Tablo Quad DVR overview: The most effective will get larger

Tablo’s over-the-air DVR software program has gotten loads higher during the last 12 months, and now it has {hardware} to match with the Tablo Quad.

The $200 DVR field from Ottawa-based Nuvyyo can flip a single antenna right into a whole-home DVR for cord-cutters. Because the identify suggests, the Tablo Quad can play or document as much as 4 broadcast TV channels at a time, and it then streams the video to just about any related TV system, telephone, pill, or PC. Whereas the Tablo Quad isn’t any extra highly effective than the $140 Tablo Twin Lite, it may well document twice as many simultaneous channels, and it has an inside onerous drive bay for storing recordings with out the muddle of an exterior drive.

Each merchandise are easier to arrange and use than most different whole-home DVRs, and the latest additions of advert skipping and a channel-surfing information put them on equal footing feature-wise. Tablo stays the very best all-around DVR for cord-cutters with antennas, with a slight edge to the newer Tablo Quad. If not for some early ad-skipping points and longstanding video high quality limitations, it’d be just about excellent.

Decide your items

Jared Newman / IDG

To make use of the Tablo Quad, you could provide your personal antenna and storage, plus a separate streaming system similar to a Roku or Hearth TV Stick. An ethernet connection to your own home community is optionally available.

Organising the Tablo Quad nonetheless entails some mild do-it-yourself components. As a substitute of connecting on to a TV, the Tablo field can sit anyplace in the home, as long as it may well connect with Wi-Fi or plug instantly right into a router, ethernet swap, or wi-fi bridge utilizing a cable. It’s greatest to position it wherever you get the very best reception from an antenna, which plugs right into a coaxial port on the again of the field. You need to then provide your personal streaming system—be it a Roku, Hearth TV, Apple TV, or myriad different choices—and obtain the Tablo app to observe TV.

The Tablo Quad doesn’t embody any DVR storage both. As a substitute, it has a USB port for an exterior onerous drive, plus a hatch on its underside the place you may slide in a 2.5-inch inside drive. The latter is a pleasant solution to hold the setup compact; sadly, you may’t use inside and exterior storage in tandem. Though Tablo is engaged on cloud DVR storage as an alternative choice to establishing a tough drive, at $5 monthly it shortly turns into pricier than shopping for a tough drive for $50 or so.

tabloquadhdd Jared Newman / IDG

Utilizing the Tablo Quad’s inside onerous drive slot is tidier than plugging in an exterior USB drive.

As soon as every thing’s related, Tablo’s cellular apps or web site will information you thru the preliminary setup, which entails connecting the Tablo to Wi-Fi and scanning for channels. The system features a 30-day TV information subscription, which permits for sequence recordings, a 14-day channel information with cowl artwork, out-of-home viewing, and ad-skipping (extra on these options shortly). After that, the subscription prices $5 monthly, $50 per 12 months, or $150 for all times.

DVR packing containers that plug instantly into your tv, similar to TiVo’s Bolt OTA, are inherently easier than all this, however Tablo’s benefit is that it really works with no matter streaming packing containers or sticks you may already be utilizing. You don’t want to change inputs simply to observe native channels, or accept TiVo’s inferior choice of built-in apps. Tablo can be cheaper than TiVo over time, particularly with a number of televisions, as our over-the-air DVR worth comparability reveals.

Recording choices

Along with offering a 14-day channel information, a Tablo subscription allows you to browse packages by style or channel. You may then document particular person episodes, solely new episodes, or all episodes from a given sequence. To avoid wasting space for storing, Tablo can mechanically discard older episodes—helpful for recording well timed information or speak reveals—and you’ll mark recordings as “protected” from automated deletion when the onerous drive fills up. For series-based recordings, Tablo permits an additional buffer of as much as 10 minutes earlier than a present and three hours after, or you may simply schedule a guide recording, VCR-style.

tablolivetv Jared Newman / IDG

The Tablo app’s grid guide lets you browse live TV channels like you would with cable.

While over-scheduling is a less of a problem on the Quad than on dual-tuner DVRs, Tablo lets you know when it happens by slapping a red warning label over the show you just tried to record. You can then head to Tablo’s scheduling menu to decide which upcoming recordings to delete.

Some nice-to-have DVR options are still missing, though. You can tell Tablo to only record from a specific channel, for example, but you can’t specify HD-only recordings like TiVo can, nor can you automatically replace standard-definition programs if an HD version airs later. Team-based season passes aren’t allowed either, though you can set up league-specific recordings.

tablorecordingoptions Jared Newman / IDG

Tablo provides several recording options to maximize storage space and avoid missing anything.

Catch up faster

When it’s time to actually watch TV, Tablo has made some big leaps in the last year or so.

Most notably, you can now skip over commercials for completed recordings. Ad skipping is off by default, possibly because it uses about 100- to 200MB per hour of internet data to process the video, but anyone who’s not dealing with super-strict data caps should enable the feature in Tablo’s settings menu.

tabloshowmenu Jared Newman / IDG

Recordings that support ad skipping will be labeled as such in Tablo’s show menu.

When it works, Tablo’s ad skipper is glorious. The video player marks up commercial breaks with yellow bars, and Tablo automatically fast forwards to the end of each break at the appropriate time. Unlike Plex DVR, Tablo doesn’t actually strip the commercials from the recording, so you can still go back if the ad skipping jumps too far (which hasn’t occurred in my experience) or you want to view a certain ad.

Still, Tablo’s algorithmic ad detection isn’t flawless. On my local ABC channel, commercial skip routinely fails, with an error message blaming poor reception even though the recordings look excellent to my eye. (Nuvyyo says it might be picking up on imperceptible flaws that can throw off commercial detection.) When commercial skip isn’t available, Tablo’s visual fast forward previews fail as well, so it’s impossible to even see what you’re skipping over manually. This isn’t a problem with TiVo, which uses human editors for its SkipMode feature, but the trade-off is that TiVo can only skip ads for prime-time shows. Tablo’s commercial skip feature should work with any program—at least in theory.

tabloadskip Jared Newman / IDG

Tablo marks up commercial breaks and skips through them automatically.

Tablo’s other major recent improvement is a mini-guide, so you can see what else is on while watching live TV on Roku, Fire TV, Apple TV, and Android TV. Connectivity has also generally become more stable in recent months, and channel load times have consistently been around six seconds, versus upwards of 15 seconds a couple years ago. (As always, Tablo also uses any free tuners to store your most recently viewed channels, so it only takes a second or two to flip back and forth.)

The only lingering playback issue has to do with out-of-home streaming. You must set this up in advance through Tablo’s settings menu, and even if you have the foresight, it only works on mobile devices, web browsers, Fire TV, and Android TV. That means you can’t bring a Roku with you to watch local channels on the road.

tablochannelsurf Jared Newman / IDG

Tablo now offers a mini-guide so you can browse and watch at the same time.

The interlace issue

The whole experience just seems so much more refined than it used to be, all without sacrificing Tablo’s reasonable prices and fairly easy setup. That’s why video quality remains such a bummer.

As with previous Tablos, the Tablo Quad is unable to display interlaced channels (in 480i or 1080i) at 60 frames per second. That means video on those channels looks choppier than 720p channels when watching sports, news, or talk shows. While not everyone can tell the difference or even cares about this, it’s an eyesore for folks who do. (Tablo’s inability to deliver broadcasts at their native uncompressed quality will irk some videophiles as well.)

At least Tablo supports 5.1 surround sound now, with a caveat: Any devices that don’t support the codecs necessary for surround sound won’t play audio at all when the feature is enabled, because Tablo is incapable of creating surround and non-surround audio feeds simultaneously. Unless you know that all your devices can handle surround sound, you’ll need to keep the feature disabled. Otherwise, anything you’ve already recorded won’t be playable with audio on non-surround devices.

These lingering issues just underscore a longstanding truth about over-the-air DVR: None of them are perfect. The Fire TV Recast has smoother video, but it only works with Fire TV and mobile devices. TiVo is a bit easier to use, but it can be much pricier and has fewer apps than the streaming players that Tablo makes use of. HDHomeRun’s video quality is excellent, but setting it up with services like Plex DVR and Channels is burdensome.

Tablo continues to hit the sweet spot of affordability and ease of use, and it now trades off fewer features than it used to. While the Tablo Quad isn’t perfect, it comes closer than any other attempt yet.

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