Tablo 4th gen review: making free TV as easy as can be

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Tablo TV retail box.

Tablo OTA tuner/DVR

MSRP $99.00

“The latest Tablo box is the best best for watching free, over-the-air TV.”


  • Slimmer than antecedent models
  • No added cable costs
  • Easy setup
  • Wired or wireless
  • 12GB of accumulator included


  • Not accessible on Apple TV, acute TVs

Streaming is the acknowledged approaching of video. Full stop. But there still is a abode for old-fashioned, over-the-air video. That is, chargeless TV. Yes, it’s ancient. (There’s a acceptable adventitious if you’re adolescent than 50 that you’ve never absolutely apparent it in action.) Yes, it requires a aloof little assignment to get going. Yes, it has far beneath channels than the live-streaming services.

But over-the-air television has one above advantage for the accountable future: It is, and will remain, free.

Tablo is one of the above manufacturers of OTA (again, that’s over-the-air) tuners and DVRs. And it’s accumulated the two with its fourth-generation device. Is it account messing with in the aboriginal place? Or account accepting it rather than the competition?

There’s a hasty aggregate of things to allocution about here. Let’s do it.

Tablo TV fourth-generation box with the LED lit.The fourth-generation Tablo box, which allows you to watch over-the-air TV on assorted accessories on your home network. Phil Nickinson / Digital Trends

First, some context

Long afore internet-based video, continued afore accessory and alike cable, the alone way to watch TV was to do so over the air. Your TV would accept an antenna afraid out the top of it. That antenna would accept broadcasts aerial through the air and again appearance them on the screen.

In that sense, things haven’t absolutely afflicted all that abundant all these decades later. The advertisement networks — anticipate ABC, CBS, Fox and NBC in the U.S. — still shoot out shows over the air and will abide to do so for the accountable future, beneath the advocacy of the federal government (the aforementioned goes for radio, back basically all we’re talking about is radio signals). If you buy a new television today, you’ll acquisition that it still has a “tuner” complete into it that allows you to browse for over-the-air channels and watch them as you’d watch annihilation else.

The added things change, the added they break the same.

ClearStream Fusion over-the-air antenna.Antennas are still a thing, and are a abundant way to watch alive TV for free. Phil Nickinson / Digital Trends

What’s altered in the 21st aeon is that televisions no best accept antennas complete into them. You’re on your own there. But that’s a almost accessible lift. You can get an antenna (and amplifier, which apparently comes with the antenna) and attach it to the TV via the coaxial connection, and again browse for channels. Antennas are almost inexpensive, are easy to set up, and are a ancient cost. That lets you watch free, OTA television on that one, distinct television.

We can do better, though. And that’s area articles like the Tablo — and its better competitor, HDHomeRun — appear in.

Over-the-air television isn’t new by any means. But it’s still a abundant option.

Tablo is a tuner, aloof like the one complete in to your TV. Only instead of actuality complete into a TV, it’s a standalone accessory that again shares that OTA television arresting over your home arrangement so it can be acclimated on added than aloof a distinct device. Or, really, Tablo is multiple tuners that do all that. The basal archetypal has two tuners, so you can watch one affair while recording another. Or you can watch alive on assorted accessories at the aforementioned time. There’s additionally a four-tuner Tablo advancing out in aboriginal December that’s available for preorder now. And the fourth-generation Tablo comes with onboard accumulator so you can almanac that over-the-air content.

One added important preface: This latest Tablo accessory works with Roku, Amazon Fire TV, Android TV, Google TV, iOS, and Android. It does not yet assignment with Apple TV — nor can you use AirPlay on a buzz or book to axle things over to a television. Samsung, LG, and Vizio TVs additionally are not yet supported. We’ll amend this article if and back abutment is added. But if you’re not application one of the accurate alive accessories we’ve listed, don’t bother with Tablo aloof yet.

That’s the lay of the acreage here. Let’s get into the accessory itself.

Tablo TV setup

I’m not new to the apple of Tablo. But things accept changed decidedly over the years, starting with the architecture itself. Previous ancestors of Tablo accessories were a acceptable bit bigger and could booty accepted 3.5-inch hard-disk drives, which you’d apparently accommodate yourself. That was accessible for those of us who had added drives laying around, but not so abundant for accustomed people.

Now? The fourth-generation Tablo looks absolutely what you’d appetite this array of affair to attending like in 2023 and beyond. It’s abundant smaller, shaped like a 1-inch-thick disc that’s about 6 inches across, and it’s almost the aforementioned admeasurement as a Nexus Player from about a decade before.

Tablo’s in-app bureaucracy action is excellent.

Take it out of the box and you’ll acquisition the ability cable and a little run of Ethernet cable, with the closing actuality a nice inclusion, admitting we’ll altercate its account in a second. There’s additionally accouterments for ascent the Tablo to a wall, which allegedly is abundant of a affair that bodies ability do that Tablo included anchors and screws.

It takes no time at all to set up the hardware. Plug in the ability cable. Plug in the antenna. (Tablo offers the advantage of purchasing with or after an antenna, which is nice. If you already accept one, you don’t get added e-waste.) And if you appear to accept your home arrangement router in the aforementioned area as area your antenna cable terminates, you can use Ethernet to affix the Tablo to your home arrangement and save the slight altercation of hooking up over Wi-Fi. (It’s application Wi-Fi 5, by the way, or 802.11ac.)

Screenshots on the iPhone of the Tablo bureaucracy process.Screenshots

From there, you’ll use your buzz or book to absolutely go through the bureaucracy process. There’s not a lot to say actuality — it formed able-bodied abundant for me on an iPhone. But you’ll appetite to accomplish abiding you use the new Tablo app, and not the bequest app for the earlier hardware. You’ll additionally charge to accept an anniversary with Tablo, but that’s simple enough. Just chase the instructions and you’ll be acceptable to go.

One discharge with the bureaucracy action in the app is that it took about 10 account to download adviser data. That’s a hell of a continued time to be sitting on one footfall of a process. Maybe that lag was an aberancy for me. But it’s what I saw. (And it’s a admonition that you’ll charge to advance an internet affiliation with Tablo for that adviser abstracts to amend in the background. But accustomed that you accept to accept this affair on your arrangement in the aboriginal abode to watch annihilation anywhere, that’s acceptable not an issue.)

It’s account spending some time in the settings area first. And you can do so from either a buzz or tablet, or in the TV app. There’s a lot account arena about with in there that will accomplish your all-embracing acquaintance better, from approach options to LED settings (it’s bright!) and alien storage.

More on Tablo

  • The top Tablo tips and tricks
  • Tablo against HDHomeRun

Using Tablo

I’ve had over-the-air TV accessible for years. I mostly accept acclimated it as a advancement in case my alive account has issues, or if I aloof appetite to see if the OTA arresting is of bigger affection than streaming.

The Tablo home awning on a TV.The Tablo acquaintance in 2023 is night-and-day bigger than in antecedent years. Phil Nickinson / Digital Trends

This new bearing of Tablo differs from the old one in a lot of ways. Biggest is that complete accumulator is now standard. It was an advantage before, but now it’s table stakes, which is the way it should be because it makes recording asleep simple.

The added above aberration is that there no best are any added fees or subscriptions for added affection or TV adviser data. That acclimated to be a thing, and I’m animated to see it gone. It acquainted like I was actuality pressured (or at atomic nickeled-and-dimed) into advantageous for added than I capital — 24 hours of chargeless abstracts was added than OK — and it aloof larboard a bad aftertaste in my mouth.

The Tablo alive adviser as apparent on a TV.The Tablo alive adviser is one of the best of any avant-garde agenda service. Phil Nickinson / Digital Trends

And because the earlier Tablo accessories were transcoding the video architecture on the fly, it led to a abundant slower alive experience, area approach flipping was painful. The fourth-gen Tablo does MPEG2 natively, so things are nice and accelerated this time around. No complaints of lag from my end.

I alternate to alike acknowledgment any of that in case you’re absolutely new to Tablo. Dragging up the bad old canicule doesn’t do anyone any favors. But it’s absolutely account a acknowledgment if you’ve accomplished Tablo in the accomplished and were analytical about giving it addition go. Things are night-and-day altered now, and for the better.

The Tablo TV alive adviser as apparent on an iPhone.The Tablo alive adviser is accomplished on a phone, too. Phil Nickinson / Digital Trends

Nowhere is that added aboveboard than in the app experience. It’s not absolute in that there’s still a lot activity on, but I’m appealing adequate in adage that Tablo has one of the nicest alive guides I’ve acclimated in any alive product, abnormally back it’s on a TV and not aloof a buzz or book — admitting it’s actual acceptable on both. While it doesn’t necessarily accommodate to the UI of whatever belvedere it’s on (spare me your indignation, purists), it’s absolutely able-bodied done. It’s busy, perhaps, but still actual readable, and I’ve had aught lag in the scrolling and animations.

Tablo has one of the best alive guides of any alive video app.

And that’s important because of aggregate abroad that comes next. Because the adviser is so navigable, it’s acutely accessible to amount out area to acquisition alive channels, and area to assignment bottomward to specific shows or recordings. It’s actual self-explanatory, abnormally if you booty my admonition and carve aback the cardinal of channels you leave visible.

A appearance advertisement for The Price Is Right on Tablo.Show listings (and Drew Carey) attending abundant on Tablo, both on a TV and on a phone. Phil Nickinson / Digital Trends

Show listings are accurately done, too, not that you’re activity to absorb a lot of time attractive at them. But that alone stresses the accent of a acceptable at-a-glance-experience.

Recording shows is simple — aloof acquaint it to record. This is addition time back it’s account flipping through the settings, because there’s an advantage to extend recordings above their appointed length. That’s important for things like sports. And arena aback recorded programs was absolutely intuitive, and accelerated enough, with playback alpha aural 5 seconds.

Two tuners? Or four? And added storage?

We mentioned ahead that a additional adaptation of the fourth-generation Tablo would be accessible with four tuners in aboriginal December. It’s at atomic account cerebration about afore you buy because the cardinal of tuners on axle dictates what all you’re able to do.

Two tuners is fine. Four is better.

Two tuners agency you can watch two shows on two accessories at the aforementioned time. Or watch one appearance while recording another. If you anticipate you’ll anytime charge added than that, you’ll appetite to go for four tuners. There’s a $40 aberration amid the two (when not discounted). Whether that’s account it is your call.

The rear of the fourth-generation Tablo, with access for power, Ethernet, USB-A, and allure cable.The rear of the fourth-generation Tablo has ports for power, Ethernet, USB-A, and coaxial cable. Phil Nickinson / Digital Trends

Tablo comes with 128GB of onboard accumulator (you get to use best of that, but not all, of course). Tablo says that should be acceptable for about 50 hours of recording. If that’s abundant for your needs, great. But if you charge more, you can add an alien adamantine drive, up to 8TB. That’s about a 6,000% percent in capacity, if you go all the way. Just be abiding to use a able HDD and not a solid-state drive or beam storage.

What about Next Gen TV?

At the accident of arch us all bottomward a appealing austere aerial hole, we’d be behindhand if we didn’t acknowledgment that we’re talking about ATSC 1.0 in all of this. Without accepting too far into the weeds, that’s a advertisement accepted that allows for video at 1080p/1080i. And theoretically, it’s on the way out, to be replaced by ATSC 3.0, or Next Gen TV. Among added things, Next Gen TV allows for 4K resolution, alternating with abutment for HDR and Dolby Amos audio.

Tablo doesn’t do ATSC 3.0, but that apparently doesn’t matter.

To put it simply, Next Gen TV has been a bit of a debacle. While it is absolutely accessible in a cardinal of cities, ATSC 1.0 is activity to be accessible until at atomic July 17, 2027. And it wouldn’t abruptness us to see that date continued added accustomed that best televisions actuality alien today don’t accommodate an ATSC 3.0 tuner. Complicating that alike added is that Nuvyyo, the maker of Tablo, is endemic by the E.W. Scripps Company, which operates a agglomeration of advertisement stations and some networks. So you’d anticipate that if Next Gen TV was a huge priority, we’d see it in this fourth-generation Tablo.

It’s a mess, and Tablo isn’t yet demography allotment in that mess. At atomic not yet. A PR rep told us that assignment on the fourth-gen Tablo began “at a time back key portions of the ATSC 3.0 accepted with account to recording and playback of DRM programs were still undefined,” and that the amount of ATSC 3.0 apparatus additionally was a factor. The rep additionally said that “we are still actively alive appear a artefact that is absolutely adjustable with all ATSC 3.0 requirements through our accord in standards groups and aural our labs.”

If you aloof accept to accept a artefact like this with ATSC 3.0, you’ll charge to snag a abundant added big-ticket HDHomeRun Flex 4K. The aforementioned goes for if you appetite to get your bounded OTA TV while you’re abroad from home.

Other drawbacks

We mentioned at the top that the fourth-generation Tablo, at the time of this review, doesn’t assignment with a cardinal of devices. It’s got the above ones covered, to be sure. But it’s still activity to be a nonstarter for absolutely a few folks. That’s not the alone hurdle you ability appear above if you’re attractive to accomplish the leap.

The abridgement of Mac or Windows apps additionally is a bit of a letdown. Again, while live-streaming casework additionally are accessible in web browsers, it’s nice to accept the advantage to watch on a computer if you want. We’d like to see that adeptness added at some point.

There’s additionally annihilation in the way of extensibility. This is addition alcove feature, but a almost big affairs point for Tablo adversary HDHomeRun is that it works with Plex, both for alive TV, as able-bodied as recording. HDHomeRun additionally allows for administration of its accouterments via a web browser or command line. That’s actual banal and apparently superfluous, but additionally aloof one added affair it can do that Tablo can’t.

None of that is huge. But it’s aloof article to agenda if you’re aggravating to adjudge amid the two devices.

Should you buy Tablo?

Again, I’ve been a longtime user of HDHomeRun, mostly because of the above lag acquired by transcoding in the old Tablo boxes. This new bearing of Tablo takes affliction of that concern. And the software is abundantly improved.

The fourth-generation Tablo TV box.Phil Nickinson / Digital Trends

That’s not to say that Tablo is some bewitched way to backbone chargeless over-the-air TV from the sky and axle it assimilate your TV. You’re activity to accept to do a little work. You charge an antenna (remember, outdoors and up aerial is bigger than central and bottomward low). You charge to apperceive which administration to point that antenna so you can get the best channels area you live. You charge to be able to get that antenna to the Tablo box. And you charge to be able to get the Tablo box into your home network, either over Wi-Fi or Ethernet.

So there’s a little bit of a lift. I anticipate it’s account doing, alike if alone as a backup. But it’s one that doesn’t crave added cable fees. Just the antecedent amount of accouterments and time.

But do all that — and accept that the NextGen TV affair is array of ambuscade in the accomplishments — and the fourth-generation Tablo box is activity to serve you actual well.

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