Review : Tablo DVR

Over-the-air DVR is a user-friendly solution, but can be limited without subscription

MacNN Rating:


Product Manufacturer: Nuvyyo

Price: $200

The Good

  • Easy setup
  • Interface options
  • Guide system

The Bad

  • Device runs warm
  • No direct connection to TV
  • Stripped DVR functionality without subscription
With over-the-top content options growing past Hulu and Netflix, consumers may be finding it harder to justify paying a monthly fee for cable. An unfortunate casualty of severing these ties is the loss of convenient technology and local channels, keeping some television viewers from making the final leap. Thankfully, new options have hit the market for those that have access to an antenna and a USB storage device. The Tablo is one such digital video recorder (DVR) that captures free, over-the-air broadcasts, allowing people to watch their favorite time-shifted shows through a tablet or browser. But is Nuvyyo's Tablo a device that does the job with minimal hassle, or are consumers better off with the attachment to cable?

The Tablo DVR is a small, black set-top box that is only noticeable by a blue LED when plugged in. It measures 6.8 x 4.6 x 1.4 inches, giving it a small enough footprint that it can be tucked into smaller spaces on an entertainment center or under a flat screen television. The box offers only four connections; coax, two USB 2.0 ports, and an Ethernet port. Currently, the Tablo doesn't work with drives larger than 2TB, network-attached storage (NAS) or USB flash drives. An indoor HDTV antenna does the job, so there is no need for a fancy external solution. It does require some space for ventilation, as it does get warm during operation.

Perhaps the biggest catch of the Tablo is that it doesn't offer any dedicated connection to a television. Instead, it requires additional electronics that have dedicated channels like a Roku, or tablets that connect to other devices like Apple TV or Chromecast. However, through a dedicated tablet application on Android or iOS, owners can watch TV from anywhere, whereas desktop computers, notebooks and smartphones can watch shows through a browser. Everything occurs over an Internet connection, as the Tablo connects to a home network through the Ethernet port or Wi-Fi.

Setup for the Tablo is easy, with owners being walked through the process on the Tablo website or through one of the tablet apps. It's a straightforward process, but there are two small points that may hold people up. The first is that the process will prompt for payment information, but users don't need to enter anything in at this time. The second holdup is in the channel location process.

Adding channels in the testing area was a big hassle for Electronista during review of a similar set-top box, the Tablo provided a better experience, though the main ZIP code used for channel location didn't turn up results. When the ZIP code for the main city in the market was used, the list populated without issue. What took days to make the usable was achieved in only minutes with Tablo. It was still odd the original location didn't work, since the towns are only 40 miles apart and get the same over-the-air channels.

Just because the channels are added to the list, however, doesn't mean that they will all be watchable. Each channel has a colored dot indicator to illustrate the signal, with red dots being too unstable to watch. Channels with yellow dots can still give an acceptable viewing experience and recording, but will often break up. Green signals offer the best clarity and recordings, but shouldn't be expected to be perfect, since all over-the-air signals can have issues.

Watching shows through the device is virtually problem-free, with the web browser and tablet-based options. While there aren't any significant drawbacks to watching on a tablet, the browser-based option was preferred. Watching videos on a 2011 MacBook Pro flew by without any significant issues; those that did occur were due to either signal issues with a recording or the ClickToFlash extension. Users are offered a slide-out menu on the left, listing options for live TV, recordings and specific types of broadcasts. Navigation is quick and smooth, with minimal delays or load times -- even when connecting to the device. The broadcast types are were the software shines, as it makes everything a little easier, including DVR recordings.

To watch a live show or a recording, users need only to go to the appropriate menu destination, and click on a show either in a grouping by title or from the schedule for live TV. With a Tablo Guide subscription, owners can look at the schedule up to 14 days in advance. DVR features become easier, as a show can be selected through one of the categories, rather than having to find it on a schedule. Following that, it is as easy as selecting a one-time or recurring recording schedule. Shows set to be recorded can be checked on -- including recordings missed -- through the scheduled option. Missed recordings are minimized, as the Tablo comes in two and four-tuner variants. The default recording size can be set as well, with standard definition, 720p and 1080p options.

For all of the neat features the Tablo has, it comes with a catch -- a subscription fee. In the interest of painting the entire picture, Nuvyyo gives users 30-days free of its service, with an option to subscribe later. This gives potential subscribers a chance to get a feel for the service and all it entails. People learn after the trial period ends that it is more like a gateway drug, as the time-shifting capabilities essentially vanish.

Nuvyyo doesn't require a Tablo subscription to use the device, since the box still gives users the ability to watch live television. However, the basic DVR scheduling feature is a shadow of its former self. Rather than selecting a specific show, it defaults to a manual recording method based on use input. Users lose remote viewing capabilities without a subscription, to boot.

The only caveat in this stripped-down version is in the ability to click on a show on the guide. Clicking on the schedule -- that still updates one day at a time -- fills in the information for name, channel, date and length of the show. Without using this click method to populate everything, owners are forced to fill in everything on in a manual process that would make a TV Guide subscription handy. Other small features are lost without a subscription, including extending live recordings and stopping the system from recording duplicate shows.

The Tablo is a nice addition to Internet-heavy viewers that don't want to keep shelling out for cable services on a monthly basis, but can't go without local channels. While the device has stripped DVR functionality without a subscription, it's still usable in a less-friendly manner. TV signal will always effect the quality of the recording, so it isn't an absolute solution.

To be able to use the Tablo, consumers will need to fork over $200 for the two-tuner version, or more if a USB drive and HDTV antenna aren't already owned. While the unit is priced fairly, having to pay an extra $5 a month, $50 a year or $150 for a lifetime subscription could be a factor. As over-the-air content grows, the Tablo DVR offers a solid option for users looking to completely cut from cable providers without losing what local programming offers.