The Tablo 4th generation over-the-air (OTA) DVR delivers a brand new experience for over-the-air TV with granular search features, and free streaming channels. The menu and response time isn’t perfect, but I believe that both will improve with future software updates.
Table of Contents
- What is the Tablo 4th Generation OTA DVR?
- My Personal Experience
- What I Liked
- Room for Improvement
- Ratings for Tablo 4th Generation
- Where to Buy
What is the Tablo 4th Generation OTA DVR?
You can watch live TV on a number of Smart TVs, a tablet or smartphone in your home. Its internal flash drive has about 50 hours of recording space. Unlike past models, the Tablo DVR provides comprehensive guide data at no charge. So you never have to pay for a subscription fee.
The new Tablo app includes 43 free, ad-supported channels (FAST) channels, which you can record as well.
The DVR is made for the current standard of digital TV (ATSC 1.0), and does not support the incoming ATSC 3.0 (NextGen TV).
At this point, that could be considered a plus because broadcasters have chosen to implement Digital Rights Management (DRM) features that lock down these channels, and restrict their access.
The new Tablo is the first release from Nuvyyo since the company was purchased by The E.W. Scripps Company. The broadcasting company bought Nuvyyo in late 2022.
Who should buy the Tablo 4th Generation DVR?
TV antennas are growing in popularity across the U.S. An estimated 36 million households (nearly one in three) currently own a TV antenna, according to the Consumer Electronics Association.
Depending on your local TV market, you can potentially get a local PBS station, sub-channels such as MeTV, COMET and GRIT and independently-owned stations.
An over-the-air DVR can maximize your free TV by recording programs to watch whenever you want. Tablo’s brand new user interface lets you easily discover a trove of TV shows, movies and sports that is available on over-the-air TV.
The Tablo is currently supported by Roku, Amazon Fire TV, Google Chromecast with Google TV. Smart TVs operating with Android TV and Google TV are supported, too. You can watch TV on Android smartphones and iPhones (with current iOS).
My Personal Experience
I spent three weeks testing out the Tablo 4th Generation OTA DVR. The Tablo requires that you watch over-the-air TV through the new Tablo app.
I used Tablo with two around my house. I watched TV using the new Tablo app on Roku, Amazon Fire TV and Google Chromecast with Google TV. I also used my Samsung Galaxy S20 FE smartphone to test Tablo’s features and reliability on a mobile device.
I connected the 4th gen Tablo to my outdoor TV antenna. This is the same antenna that I regularly use with a HDHomeRun Extend. I have also used this antenna with a Tablo Quad, Tablo Dual Lite and an AirTV2 which integrates OTA channels with Sling TV.
I’m using my experiences with these other DVRs to benchmark the new Tablo.
The Tablo app on Amazon Fire TV and Chromecast with Google TV is currently a better experience compared to Roku, which I explain below. (The Tablo app for older Tablo devices is being phased out. It will be replaced with the new Tablo app sometime this year.)
The 4th Generation Tablo has a modern, puck-shaped design that is a complete 180 from prior Tablo models. The new design makes the black and boxy last gen models look like an electronics product from the 1970s or 80s.
The back of the DVR has ports for the antenna, Ethernet connection and USB for an external hard drive. You can connect an external hard drive of up to 8TB.
The redesigned menu has a fresh look, useful homepage and nice channel guide.
Setting up the Tablo was very easy. I connected the antenna’s cord into the Tablo’s F-connector port, and plugged in the power adapter and connected the Tablo to the mobile app on my smartphone to scan for channels.
Ease of Use
The new Tablo feels more like a plug-and-play type of product that anybody could use, including people who are not tech-savvy. Earlier Tablo models such as the Tablo Dual Lite and the Tablo Quad required you to add your own hard drive.
Taking away this step should make the latest generation of Tablo less intimidating for beginners. With the widespread adoption of streaming devices, I can see this version of Tablo being very easy to use for any age group looking to utilize over-the-air TV for local channels.
Everything you need to start using a Tablo comes in the box. Aside from the DVR itself, you get a 5 foot power cord and Ethernet cable. You can connect the Tablo over Wi-Fi, but I plugged in my unit using the Ethernet cord for a faster internet connection.
If you have a question setting up the Tablo, customer service is a click away. Within the Tablo app, there is an Ask Jeeves assistant that can answer common questions and resolve some setup issues.
As an aside, Tablo 4th gen has a built-in antenna amplifier (10db), and it is automatically on. You should turn it off if you are already using an amplifier or live close to broadcast towers.
Live TV & Recordings
The picture quality for live TV looks crisp and clear, more so than Tablo units of the past. That’s because the 4th gen Tablo transcodes in real time, meaning you can see your TV channels in native MPEG-2 quality.
Recordings were a slightly different story – at least for me. I set up a few recordings on Tablo, which was very easy under the Shows tab. I recorded an episode of “Austin City Limits” off of a local PBS station.
I noticed that the picture quality of my recording was not on-par from my weekly recordings of “Austin City Limits” that I do through my HDHomeRun Extend tuner-DVR unit.
The difference isn’t something that my parents would probably notice, but it’s definitely to any enthusiast who obsesses over picture quality.
After reading an interview with Tablo’s CEO, I learned that Tablo does compress videos if you are using the internal storage for recordings. The Tablo has a 128GB flash drive, and stores recordings at 30 frames per second. If you want uncompressed recordings, you need to attach an external hard drive.
I think that’s a fair trade off.
To get the best performance, I strongly recommend connecting the 4th generation Tablo to Ethernet instead of Wi-Fi. You should consider whether you need the built-in antenna amplifier that is on by default.
The Tablo app’s homepage has a queue of recommended shows and your recordings underneath. The Live TV guide provides a grid-style lineup of your over-the-air channels. The text and sizing of the guide reads well at a distance.
Similar to past models, the Tablo app really shines when it comes to discovering what you can watch.
Under TV shows, you can do a genre-based search under either the Shows or Movie tabs. Sports has its own dedicated tab, where you will find upcoming NFL, NCAA Men’s basketball and Premier League soccer.
The difference in granular search between the old app and new one is a huge improvement. As you search, there will be new genres or terms that will pop up that help surface programming. For example, I noticed a “Blues” tab one week that showed me a documentary “Blues on Beale,” which I promptly set to record.
Granular search may be the best part of Tablo’s app, and what gives it an edge if over-the-air TV becomes more widely adopted by consumers in the years ahead.
You are limited to six streams of over-the-air channels within your home network.
There are some noticeable differences when it comes to watching live TV across different streaming devices. When I watched live TV through my Google Chromecast, I could tap the bottom of the navigation wheel and get a lineup of other live TV channels to peruse. (The same is true for Amazon Fire TV devices.)
The Tablo app with Roku and Android mobile devices currently lacks this feature, and it’s a slight pain point if you are a channel surfer like me. You have to back out into the live TV menu. HDHomeRun’s SliceView lets you watch TV and pick another channel to watch at the same time.
Roku’s app overall was noticeably slower than apps for Google TV and Amazon Fire TV devices. It also struggled to pull up live TV whenever I was switching channels at the top of the hour.
Aside from having over-the-air channels within the app, Tablo has 43 free, ad-supported channels (FAST) channels. These channels appear below your list of OTA channels in the Live tab.
FAST Channels include Scripps News, Bloomberg TV+, Outside, fubo Sports Network, The Film Detective and ion Plus.
I didn’t find anything compelling to watch in the FAST channels, but I do think there is a tremendous upside in terms of what could be offered in the future.
If the FAST channel lineup had, for example, a library as good as Pluto TV, I could see many streaming services having a hard time staying in business.
The build quality of the Tablo is solid even with a plastic case. Toward the end of this review, I accidentally dropped the Tablo while cleaning my garage. It hit a cement floor and fortunately came away undamaged. I don’t need to test durability beyond that. I don’t recommend trying to reproduce the fall.
What I Liked
The Tablo 4th OTA DVR brings watching your antenna into the 21st century. The best part of the Tablo is its granular searches under TV shows and movies. You can find a surprising amount of free programming that caters to your interests. Having a Sports hub for NFL and NCAA basketball games is smart.
Getting rid of the subscription costs for channel guide data is a good move. Being subscription free sets the new Tablo apart from competitors. It also pushes back against the subscription-heavy streaming landscape.
Tablo used to charge a $5 per month fee or lifetime subscription for its guide data and search features. (Owners of older Tablo units will eventually be switched over to the new software.)
The DVR comes across more like a streaming device that can breathe new life into any TV. Tablo debuted with support for a number of popular streaming devices and Smart TV platforms. And support is expected to extend to Apple TV and Smart TVs from Samsung and VIZIO in the near future.
- Easy to understand interface
- Granular search helps discover TV shows and movies
- Watch live TV and recordings across Smart TVs and mobile
Room for Improvement
The Tablo app for Roku doesn’t come across as refined as its counterparts on Google TV and Amazon Fire TV devices.
Being unable to watch live TV and channel surf is a setback for Roku users.
The Tablo app for Roku is sluggish even with simple tasks like selecting a channel to watch compared to the Tablo app on Google TV or Amazon Fire TV. On Android mobile, you should be able to peruse live channels while watching live TV – similar to the Slice View feature on the HDHomeRun app.
Even when the Tablo is connected to Ethernet, there can be picture stuttering depending on the device you are using to watch live TV. Customers should be able to control from the Tablo app whether the DVR connects to the 2.4GHz band or the 5GHz band for optimal streaming.
Ongoing software updates should improve a number of these issues over time. In fact, Tablo notified customers on Oct. 18 about upcoming firmware updates and how to contact customer service about any issues.
The power cord is only about 5ft long. The DVR comes with screws in case you want to mount it to a wall, but the power cord might not be long enough.
- Can’t simultaneously channel surf and watch live TV on Roku or mobile.
- Compression of picture resolution when using internal storage.
- No customizing Wi-Fi setup within Tablo app.
Ratings for Tablo 4th Generation
On a scale of 1 to 10, the Tablo 4th generation rates an 8 based on my hand-on testing and how it compares to other OTA DVRs that are at a similar price point.
|Value for money||9/10|
|Ease of use||9/10|
The greatest thing about the Tablo 4th generation (and the only thing holding it back from being near perfect) is its software.
I am assuming that the responsiveness of Tablo with Roku will get better in future software updates. Overall, the Tablo is an impressive OTA DVR and a great value at its current price.
There is no doubt that people who are already getting a decent lineup of OTA channels can benefit by adding a Tablo to the mix. Being able to search by genre reveals a library of TV shows, movies and sports that you might not find otherwise.
Performance & Value ratings
Tablo 4th generation is a good value for the money. If you already enjoy broadcast TV, you can get more out of it by being able to record shows, and use your Tablo’s search to discover more programs without a subscription.
Overall, the 4th generation Tablo can add a lot of value to anyone who uses a TV antenna for some or most of their programming. It is a good match for people who are not tech savvy or are just starting to use over-the-air TV.
As the price of live TV streaming services such as Hulu and YouTube TV increase, more cord-cutters may become antenna-first households.
I definitely recommend Tablo as a buy with the current caveats for Roku users. It’s an overall great product, and should get better with software updates. As noted earlier, firmware updates are already rolling out to a number of devices, including Roku.
If you own a legacy Tablo unit, you should wait for the firmware update to roll out before deciding whether to buy a new unit.
Where to Buy
The Tablo OTA DVR is available at TabloTV.com and BestBuy.com (MSRP is $99.95). The Tablo will be available in Best Buy stores across the United States and online at Amazon.com. The Tablo Total System, which includes an indoor TV antenna, is on sale now for $109.95 (MSRP $129.95) at TabloTV.com.
Tablo sent me a complimentary review unit to test out their DVR, but this was not a sponsorship. Tablo has no control over my review or editorial process. If you buy a Tablo through links here, I do have an affiliate relationship with Tablo. Any commission I receive helps support my work.