Review: Nuvyyo Tablo Over-the-Air Television DVR
With the development of the Apple TV and similar devices alongside streaming services like Netflix and Hulu, more users than ever are looking to ditch traditional cable subscriptions and access their content through online services. Unfortunately, a need to access things like news, sports, and local content will still be a barrier for many users who haven't quite cut the cord yet. Although you can connect an over-the-air (OTA) antenna directly to your TV, it lacks some of the integrated features like guides that modern cable boxes provide, not to mention the ability to record shows without resorting to a third-party DVR. Fortunately, a new breed of devices such as Nuvyyo's new Tablo ($199-$299) are filling this gap, bringing the last missing piece of the television experience to the Apple TV and iOS devices. This network streaming box connects to an OTA antenna to capture any local broadcast channels that are available, streaming them to your Apple TV, iPhone, iPad, or iPod touch, providing features like a TV guide service and DVR recording all integrated within companion tvOS and iOS apps.
Tablo comes in two versions — a dual-tuner version sells for $199, while a four-tuner model can be had for $299. Other than the number of tuners, which affects the number of programs that can be watched and recorded simultaneously, both models operate in the same way and provide the same core features. The unit comes with a power adapter and Ethernet cable; you’ll need to supply your own OTA antenna if you don’t already have one, as well as your own external USB hard drive should you wish to use the Tablo as a DVR. While Tablo can be used without an external hard drive to stream live TV to your Apple TV or iOS devices, DVR features like recording programs and pausing live TV will be unavailable. It’s worth mentioning that Tablo also supports non-Apple devices such as Roku, Chromecast, FireTV, and Android TV, and you can even mix and match devices, but we’ll of course be focusing on the Apple TV and iOS support.
Setting up Tablo is a matter of connecting it to your OTA antenna and then either hooking it up to your router via the included Ethernet cable or using your iPhone or iPad to set it up on your Wi-Fi network. One of the great things about Tablo is that because it streams to your Apple TV via your home network, you can actually place the unit anywhere in your home that’s most convenient for access to your OTA antenna — it doesn’t have to be anywhere near your television set, and you can also stream to more than one Apple TV. The Wi-Fi setup procedure on the iPhone/iPad works much the same as other devices we’ve seen — the Tablo will broadcast its own Wi-Fi network and you’ll be prompted to connect to it via the iOS Settings app to continue configuration, at which point you can specify your home Wi-Fi network and continue the setup process.
Once the Tablo is connected to your network, the app will ask for your location and then begin scanning for available channels, providing you with some details about each, including broadcast resolution and signal strength. Once the scan completes, all recommended channels will be pre-selected based on signal strength, but you can choose to select or deselect from there to customize your channel lineup. After you’ve accepted the channel lineup, the Tablo app will ask you to wait while it downloads the first day of TV guide data to get you started; the remaining guide data will be downloaded in the background once Tablo is up and running. Note that continued access to TV guide data requires an ongoing subscription — Nuvyyo gives you 30 days for free, after which you’ll need to subscribe for $5/month, or $50/year. Nuvyyo also sells a lifetime subscription option for $150, although obviously you’d have to be pretty sure you’re going to stay with Tablo for more than three years for this to be a cost-effective option. Tablo can still be used without access to guide data, but you’ll be limited to scheduling recordings manually. As far as we’re concerned, you’ll want to get a guide subscription, but the recurring cost is still considerably less than a cable, Netflix, or Hulu subscription.
While Nuvyyo provides both an Apple TV and an iPhone/iPad app, the Apple TV app is limited to a more basic set of viewing and DVR features, so you’ll still need to turn to your iPhone or iPad if you want to adjust Tablo settings, schedule manual recordings, or perform advanced browsing through guide content. That said, the Apple TV is still quite functional, letting you browse through the TV guide grid, complete with show descriptions, watch live TV, schedule programs for recording from the guide, and browse and watch recorded content. Some advanced features are also available via the Apple TV app, such as scheduling recurring recordings of a given TV series, deleting recorded content, and marking recordings as “protected” so that they’re not automatically deleted (if you’ve configured the Tablo to do so).
For those in the Apple ecosystem, it’s the Apple TV app that really makes the Tablo a valuable device for cord-cutters in our opinion, as you basically get access to any locally available OTA channels integrated right into the Apple TV. When viewing live or recorded TV, the Tablo app provides the same interface as other Apple TV apps, and you can use the Siri Remote to pause and rewind live TV, issue Siri commands like “Skip ahead 30 seconds” or — assuming closed captioning is available for the program and channel you’re viewing — commands like “What did he say?” The standard pull-down menu is also available, including the standard audio and subtitle/captioning settings. All in all, it’s a very nicely integrated interface, and if you’re already spending most of your time on your Apple TV, you’ll definitely appreciate the additional window into OTA content (for our part, we haven’t switched away from the Apple TV input on our television in months, and the Siri Remote is now the only remote we use).
That said, the value of the iOS app can’t be understated. Not only does it provide advanced guide browsing features — such as the ability to view content by categories such as Movies, Prime Time, or Sports, but it also allows you to stream content from your Tablo wherever you happen to be. Depending on your router, some simple configuration steps may be required to enable this feature, but both the Tablo app and Nuvyyo’s online support documents do a great job of walking you through setting this up. Once configured, you can fire up the Tablo app when traveling away from home to access all of your guide data, schedule and manage recordings, and watch both live and recorded shows. How well this works will depend largely on the speed of your home Internet connection, but Tablo offers a few different remote streaming settings to optimize bandwidth.
What you’ll get out of the Tablo also naturally depends on having good OTA channel coverage and the quality of the OTA antenna you’re using. In Toronto, a basic $100 indoor amplified HD antenna was able to bring in all of the local Toronto channels with no issues, along with a weak signal from Buffalo and Rochester on the other side of Lake Ontario. Those signals weren’t strong enough to be usable, but they were enough to convince us that investing in a better outdoor antenna would have brought those in easily, giving us access to pretty much everything we’d want from a $50 “basic” cable subscription.
Similarly, you’ll need to add your own USB hard drive to the mix if you want DVR features (and we’d definitely recommend doing so), but there are a lot of hard drive options out there, and how big you need to go will depend on how much you want to record and what quality you want to store recordings at (Tablo provides several options in this regard). If you’re simply time-shifting a few programs, you won’t need to go that big — 60 hours of recording at the recommended 720p 5Mbps setting consumed around 140GB of space on the 1TB drive we connected, or about 2.4GB per hour of recorded content. So even with the maximum quality setting (1080 HD 10Mbps), you should be able to get about 200 hours of recorded content on a 1TB drive. For advanced users, there are also semi-supported ways to extract recorded programs from the Tablo and save them elsewhere, and a few community-built apps that help to streamline this process.
There’s still some room for Tablo to expand — right off the top of our head, it would be nice to see improvements to the Apple TV app, such as support for viewing and managing recordings and recording back to the beginning of a show that you’ve already started watching live. But all in all, we’re quite impressed with what Nuvyyo has done with Tablo. It’s already become an indispensable part of our home entertainment system, allowing us to watch things like the Rio Olympics that wouldn’t have been as easily available on the big screen through other sources, and all without having to leave the Apple TV interface that has become our “home base” for everything else. While it’s obviously an upfront investment, if you’re considering cutting the cord, the cost of the Tablo hardware and guide subscription will easily pay for itself in the long run.