Tablo DUAL OTA DVR Review: Record Broadcast TV, Play It on Your Notebook

by Reads (808)
  • Pros

    • Much cheaper than monthly cable bills
    • Can be used with notebooks, tablets, phones, streaming media devices
    • Can stream to devices around the world (requires subscription)
    • Easy to set up and use
  • Cons

    • Requires purchasing appropriate antenna, video cable
    • Only record two shows at once

Cable TV has gotten stupidly expensive, while at the same time free broadcast TV has become far better than ever before. Those who want to save money by “cutting the cord” don’t have to give up the convenience of recording their favorite shows with the Tablo DUAL OTA DVR, and these programs can be played back on a TV, notebook, tablet, or phone.

Tablo DUAL

Tablo DUAL Build and Design

The exterior of this peripheral is 5.0 by 5.0 by 1.5 inches, making it noticeably smaller than the original Tablo. It’s all black plastic with lots of vents to dissipate heat, and a large blue status LED.

But the appearance is almost irrelevant, as the Tablo DUAL doesn’t need to be near the device it’s streaming video to. Everything can be done over Wi-Fi, so this hardware and its antenna can be in a storage room or attic… out of the way, and placed to get a good broadcast TV signal.

Tablo DUAL Ports and Features

All the ports on this device are located on the back.

The antenna port uses the same connector as coaxial cable. An antenna is not included because what’s required will vary from person to person.  Someone living near a city might get by with a fairly simple $20 one, while those in the hinterlands will need to invest in something significant to pick up lots of TV channels.

Tablo DUAL ports

Also on the back is a USB port that can be used to attach an external hard drive. This is optional, as the Tablo DUAL includes 64GB of internal storage, enough to hold up to 40 hours of recorded TV shows, depending on the video quality chosen. Those who want more can  attach a hard drive; an 8 terabyte one will bring up to 2000 hours of capacity.

An Ethernet port allows a wired connection to the home network. As discussed, Wi-Fi is generally a better option, but sometimes a physical connection is best.

And there’s a port to plug this device into a wall socket. The cord is about 5 feet, quite long enough to stretch to a hard-to-reach one socket.

A reset button can be found on the back as well.

Savvy reader will notice there’s no HDMI port. This is because the Tablo DUAL is designed to simultaneously stream video to a range of computers–TVs, notebooks, tablets, and phones–wherever they are in the world, not just a single TV in the living room. And as mentioned earlier, it enables this accessory to be placed anywhere in the house.

On the other side of the coin, it means that some users will want to purchase a streaming media device, e.g. Roku, Chromecast, Apple TV, or Amazon Fire TV, to watch on a big-screen television. However, this isn’t a requirement for anyone whose computer can be connected directly to the TV, and these days that’s just about all good notebooks and tablets, and even many phones.

Tablo DUAL Performance

Nuvyyo, the developer of the various Tablo versions, has created a huge range  applications to allow users to connect to a Tablo DUAL from just about any device they could wish. Windows and Mac OS users control this accessory through a web browser,  while there are free iOS and Android applications available on their respective app stores. There are apps for Roku, Apple TV, and Android TV as well, and there’s some support for Chromecast.

We tested this accessory with a Microsoft Surface Pro, iPad Pro, and Roku, and all worked quite well. We had no issues playing live and recorded shows, or setting them up to be recorded. Both the tablets were then connected to large-screen TVs through wired hookups, again without issues.

No matter what device is used, the Tablo DUAL can be set to record TV programs on broadcast TV. For anyone who hasn’t looked since the switch to digital a few years ago, the number of these has grown tremendously.  Beyond just ABC, CBS, CW, FOX, and NBC, the major metropolitan area where we did our testing offers 107 other channels. Of course, the quality of the content of these varies tremendously, but that’s also true of cable channels.

Tablo DUAL: Program Guide

Just so there’s not any confusion, a Tablo can’t be used to access any online streaming service, like Netflix. That’s not what it’s for. Instead, it allows users to watch free broadcast TV.

And not only watch, but also record shows. That’s the real point of the Tablo DUAL: to save programs to be watched whenever it’s convenient.  And wherever, too.

There’s an on-screen guide that lists what’s on now, but can also display every program coming in the next two weeks. This makes is easy to find the movies and shows coming up, and set them to be automatically recorded.

This can be one-time recording, or the Tablo DUAL can save every instance of the show. Just recording new episodes is also an option. For example, someone could do a search for “Bones” to get a list of all the episodes that are coming up. A short description of each helps in choosing which of these to record, or all of them can be saved.

Be aware, after a one-month trial period, access to the guide requires paying a subscription fee, either $4.99 a month or $49.99 a year. While the guide very convenient, this device is quite usable without, as the manual process for setting up recordings isn’t onerous: specify the channel, start time, and duration. In manual mode, the only two timing options are a one-time recording or every week at the same time.

This product is called the Tablo DUAL because it can record two programs simultaneously.  Hard-core TV junkies can sometimes want to record three shows at once, but someone that dedicated to TV should probably think twice before cutting the cord to give up cable.

Tablo DUAL: Set Recording

Keep in mind, the two-recordings-at-once limitation doesn’t affect playback. While two programs are being recorded, several other people can be watching other shows that were previously saved. We tested this by having three different devices simultaneously stream different pre-recorded shows without any issues.

Recordings can be made in a range of image qualities: SD 480, HD 720, and HD 1080. This is a global setting, made for all programs, so it’s not easy to save the big game at HD 1080 and all other shows at SD 480, for example.  It is possible to manually change this setting right before a special show starts, and then later change it back, though.

Naturally, this setting also affects the amount of data each recording requires, with the highest-quality videos taking up about 5 times as much space as the lowest. That means the 64 GB of storage built into the Tablo Dual will only hold about 8 hours of video at the maximum resolution, so those who want more should look into an external hard drive.

Our tests showed that while HD 1080 video looks phenomenal, even SD 480 recordings look quite acceptable. This accessory creates clear, smooth video, without irritating artifacts.  Many people will be satisfied with saving everything at SD 480, allowing this peripheral to hold 40 hours of content without needing additional storage.

Tablo DUAL: What’s On menu

One of the biggest advantages of the Tablo DUAL is that it can be accessed from anywhere in the world there’s a speedy internet connection. Playing video remotely works exactly the same as it does locally.  The only difference is an optional setting to reduce the quality of video streamed over the internet to reduce how much bandwidth is used. This can be set as low as 500 kbps, which produces video acceptable on a phone screen but not on anything larger. But there is a caveat: internet streaming, called Tablo Connect, requires paying the same monthly subscription fee as the guide.

Depending on the device being used to play the TV shows, there are usually tools to make it easy to skip commercials. The iOS app includes on-screen buttons to jump forward 30 seconds and back 20 secs., for example.

Tablo DUAL Final Thoughts

This is one of the best products available to ease the jolt of giving up cable. The Tablo DUAL OTA DVR makes it a snap to record broadcast TV and then watch the shows later, wherever it’s most convenient. The hardware is well designed and made, and the wide range of software gives users many options to access their recorded shows.

The most notable limitation is its ability to only record two shows at once. Support for using Chromecast with iOS is also missing, but that’s more of a nitpick.

The Tablo Dual is $249.99, and in the U.S. it’s available exclusively at Best Buy. There’s also the $4.99 a month or $49.99 a year subscription fee to get the guide and Tablo Connect. Even so, considering cable TV subscriptions are often well over $100 a month, this device starts to look like very good deal.

That’s even taking into account the need to purchase an external antenna. A cable to connect one’s computer to a television will also probably be necessary, though an easier option is a streaming media device, which start around $30.

Admittedly, some people will want to pair this with a subscription to a streaming service like SlingTV for $20 a month to also have access to cable programs. Even so, a Tablo DUAL OTA DVR can really help someone give up writing big checks to Comcast, Charter, etc. every month for a relatively low price.

Pros:

  • Much cheaper than monthly cable bills
  • Can be used with notebooks, tablets, phones, streaming media devices
  • Can stream to devices around the world (requires subscription)
  • Easy to set up and use

Cons:

  • Requires purchasing appropriate antenna, video cable
  • Only record two shows at once



LEAVE A COMMENT

0 Comments

|
All content posted on TechnologyGuide is granted to TechnologyGuide with electronic publishing rights in perpetuity, as all content posted on this site becomes a part of the community.