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Hands on with the Tablo DVR: Over-the-air TV to go

Wes Novack | April 7, 2014
Anyone looking for an alternative to forking out cash each month to a cable provider has another cord-cutting option at their disposal in the form of Tablo. The DVR not only records over-the-air broadcast television, but also streams live and recorded TV over the Internet for those times when you've left the couch in body, if not in spirit.

When selecting which channels to add to your guide, the Tablo app recommends that you add only 720p or 1080i channels, but in my area, there are many other channels with good content that broadcast in 480i. There's no drawback to using 480i channels with Tablo, they just don't look as good as the higher-resolution broadcasts. I manually added a few more channels on my own. It takes a few minutes for Tablo's software to update the guide for your channels.

Using the DVR

Now that your DVR is set up, it's time to put it to use, with the help of Tablo's assorted apps. I found it easy to navigate the apps' well-designed interface.

The default Prime Time screen features prime-time shows from the broadcast stations airing over the next two weeks — the length of time that Tablo's program guide data covers. TV shows appear as titles, usually accompanied by a poster image. Tap on a tile to get more details on the content, such as a summary paragraph, running time, the season number, and a schedule listing out when the next episodes will air. From here, you can also opt to record the entire series (new episodes only, or all episodes including reruns) or pick individual episodes to record.

You can record two shows at once — in my tests, the Tablo flexed its dual-tuner muscles, capturing both programs to the connected USB hard drive simultaneously. By default, you'll record video in 720p, though you have the option to up the ante to 1080p. Video quality looks fantastic, especially from channels that broadcast over 1080i.

A Live TV menu option brings up a programming guide with all your channels, displaying what's airing now and in the immediate future. Tap a channel to start watching immediately.

Launch a video through Tablo, and a top bar on your screen contains the time code position while the bottom bar offers volume control as well as buttons for jumping back 20 seconds, pausing, and skipping forward 30 seconds. That button is particularly useful, perfect for quickly hopping over commercials.

I tried running multiple Tablo video streams to two computers in my house at the same time. The Tablo didn't flinch, as both shows displayed in high quality with no interruptions, artifacts, or stuttering. I also tested Tablo from my Moto X smartphone using the web app in Chrome. I connected to the Tablo while on Wi-Fi, then disconnected from Wi-Fi to see if I would be able to access my Tablo content while away from home, over 4G. (The Tablo Connect remote-viewing feature is not turned on by default, but you can turn it on in Settings.) To my delight, the Tablo web app worked without a hitch over 4G, for both live TV and recorded content.

 

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