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The Devil’s in the Details: Taking a Look at Total Cost of OTA TV Ownership


Finding cable alternatives isn’t just about watching what you want, when you want on whatever device you want, it’s also about reducing the amount of money you spend each month on entertainment. Most of us who’ve joined the revolution of moving away from cable did so out of frustration for paying on average $85 per month for cable or satellite subscriptions. This is why doing the math on total cost of OTA TV ownership (TCO) is critical to make sure ditching cable will get you the savings you’re looking for over the long term. As they say, the devil’s in the details.

The Average OTA TV Setup:

To illustrate this point, let’s imagine an average family and call them: The Cutters. The Cutters live in a single family home about 20 miles from an Over-The-Air (OTA) broadcast tower near a major US city. The family consists of mom, dad and two teenage kids. The Cutters have 3 televisions, four smartphones, three laptops and a tablet computer. They like to watch both live and recorded shows both at home and on-the-go using their mobile devices.

With two teenagers, the Cutters want to avoid any unnecessary drama over which programs are watched or recorded, which means they’ll want the flexibility of multiple tuners.

So here’s a chart showing the total cost of OTA TV ownership for a cord-cutting setup that includes a 4-Tuner Tablo OTA DVR compared to the only other 4-Tuner DVRs available on the market from TiVo.

UPDATE – Note that the newer model TiVo Roamio OTA does not support lifetime subscriptions but it now supports TiVo Mini which extends an existing TiVo’s programming to additional TV screens. We have updated the chart below to reflect this.Tablo TCO Comparison TiVo

And to ensure we cover all the options, here’s a chart showing the total cost of TV ownership of the Tablo 2-Tuner OTA DVR compared to other 2-Tuner OTA DVRs currently available.Tablo vs. SimpleTV vs. Channel Master TCO

*Accessories include an indoor flat antenna ($40) and a 500 GB USB hard drive for storage ($50). The cost for the USB hard drive was not included for the TiVo devices which include 500 GB of onboard storage.
**TV support includes either support for additional DVR units for DVRs that don’t support HDMI streaming devices, a Roku 3 ($90) for devices that do support HDMI streaming devices, or a TiVo mini ($150) for TiVo devices where applicable.
*** Support for mobile and out-of-home streaming for TiVo units requires the addition of a TiVo Stream unit which costs $130. Support for streaming from the Channel Master DVR+ requires the addition of a Slingbox.

Don’t believe our numbers? CNET did a similar comparison that can be found here. Competitor costs were pulled from their websites. Costs for acccessories are based on current web-retailer pricing. If you have any questions about how we made our calculations, feel free to drop us a line at info@tablotv.com.

Caveat Emptor – Add Ons, Fees and Commitments:

So if your brain hasn’t exploded from all those numbers, you can see that once you start adding support for multiple TVs, streaming to mobile devices and subscription fees, the costs can escalate, eroding the savings you were attempting to gain from your cable alternative endeavor.

To ensure you get the most bang for your buck, look for ‘whole home’ DVRs like Tablo that stream content to other supported devices. With ‘whole home’ DVRs, not only can you stream to all kinds of devices (laptops, smartphones, tablets) without the need for additional dongles but you’ll have more choices when it comes to HDMI streaming devices (Roku, Chromecast, Apple TV) when you add support for additional TVs. Additionally, streaming devices like Roku offer a wider array of channels and services than proprietary options like TiVo Mini.

Also look for DVRs that offer lifetime options for service fees. While the up-front cost is a little harder to swallow vs. paying monthly, they offer a potentially significant savings over the lifetime of your devices. Some DVRs, including Tablo also offer basic service without the need for a subscription. You should also check out what’s included in the guide data service. Do the guides contain ads? Are they easy to use? Do they enable you to record the whole series with a single click? Do they provide episode and series synopses?

Finally, make sure to read the small print on the service fees. Some companies require long-term service commitments to offset lower hardware costs or don’t allow subscriptions to service multiple units in the same household.

Adding Up the Savings:

As you can see, there are a lot of options available on the market for Over-The-Air DVRs so it’s critical to do your homework before making a decision. You’ll also see that moving away from cable requires an upfront investment but the potential savings could be massive, depending on the hardware and services you have. We’ll take a closer look at the costs of an OTA DVR vs. a similar cable or satellite setup in an upcoming blog.

UPDATE! We’ve built a handy Calculator to help you find out exactly how much is your total cost of OTA TV ownership (TCO). Check it out today!

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Sometimes, just restarting your smartphone or tablet can clear up issues with apps. The links below will provide detailed instructions on how to force close your Tablo app. 

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Most Android smartphones and tablets can be restarted by holding the POWER button and then selecting RESTART or POWER OFF and RESTART from the POWER OPTIONS menu.

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