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Review: Tablo a nifty little over-the-air HDTV system

Sat, 04/19/2014 - 2:24pm
Brian Santo

The Tablo is a nifty little item that lets you play over-the-air (OTA) HDTV signals on your tablet, smartphone, PC or TV. Combined with a hard drive, it’s a DVR. And it slings.

It’s hard to discuss any OTA broadcast TV product without invoking Aereo. Aereo has a cloud-based approach to delivering TV – it sets up arrays of antennas and then provides network storage. Customers pay a fee to essentially rent an antenna and storage space. As of this writing, the Supreme Court has yet to decide its legality.

Tablo avoids Aereo’s alleged legal problem entirely. You buy it; you own it – so the legal questions that dog Aereo don’t come in to play.

Tablo works precisely as advertised. My tablet is now a TV with DVR functionality and Sling-like capability.

The Tablo box is roughly the size of a hardcover book, black with an obligatory blue LED for decoration (which can be turned off). You download an associated app to your device.

You attach an HDTV antenna and a USB hard drive, hook the whole thing up to your router (via Wi-Fi or Ethernet), and then scan for available channels. The set-up is simple and takes a few minutes.

You get video in whatever the broadcast quality is, as broadcast stations may use their spectrum for more than one signal. Stations in my market broadcast in 1080i, 720p, and 480i. Tablo-delivered video is as clear as the format in which it comes gets.

The app syncs your viewing device to your Tablo unit. There's a setting to set -- easy as pie -- and then you can take your device anywhere, connect to the Internet, and you have access to your Tablo, including everything you’ve got stored on your disk drive. Connecting was simple and quick enough for anyone except those who need everything to be absolutely instantaneous.

You can watch live, or record in advance and watch later. You can choose to record specific episodes, new episodes of a series, or an entire series.

http://www.tablotv.com/layouts/containers/tablotv/images/meetTablo-refineDiagram.jpgThe guide gives you several ways to find shows – by looking through all prime time shows, or look through TV shows, movies or sports. You can search by channel, or by what’s new, or by genre. Or just use the keyword search function.

There’s a minimum of trick play options. You have “pause,” but then you also have a button to skip forward precisely 30 seconds – which has its uses. Another button lets you skip backwards 20 seconds, in case you overshoot. There’s no fast forward or rewind buttons, but there is a slider on your touchscreen that lets you do that manually if you choose.

Tablo apps include:

  • Native iPad Tablet App – Requires iPad2 and iOS 7+
  • Native Android Tablet app – Requires Android 4.2+ and screens larger than 7”
  • Web-Based App – Optimized for Google Chrome or Safari browsers

The Tablo can be used to display video on a big screen TV. That can now be done running the Tablo app on an Apple TV or a Roku. The company says a Chromecast version is pending.

It’s hard to imagine exactly what the potential for this thing is. Cord-cutters? How many of those are there, and what percentage could Tablo grab, especially if Aereo gets to remain in business?

On the other hand, there might be millions of cord-cutters, and there’s demonstrable viewer interest in broadcast TV. Broadcast stations continue to be some of the most frequently-watched channels on cable systems, and Hulu Plus isn’t doing too badly.

And according to stats circulated by the NAB, there’s an ongoing trend of homes increasingly relying on OTA exclusively, from 15 percent of all homes in 2011, to 17.8 percent in 2012, to 19.3 percent last year.

Those numbers seem inflated to me, but that’s just guessing.

And while Tablo is specifically aimed at people who don’t want a cable subscription but still want access to broadcast channels, the fact that you can get live TV on your tablet and access recorded content from remote locations could make it an interesting adjunct for cable TV subscribers who don’t have those capabilities. Who knows? After all, most Netflix subscribers are also cable (or IPTV or satellite) subscribers too.

A two-tuner Table model is now available for $220. The company says a four-tuner model is pending. HDTV antenna and USB drive have to be bought separately.

On top of that, it’s $4.99/month for a guide data subscription, or $49.99 for a year, or $149.99 for a lifetime pass.

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