If you hang around cord cutting websites like this one for long enough, you’re bound to hear about Tablo and other “OTA DVRs.” But what is Tablo? Is it a device, or a company, or what? And how to OTA DVRs work? And should you get a Tablo, or a different OTA DVR, or no OTA DVR at all?
Valid questions all! But don’t worry – we’re here to explain. Below, we’ll lay out everything you need to know about OTA DVRs in general as well as about Tablo specifically. We’ll tell you what Tablo is good for and help you decide if you need one. Sound good? Then read on.
What Is Tablo?
Simply put, Tablo is an OTA DVR. Tablo is the product name, so we should probably start asking “what is a Tablo” instead of “what is Tablo,” but the second question is at least sort of valid, because the folks who make Tablo tend to to use their product name as their consumer-facing brand. Technically, the company that makes the Tablo is called Nuvyyo – but you’ll have a hard time finding that name on their website or anywhere else, as they just use “Tablo” for everything. So we’ll just use “Tablo” loosely in this piece to refer to the device and the larger brand.
How Tablo OTA DVRs Work
The Tablo experience includes an app and a DVR and a TV guide subscription, all of which are branded with – you guessed it – Tablo. But don’t worry: I’m going to specify what everything is when I explain below. Until further notice, there is no Tablo, only Tablo something-or-others. So a Tablo OTA DVR will go by its full name, never just by “Tablo.”
Okay, here’s how it all works.
You take your antenna. You plug it into your Tablo OTA DVR. And then you hop onto the Tablo TV app, which is key to how Tablo works (you can also use the TabloTV.com website, if you prefer). Using your app, you’ll set up your Tablo OTA DVR, which will include connecting it to your Wi-Fi network unless you’re using an Ethernet connection.
That’s it – you are ready to record. Using that same Tablo TV app, you can select shows from various content discovery screens, including the familiar-looking TV guide screen that you probably associate with DVRs. It bears mentioning here that all the pretty information on this screen comes courtesy of a Tablo TV guide data subscription, which costs $4.99 a month (you can save a bit by opting for the yearly and lifetime subscription options, which are $49.99 and $149.99, respectively and as of this writing).
The Tablo TV app is also where you can play your recorded shows. And, happily, it is also where you can watch live TV.
What’s With All These Tablos?
As I mentioned before, there is more than one Tablo! So, while I wait for Tablo’s PR team to email me and ask me not to pluralize “Tablo,” let’s look at all these Tablos. One quick note: all of the DVRs listed below include the DVR itself, a power supply, an Ethernet cable, and a free trial of the Tablo TV guide subscription service.
Tablo Dual Lite OTA DVR
The Dual Lite is Tablo’s entry-level offering. It’s a 2-tuner OTA DVR, so you can watch or record two things at once. The “Lite” in the name is the hint that, in the words of Tablo’s copywriters, offers “flexibility to choose the recording storage option that works best for [you].” Translation: there’s no on-board memory, so you need to supply your own external storage device. Street prices for the Tablo Dual Lite OTA DVR are south of $150, so this is a nice budget option.
Tablo Dual 64GB OTA DVR
At the heart of the Tablo lineup is the Tablo Dual 64GB OTA DVR. It features the two tuners that the Dual Lite has, but it bests its little brother by including 64GB of on-board storage. The Tablo Dual 64GB OTA DVR retails for around $200 street. That’s a $50 increase for 64GB of storage, which may be a little steep, but the overall price remains very palatable, and you can’t put a price on not having a dang external hard drive cluttering up your entertainment center.
Tablo 4-Tuner OTA DVR
The granddaddy of all Tablos is the Tablo 4-Tuner OTA DVR. That’s twice the tuners of the Dual models, of course. The bad news is that there’s no on-board storage, but this device can accept up to an 8TB external hard drive. Eight terabytes is, uh, a lot. Like all other Tablo models, this device has an Ethernet port to use for a wired Internet connection. The Tablo 4-Tuner OTA DVR retails for somewhere between $250 and $300, which puts it close enough in price to the Tablo Dual 64GB OTA DVR to tempt you to shoot for the high life. Come on, what if you want to record four things at once?
Tablo Products for the Nvidia Shield: Tablo DVR Engine, Tablo DVR App, and Tablo Tuner
And now for a Tablo that sort of isn’t a Tablo! Well, it’s still mostly a Tablo. An OTA DVR is, hardware-wise, not a crazy thing: it’s a TV tuner (or four) with a hard drive and a little computer to tell it what to do. Tablo’s great apps and user interfaces and whatnot are what separate it from the crowd, so they could easily just license that stuff out and let other hardware manufacturers turn other devices into de facto Tablos (there I go pluralizing “Tablo” again). In this case, owners of the Nvidia Shield – that beefy, beautiful, and expensive streaming box – can install a Tablo DVR engine on their device to give it the smarts it needs to start recording stuff from a TV tuner. The Nvidia Shield doesn’t come with a TV tuner, though, so you’ll need to buy a USB TV tuner. You can turn to Tablo for that, too, as they offer the Tablo Tuner.
Should You Get a Tablo?
So here we are, at the end of a long and fruitful journey that started with a simple question: what is Tablo? With that answered, let’s ask another question: do you need a Tablo, or what?
Well, that all depends on you. But there are a few questions you can ask yourself. Let’s assume off the bat that you are a cord cutter, and then do a little introspection:
Do you like the content available on free over-the-air TV?
Free OTA TV includes a ton of great stuff. The four major networks (ABC, CBS, Fox, and NBC) are staples in most areas, and PBS, Univision, and a whole lot more are also often available. We’re talking NFL games, major-network sitcoms, evening news programs, and more.
Do you want to be able to time-shift that same content?
If you want to watch the latest CBS sitcom but don’t actually want to stay up to watch it, then an OTA DVR like Tablo is just what the doctor ordered. If you’re all about OTA’s live NFL football and only ever want to watch live, Tablo won’t hold as much appeal.
Do you want to stream live and recorded OTA TV to multiple TVs and devices?
We’ve explained before that, typically, you need one antenna for each TV in your house. But a Tablo device will free you from that tyranny, provided your TVs are equipped with smart features or a streaming box so that you can download the Tablo app. On top of that, Tablo will give you the power to watch OTA content on your phone. Stuck on the train home from work during Monday Night Football? With a Tablo and a smartphone, it’s no problem.
If you said “yes” to more than one of these questions (and if you’re not already getting broadcast channel content from a skinny bundle that also offers a cloud DVR service), you may want to consider investing in a Tablo. For a pretty reasonable one-time cost (and, optionally, a small monthly fee), a Tablo OTA DVR can give you the power to stream live and recorded OTA TV. And, if you ask us, that’s pretty cool.