While some other companies are leaving over-the-air DVR for dead, Tablo is doubling down.
The fourth-generation Tablo has a fresh hardware design, a total software overhaul and a lower starting price of $100–with no subscription fees. It also includes more than 40 free streaming channels, which users can record alongside over-the-air broadcasts. (Existing Tablo users will get the same software as an optional upgrade this fall.)
This is the first new Tablo DVR since the company behind it, Nuvyyo, was acquired last year by The E.W. Scripps Company, a major broadcaster. While Tablo has always been a niche product, Nuvyyo CEO Grant Hall hopes that Scripps’ backing will lead to mainstream over-the-air DVR awareness.
“With their resources and their budget, we’ve finally got the opportunity to get the message out to the public of how great the experience can be,” Hall said.
Tablo’s new hardware
The new Tablo works similarly to Nuvyyo’s previous networked tuners: Plug an antenna into the back, set it up in a spot with strong broadcast reception and it will stream local channels to the Tablo app on your smart TV and other devices. The Tablo box does not have its own HDMI output and relies entirely on other streaming devices for viewing.
Tablo can record those broadcasts as well and the new model has 128GB of flash storage and dual ATSC 1.0 tuners, which renders it capable of watching or recording two over-the-air channels at once. As with earlier models, you can add up to 8TB of storage with an external USB hard drive.
So what’s changed? The new Tablo trades the previous’ models’ boxy black design for a slim white puck with optional wall mounts on its underside. At $100, the new Tablo is $70 cheaper than the old Tablo Dual and buyers can bundle a matching white coax cable and flat-panel antenna (with an advertised 35-mile range) for $30 extra.
Tablo’s new hardware is different on the inside as well. It no longer transcodes video in real time, which means users will see live TV at its native MPEG-2 quality. That wasn’t possible with Tablo’s previous networked tuners, whose transcoding made interlaced channels look choppy.
The new internals bring trade-offs: Users will need stronger Wi-Fi to stream smoothly and out-of-home viewing isn’t possible. While Hall doesn’t rule out remote viewing in the future—perhaps as an experimental toggle—he doesn’t want users to have a bad experience if their upload bandwidth is limited. (Tablo’s previous HDMI models had the same downsides.)
It’s also unclear if the new system will support TabloRipper or OTA2Go, which allow users to pull video files off their Tablo DVRs for offline use or long-term storage. Hall said those tools are harder to support on the new hardware and even if Tablo supports them, they won’t work with Tablo’s free streaming channels.
On the upside, the new DVR has a more powerful processor, which Tablo will use to compress videos on the device’s flash drive. This will allow users to store 50 hours of TV without adding an external drive, though this process does limit recordings to 30 frames per second. Tablo will leave recordings uncompressed on external hard drives and recommends videophiles go that route.
A new Tablo app with free streaming
The new Tablo also includes some big changes on the software side.
To access the DVR, users must download a new Tablo app that’s separate from the old one. It has a slicker design and a new landing page with recommendation tiles, reminiscent of modern streaming services.
The app will also include 43 free streaming channels, including ION Plus, Bounce XL, Tastemade, Bloomberg Television and Outside, among others. It’s a small list compared to other free streaming services, such as Pluto TV and Tubi, but with the Tablo’s channels, users can make recordings and skip through ads. (Users can also hide these non-antenna channels in the app, or use the Tablo exclusively for its streaming channels without an antenna.)
As before, Tablo’s new app will offer extensive recording options, including series passes, start and stop buffer times and the ability to keep only a certain number of recent episodes. Users will be able to manually skip through commercial breaks with no restrictions, both on over-the-air and free streaming recordings.
Unfortunately, Tablo’s new app isn’t available on as many platforms as the old one. The current list includes Roku, Fire TV, Android TV/Google TV, iOS and Android. Support for Apple TV, Samsung TVs, LG TVs and Vizio TVs is coming soon, but Tablo has no plans for browser support, a desktop PC app, or Xbox consoles.
A choice for current Tablo users
Tablo plans to offer its new app to existing users in the fall. Those who switch will get access to Tablo’s free streaming channels and won’t need to pay any more subscription fees.
But again, there are trade-offs: Switching to the new app means giving up out-of-home viewing and Tablo’s web app. And while Tablo stopped offering automatic commercial skipping to new customers last year, current subscribers who pay extra for that feature won’t get it in the new app.
Users can stick with the current Tablo app and keep paying for guide data, but that app won’t receive any further updates. Networked tuner users will even be able to switch between the two apps at any time, though Nuvyyo is still working out transition details for its HDMI models.
“We don’t want to leave anybody behind,” Hall said.
What about ATSC 3.0?
One surprise with the new Tablo: It only supports ATSC 1.0, rather than the nascent ATSC 3.0 standard. Although Tablo announced an ATSC 3.0 tuner in early 2022, Hall said it’s not arriving until next year and the Nuvyyo has already issued refunds to those who pre-ordered it.
The rationale? Hall acknowledged that ATSC 3.0’s DRM requirements got in the way, but supporting the new standard also costs more and Scripps wanted to get a low-cost device on the market. Broadcasters must support ATSC 1.0 until mid-2027, so buyers will get at least four years out of the new Tablo.
Meanwhile, Nuvyyo plans to convert more of its lineup to the revamped hardware and software. Expect a quad-tuner version of the fourth-gen Tablo in the future and Hall hinted at other new devices to come.
As for the new DVR, it’s available on Tablo’s website and at Best Buy, with Amazon to follow. Hall said Scripps’ sales goals are a couple orders of magnitude higher than the previous models. As Janko Roettgers has reported, Tablo sold just over 200,000 DVRs in 10 years and only has about 80,000 active users. By comparison, Scripps’ own announcement of the new Tablo notes that 36 million U.S. households own an antenna.
That means over-the-air DVR has plenty of room to grow. With cheaper hardware and slicker software, perhaps Tablo can finally succeed where companies like Amazon and TiVo have failed or foundered.