a hardwired internet connection (i.e., no WiFi connection) to the Roamio. The two can communicate through a router or switch, but must be hard wired. We got around this by adding a wireless repeater close to the TiVO mini and plugged the mini into that repeater. The system worked fine in this manner.

brenro's picture


lcannell's picture

There is an easy way to peruse the guide while watching a show on your TV. Use your smartphone to connect to the Tablo. Think of your phone as a second screen.

Stacy1972's picture

I've had a 4-tuner for a couple of years now. I ABSOLUTELY HATED IT, when I first got it. It's nearly impossible to use with Chromecast, or AirPlay (3rd gen Apple TV). It would take 7-9 minutes for the app to load, and get live TV on my TV. I have a Roku now, and it's much better, but between the cost of the Table and HDD and Roku it has become a $600 DVR. Also, while it does have two USB ports on it, you can only have one USB HDD connected. I didn't know this, and it was extremely difficult to change to a larger drive. Lastly, because it's designed to work with mobile devices, you can't get Dolby Digital in a surround system.

Darryl52's picture

Do a little research.
Start with the Tivo Roamio1TB DVR, Nothing else to buy,no monthly service fee for guide or DVR. $400, worth every penny.