One of the reasons I started this blog is that I am learning so many things I never knew about and as I discuss them, I’m getting questions. A number of people sent me private messages looking for answers, hoping maybe they too could cut the cable TV cord. While there are many experts out there, I felt some might be interested in what a non-expert is going through. Consider, when analog signals left, I thought that was the end of OTA (over-the-air) TV signals. I was unaware that an HD signal was out there. Every few weeks I learn new things I couldn’t have conceived. Tablo is one of them. I’ve had my eye on this thing for almost a month, but had misgivings. When I saw a price drop at Amazon, that was it. This latest adventure comes some two months or so since I cut the cable TV cord. Like others, I needed solutions for a number of things.
- I had a serious problem with my main TV being in a room with a window that faced away from the towers and wanted to avoid going to the attic of my condo with an antenna and related system.
- I missed having a DVR
- I missed having a TV grid to see what was coming up or a way to quickly see what was on at various times.
- I had this inclination to want to watch OTA TV on my iPhone or on a tablet or laptop in a place where it’s not practical to have an antenna – like the basement, as one example.
Enter, the Tablo
After reading various forums and blogs, considering equipment on hand and what I would need to buy, I concluded that for my needs, the Tablo DVR for HDTV Antennas, 2-Tuner with Wi-Fi should be able to address each of those four things. There is a 4-Tuner Tablo which is a better choice if there are a number of people in the house who might record things at the same time. At the time of this post, the 2-Tuner was running $179 at Amazon and I had been eye-balling it when it was $219. I missed the $169 price by one day! The 4-tuner dropped to $265, if I recall, from $299. Quite honestly, after looking at options by TiVo, Channel Master, Simple TV, among others, this little box is like several devices in one with what it can do. The others have a more narrow focus. If it works as advertised, it will be a very useful piece of technology. You can see how Tablo works here. There are helpful diagrams and videos. I managed to get it set up and running in 20 minutes. My modem and router are on the first floor and the best location for antenna is on the second floor. I read people had better experience by connecting it to the router with Ethernet rather than using the wi-fi option, but for me, the two would be too far. Someone suggested I use TRENDnet Powerline AV500 Adapter Kit with Gigabit Port (note this is actually AV2 despite AV title). Here again, I didn’t know this was possible. I connected one with Ethernet to my router on the first floor, and I connected the other one to the Tablo on the second floor. They worked like a charm, but must go right into the socket. This video discusses how it works, but I’m not sure it’s the AV2. A small, external hard drive is needed and is used to handle DVR recordings, among other things. Recommendations can be found at the Tablo site and it is best to follow those recommendations. I got the WD Elements 2TB USB 3.0 Portable Hard Drive WD Elements 2TB USB 3.0 Portable Hard Drive, but probably could have used just the 1 TB. With that, I added the Tablo app to my iPhone for set up and it found my Tablo immediately and walked me through the set up. It formatted the hard drive (though my iPhone says the hard drive is formatting when I re-enter the Tablo App and it’s been close to 2 hours). Hopefully, when I wake up tomorrow, I won’t find it cranking yet. The last stage was adding the Tablo App to my Roku 3 (and an update was just released with enhancements). That too worked flawlessly. There was about a 10 second delay getting the live TV running, but I don’t mind that, for the most part. Let’s look at each of the issues I was hoping to resolve and how the Tablo worked in addressing them after initial set up.
Problem 1: Improving TV signals in my main living area
Here was the situation before Tablo in my living room: While I got 25 channels on a scan with a Winegard FlatWave Amped Indoor Amplified HDTV Antenna (FL5500Y) connected directly, some of the primary local channels I watch were pixelated more often than not. That checkered pattern was coming in and out with the slightest breeze and it was not the case with the same antenna in another room where it was taped to a window which faced the towers 10-15 miles away. There, I got 26 solid channels even on stormy days, 9 of them HD. I knew if I could get that antenna on the second floor where there is a window aimed at the towers, and beam the signal throughout the house, I would have excellent reception with just one indoor antenna. I’m aware of amps and splitters, and going to the roof and attic, but really wanted to avoid all that if I could. The Tablo met my expectations on this one. In fact, with the antenna stuck to the second floor window, it found 27 channels (I stripped the ones I didn’t want). ABC, which is one of my problem channels, comes in as clearly as I had hoped. The real test will be on a windy day. In my other room, on the first floor, this same antenna had very few, if any, interruptions on ABC, even during high winds. So, Tablo gave me the ability to watch a great OTA signal in a place that otherwise gets poor antenna signals. This was an pic taken with my iPhone of the picture on my 36 inch TV. Now, when I mentioned earlier that my Flatwave antenna worked very well in another room on the first floor when attached to a window pointing towards the tower, it was on this TV. That antenna is now upstairs, but I have a cheaper Fire TV stick connected to it (well, cheaper than another Roku and I figured why not try a different platform). It is working well there. So, two TV’s are getting signal from one antenna on the second floor.
Problem 2: Missing the DVR
I will have to come back to this in a follow up post after I do some testing on the recording end. I had seen complaints that people were having the end of their recordings cut-off as it ended too early. However, on a quick glance at setting up a recording, I noticed that I had control over start time and duration. I was able to set a recording I wanted for an 8:00 PM program at 7:58 for a duration of 65 minutes. I figured that would mitigate any variation between the different systems. UPDATE: I have updated my Tablo and am using a newer Tablo Preview App, and the ability to tweak the start and end time of a recording seems to be gone. I don’t know if this comes with greater accuracy, but I regret not having the ability to add minutes to the front or back end. I hope this is something that can be given back to us. If the ability is there and I’m not seeing it, please let me know. Along with recording is watching. I’ve seen some discussing enhancements they want in this regard. So, I’ll have to let you know what I experience on both recording and playing.
Problem 3: I missed having a TV Grid
I haven’t been watching network TV in recent years and I don’t have plans to be stuck in front of a TV during prime time every day. That said, I’m no longer familiar with what is on at a given time. So, if I come home and want to chill out with the TV for a bit, I was left with clicking around and wondering; or going online to look at a grid once I cut the cable TV cord. Tablo definitely solves this. During set up, the app notified me that I would be able to begin using it after it had downloaded one day worth of programming, but that it might take a couple of hours to download the full 14 day schedule. Now, to keep the full schedule, there is a subscription fee. From my standpoint, it is probably worth it. Here is what Tablo says in it’s FAQ section (question 7):
Your Tablo Guide Data Subscription gives you the ability to watch Tablo OTA DVR content remotely using the Tablo Connect feature. It also gives you access to live TV guide data for your area 14 days in advance as well as smart recording features including the ability to set recordings by series, season, and new episodes only.
How much does it cost? They have options. I am starting with the $4.99/month and once I ensure I’ve got a stable system to keep, I’ll either go with annual or lifetime. Here is a picture from the TV with the Fire TV stick using the Tablo App. From what I’ve seen in each device I plug into, if you click on the channel in the grid, it takes you to live TV. If you click on a program, it opens up a dialog box where you can set up your recording, as I mentioned earlier. I’m not sure why the time reads 8:28 which is 3 hours behind. I’m thinking either the TV, the Tablo, or the Fire stick, is on Pacific time. You might notice a faint vertical bar. It’s showing you where programming is at right now.
Problem 4: Watching in areas where antenna is not practical
I can answer this partially. I am happy that I have successfully connected to my iPhone, and to a Surface Pro 3. I have no doubt I can connect to other devices. Now, this is all within range of the router to which it is connected. So, if I want to go into the basement and do some laundry while the Lions are playing football, I’m pretty sure I can take the Surface Pro 3 down there and work in between the plays. There is an option to remote log-in when away from your Tablo. I’ll be interested to try this, but have to figure out how to map one of the ports. The iPhone app was walking me right through set up again, but one port has to be manually mapped. This is an area where I need to tread carefully and, it’s not a priority. But I will test it out soon. ***UPDATE*** After updating the firmware on the Tablo, the ports mapped automatically on the ASUS RT-N66U. Some 6 miles from home, I was able to log in and watch OTA TV over my iPhone very quickly and cleanly. Here is an image I captured after getting NCIS on my iPhone tonight. I’m hoping the remote feature will work well because this is what I can expect when I’m having dinner at a restaurant and would like to check in on the local news or something. With a pair of earbuds, it should be a snap. And this one is from the local newscast on my Surface Pro 3
The Tablo adventure could be an interesting one. It all depends on whether I experience some of the same problems I’ve seen others complain about… or not. I think if you are considering a Tablo, you should spend time reading through posts at the Tablo Community, and sign up to discuss your set up plans before executing them. Do your homework before buying anything or assuming stuff you have will work with the Tablo. You will want to discuss what modem and router you plan to use, perhaps your internet download and upload speeds, hard drive that will be connect to the table, etc. You’ve not only got people there who have learned by trial and error, but it seems the techs at Tablo try to keep an eye on things and engage people in those forums. From what I’ve seen of the tech support through those forums is that they are willing to work with people on the problems. When new technology comes out that is a good thing because it means they are trying to stay aware of issues and are looking for ways to eliminate those headaches later. In fact, I was prompted to do a firmware update that came out just over a week ago, but I am waiting a good 24-48 hours to see what happens overnight and with recordings before I start. (UPDATE: I ran the firmware update and that is when my ports mapped automatically to my router, so I can view remotely now). If something happens I won’t know if it’s the update or the Tablo in general. I saw pretty frequent firmware updates at their website, which I like to see on something new. It means they are addressing issues. I must admit, that seeing tech support people engage those having problems convinced me to give it a try, along with that sale price. If something doesn’t work right, and I can’t fix it, I’ll give them a chance to help me. I’ll be making more posts on the Tablo experience as time goes on.