[Immediate Disclaimer: I work for NONE of the companies whose products are mentioned in this review, nor do I personally know anyone who does. My feedback reflects my own opinion as a consumer and mine alone.]
I have recently stopped being a cable TV customer after four decades due to stratospheric monthly bills in the hundreds of dollars and degraded video quality following a certain major cable company's inexplicable 720p downgrade and severe overcompression for most cable channels. The main replacement for cable channel viewing has been Sony PS Vue, which offers most of the channels I want at a respectable looking 60fps smooth framerate, with DVR and On Demand, for a reasonable thirty bucks a month. I subscribe to HBO for fifteen dollars a month via Amazon because they seem to have the best picture quality of the various HBO streaming options. I'm also a long time Netflix subscriber at about twelve bucks a month for 4K service.
Since none of the national streaming services have been able to offer full service for my local market, two weeks ago I bought the new Tablo Dual DVR at Best Buy to view and record local Over-The-Air (OTA) channels. The Tablo looks better than Sony Vue for the one local CBS channel they offer, and of course you can easily fast forward through commercials, which is not a given at all for On Demand on Vue.
The company generally has the right idea with this Tablo Dual OTA DVR, but it is lacking in key areas that prevent it from being a fully viable cable box replacement for local channels. However, this device is useful enough to tide one over until some company releases a higher quality OTA DVR with at least basic features that this one is missing. There are competitor boxes that perhaps might offer better quality with an HDMI output and less compression, but they lack network device viewing apps.
Indeed, the best thing I can say about the Tablo Dual is that you can stream your OTA antenna feed on any networked TV/phone/tablet/PC in the house, which is extremely convenient and at this point really a requisite product requirement. I have several Amazon Fire TV (not the stick) and Roku Ultra boxes on multiple TV's, and both wired and wireless work well for those two brands, although the Tablo app user interface for each has its strengths and weaknesses. The Amazon Fire TV has more access to the Tablo settings and better guide info, while the Roku Ultra has better picture quality due to a bit better resolution and something resembling 1080i interpolation support. I literally go back and forth between the two boxes depending on what I'm watching. For sports, especially, I think the Roku Ultra looks better and is a bit less choppy. Viewing on my Android phone is good over WiFi and is usable over cellular remotely if you have a strong signal. Note that since there is no HDMI output on the Tablo itself, you must have some other streaming device to view it on your TV. I had no need to test the Tablo’s WiFi, so I have no comment on that function. I have my Motorola Surfboard 6183 cable modem, Netgear Nighthawk X6 router, HP switch, Amazon Fire TV, and Roku Ultra all connected via Audioquest Cinnamon Ethernet to deliver better clarity of sound and picture, although the primary benefactor of the high quality Ethernet cabling is NAS music uncompressed FLAC playback to my HTPC and stereo system, which is unrelated to this discussion but does benefit the other nearby connected devices. In the primary viewing room where the Tablo is located, all A/V devices are connected to a Sony XBR-65X900A 4K 3D TV via a Yamaha RX-A3060 AVR using Audioquest Carbon HDMI cables, which make a wonderful difference in both sound and video.
Even the highest quality streaming setting at "HD 1080 - 10 Mbps, 720p@60fps" is too low for viewing on a large screen. It desperately needs 1080i interpolation for a less choppy frame rate. I would never set it to anything less than the current highest available setting as at least it gives 720p 60fps, the bare minimum starting point to be considered. I'm viewing on a 65" screen, so better resolution retention during transcoding would be greatly appreciated. It is a pain constantly to have to change the Motionflow setting on my Sony 4K TV to somewhat combat the choppy 1080i frame rate, as the Tablo device itself needs to do a much better job of being able to replace a cable box in this regard.
The transcoded audio is stereo only, so any 5.1 OTA support is lost. Recordings are overcompressed and sound even screechier with better quality audio equipment (sibilance is the worst with “sss” sounds). This quality degradation seems especially unnecessary for audio as it takes up a lot less storage/bandwidth/bitrate than video.
The start and stop times of recordings set in the guide cannot be adjusted manually. I keep missing the beginning and end of shows that do not follow an exact to-the-minute schedule, usually done on purpose by the local network affiliate channel. The manual setting of every show is a very temporary workaround, is practically tedious, and requires bypassing the paid guide service.
We need to be able to see Live guide listings a week or two in advance, not just 24 hours. Especially given that the guide is an extra paid service, this is woefully inadequate. Even my ancient cable box showed two weeks in advance. You can see about a week of listings in advance for some shows in the different category listings, but it's a long list of tiles to hunt through, and that’s with having selected only eight local channels in the initial box setup that I care about watching. Having to search manually in the search entry box is incredibly tedious and impractical to do daily, weekly, or otherwise, but it's there.
The Tablo gets almost hot enough to cook an egg on. I suppose it might be due to having it set to the highest quality available, but it really needs both better A/V quality and better cooling.
The tiny 64GB internal memory included on the device seems like mostly a marketing gimmick to let the customer preview the device before buying the obviously needed external hard drive. At full quality, the only setting worth doing, I got about 12 hours of two tennis programs recorded before the device was full and cut off the end of the second recording by about an hour. Then I bought one of the few Tablo approved external devices, a Western Digital 2TB Elements portable external hard drive, which connected and installed easily. How long this tiny little thing actually lasts with moderate use is yet to be seen.
I bought the new "Antennas Direct - ClearStream 2Max - Indoor / Outdoor HDTV Antenna" (Model C2MVJ-5) at the same time I bought the Tablo Dual DVR. Unlike those silly and somewhat useless rectangular paper/plastic antennas, this one actually works to pull in every local station in my area that I care about. I absolutely love it and highly recommend it to start with as if it works for you won't need anything better. I have it sitting in the corner of the room on the floor and didn't even have to mount it outside to get five green circles for dozens of local stations in the Tablo setup menu. The local transmission towers are about thirty miles away, so this works very well for my situation.
I read on the Tablo customer support forum about the Channel Master 4G LTE Filter improving picture quality by eliminating cell phone interference. For the twenty bucks I figured I had nothing to lose and it only took a couple days to arrive. I placed it between the Tablo and the coax antenna cable. While not a dramatic difference in my particular circumstances, I think it probably reduced some of the pixelation I had been observing, so it was easily worth it.
FWIW, I tried a TiVo OTA Roamio a few months ago and immediately returned it due to lesser tuner and picture quality. The Tablo Dual seems to me, at least, to be better in both those areas. The combination of the Tablo Dual DVR, the ClearStream 2Max antenna, and the WD 2TB Elements HDD sealed the deal.
Going from even an old cable company DVR to the Tablo can be quite a shock, with many industry standard features still missing, but hopefully they will be added in the future. I would buy another Tablo DVR in a heartbeat, even to replace this new Dual one, if these issues are resolved, but looking at the Tablo customer forum discussions, I'm concerned the company is not interested in sufficiently improving on what minimalist foundation they've built so far, and that's a real shame because they're off to a good, if very slow, start, despite having been in the cord cutting market for a number of years now.
I know that Tablo responds to their customers here, so I do sincerely hope that they take these recommendations to heart and improve on the product feature set soon. I applaud them for what they’ve accomplished to date and encourage them to finish what they started.