Tablo Review: TV Without Cable
October 30, 2020
Here is my situation. I hate Xfinity (Comcast). I found out recently that I can get Echo Broadband in my neighborhood instead, meaning faster internet. But...Echo Broadband doesn't provide cable. Of course I use Netflix or Amazon to watch most stuff anyway, but local network channels have the best shows during the week. How could I get them?
The cheapest option by far is to buy a digital antenna. They are like $15, you stick them on your window behind the TV, and plug it directly in to the TV. Suddenly you have whatever channels it can pick up over the air. A digital antenna isn't like the old-school antennas that people had on top of their TVs. Digital antennas are little plastic squares. Not obtrusive at all. The biggest drawback is you are then limited to live tv...and commercials--yuck!
This is where Tablo comes in. Instead of plugging your digital antenna into your TV, you can plug it into a Tablo box. A Tablo box is like a little hard drive. As the channels come to your antenna, Tablo can record them. Then, you plug the Tablo box into your house's wireless router, and suddenly you can watch TV anywhere in the house! Any device in the house that is also on your wifi network and has the "Tablo App" can suddenly watch TV. So I can watch it on my phone. Or fire up the xbox and watch the Tablo app on there. It gives you a guide and the ability to record shows. Plus, if you pay Tablo $5 a month, you can auto-skip commercials. Super cool.
Another cool feature of the Tablo is that it is not connected directly to your TV. So if your TV is in a bad location for picking up TV stations through an antenna, you could set your Tablo and antenna up somewhere more convenient. Then plug your Roku or Xbox or whatever to the TV, and watch TV even on the wrong side of the house.
All the setup takes place on your cellphone through the Tablo app, and it is pretty much automatic. It will scan and find channels automatically, you just choose the video quality and a few other basic settings. Very easy to do.
Cons of Tablo
Tablo isn't quite perfect. The biggest issue is that you have to connect it to your wireless router with an ethernet cable if you want fast speed. You can technically connect the Tablo box to your router through wireless only...but I don't recommend it. It will be buffering all the time when you try and watch anything, and it is horrible. You definitely need to connect it with a cable.
The other frustrating part is that only some devices have a Tablo app. The ones I know of:
- Xbox One
- Apple TV
- Web Browsers
Other Ideas I considered
Turns out Tivo still makes DVRs, including some that capture channels through a digital antenna. This was a tempting option, but more expensive than Tablo. It also has to go right by your antenna and TV. It isn't through wifi. If you are looking for a simple option, Tivo may be the right choice.
Amazon Fire Recast
The Amazon Fire Recast is the same idea as Tablo. It captures TV channels through an antenna and makes them available over your wireless network. I tend to avoid Amazon when I can, as they are supposed to be pretty bad to their workers, but it sounds like a good option too.
Raspberry Pi with Channels DVR
You can get a Raspberry Pi and install Plex and Channels DVR and make this your live-tv streaming machine. There are guides online, but clearly, this is a more advanced option. You really need to know what you are doing, and while I am confident I could make it work, I just didn't want to spend the time and effort to deal with it.
Basically, it depends on how simple or complex you want to get with recording channels over-the-air.
Overall I am weirdly obsessed with the whole idea of capturing channels over-the-air. I don't even watch much TV, but somehow I am really into these DVR technologies. I am happy with Tablo. It is fast and works nicely. We don't get a ton of channels, just ABC/CBS/NBC/Fox/PBS and a few others, but for everything else, there are streaming apps.