Reviewed in the United States on January 27, 2020
I have now had the Tablo Quad installed for just over one month and couldn't be happier. It works flawlessly in all respects. Read my initial review below to see what I did to avoid all the issues.
When I bought the Tablo Quad in Jan 2020 and after reading some of the poor reviews, I was a little leery of whether it could be setup without a bunch of problems and calls to Tablo's tech support, and also leery of how well it would perform once I got it running. On Amazon, it had a 3.7 star customer review rating with 526 reviews as of Jan 27th, 2020 when I initially wrote this review. I really can't understand why this product doesn't have a higher rating of at least 4 to 4.5 stars because it deserves it. Surprisingly, I didn't have to make any calls to Tablo regarding problems with installation or operation of the device. However, there are some caveats to my installation that some readers might be interested in. I think these will help some to avoid a lot of the headaches that has caused them to be frustrated and give a poor review.
First, I called Tablo tech support twice BEFORE I purchased the device. Their tech staff is very helpful and answered all my questions to my satisfaction. This allowed me to hit the ground running when the unit arrived from Amazon. I will say that they are probably a little understaffed because unless you call in right when they open at 9:30 am (EST), you will be placed in a lengthy que and will be on hold for anywhere between 10 to 45 minutes before getting a warm body to talk to. I ended up talking to the same person on my two calls which were several days apart. This tells me (and I could be wrong) they probably only have a couple of people answering the phone lines.
Second, because this unit MUST operate over a router network (no HDMI connection to any TVs), I decided to hard wire all connections to my router with Ethernet cables rather than use WiFi connections. I think this avoids a lot of issues especially when there is WiFi congestion going on in and around your house. And, when you consider all the brands and models of network routers that are out there, some routers are definitely a little more touchy than others, and some aren’t designed to handle as much bandwidth as others. I am using a three year old Netgear Nighthawk 7500 router (which use to be their top-of-the-line, high-bandwidth gaming router when I bought it). This router is certainly not the easiest to make it play nicely with some 3rd-party devices in many home networks. But to alleviate potential problems, I did updated the router’s firmware to the latest from Netgear before I started installing the Tablo Quad. But If you don’t have a decent router to begin with, this could present problems if you plan on connecting multiple TVs and viewing multiple programs simultaneously. If you just have one TV and will never be viewing more than one program at a time, AND you don’t have a lot of other devices such as smartphones, smart TVs, tablets, computers, gaming consoles, appliances, etc. connected to the router, then it may not be as critical to have a better router with higher bandwidth capabilities.
Third, if you are just now cutting the cord to your cable or satellite (like I am), I recommend that you NOT try do everything at once. That is, don’t try to connect your new outside antenna to your new Tablo, your router, and your new internet streaming device all in one big effort. I promise you, that will only complicate things and you will be on the phone with tech support and very frustrated. Do it systematically, piece-meal: Get your outside antenna going first with it connected directly to your TV. Have your TV scan for OTA channels first and take note of how many channels you get. I live in a rural area and I am using an amplified directional antenna because I am about 40-45 miles from the broadcast towers. I get anywhere from 20 to 24 channels depending on if I rotate the antenna a little more in one direction or the other. I chose not to purchase a remote-controlled, outdoor antenna rotator because, for the money and extra headache of messing with that feature every time you want to go from one group of towers to another, it was not worth the trouble for my preferences. But once you get your reception of OTA channels nailed down solid through your TV only, then you can disconnect the antenna from the TV and go ahead and connect it to the Tablo Quad, but don’t power up the Tablo just yet.
The Tablo Quad must be controlled with a streaming device such as a Roku, Firestick, nVidia Shield, X-Box, Android based device, or Apple based device. I suggest connecting your streaming device to your router first and get that set up to work properly with your TV BEFORE connecting the Tablo Quad to your router. Also wait before installing the Tablo App on the streaming device until later which I will discuss shortly. Once your streaming device is operating satisfactorily and all its functions are operating normally with no issues (maybe try it out for a day or two to familiarize yourself with it if you are not already), then you can connect the Tablo Quad to the router. And before I go on with the installation of the system, let me share something about the storage option on the Tablo Quad for recording OTA programming.
I was very pleased with the fact that I was able to take an existing 6TB, 3.5-inch, SATA hard drive that I had laying around and use it for recording OTA programs from the Tablo Quad. My hard drive is not an external unit that would normally plug into the USB port on the Tablo. It is an internal SATA drive I pulled out of a two-year old CCTV DVR. To make the hard drive work, I had to buy a $5 SATA extender cable (see my attached image) from Amazon which you can find here: (https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B00NURHUSU/ref=ppx_yo_dt_b_asin_title_o00_s00?ie=UTF8&psc=1). The Tablo Quad drive compartment is designed for a 2.5-inch drive which is substantially smaller than a 3.5-inch drive. A 3.5-inch drive will not fit in the Tablo Quad drive compartment. But if you have one, or come across one that is rated at 7200 rpm and is relatively cheap, you can still use it with the Tablo Quad if you get the extension cable that I mentioned and pictured below.
I would definitely think twice before using an internal 2.5-inch drive because a number of users are reporting over-heating problems when a drive is placed inside the small drive compartment on the Tablo Quad. The Quad puts out a significant amount of heat on its own, and when that heat is combined with the heat from a hard drive placed inside the small drive compartment, temperatures will rise fairly quickly. Then, when program recording occurs which causes the hard drive to generate even more heat, the excessive heat may result in drive failure, Tablo failure or both. I don’t think the Tablo engineers designed the drive compartment properly. They should have done more R&D on potential heat issues. I avoided the whole heat issue by dumb luck because I my 3.5-inch drive wouldn’t fit in the drive compartment of the Tablo unit. I used the SATA extender cable mentioned above and put the drive on the shelf behind the Tablo where it could dissipate heat better in the open air.
The instructions for the Tablo Quad state that it will accept an internal drive up to 4TB, and external drives that are connected to the USB port up to 8TB. The capacity limitation for the internal drive is not actually true as stated in the setup guide. The Tablo tech support staff mentioned that drives larger than 4TB should work fine if connected to the internal SATA port on the Tablo Quad. My 6TB drive was immediately recognized by the Tablo Quad and worked fine. Incidentally, don’t waste your money on an SSD drive because the higher cost per TB (4 times the cost) will generally not be justified by most people since the Tablo does not need the speed of an SSD to record OTA programs. My solution was a Seagate 7200 rpm Baracuda SATA drive which is extremely cost effective, fairly fast, and works flawlessly with the Tablo Quad. The SATA extender cable allows the drive to reside outside the Tablo Quad, and thus avoid over-heating issues. I placed four mounting screws in the bottom screw holes of the drive to slightly prop it up off the shelf that the drive sits on right behind where I have the Tablo Quad situated. The drive is just in the open, but out of sight so that my viewing area doesn’t look all cluttered. There is no remote control for the Tablo which allows me to hide it away on the shelf which is not visible in the room.
I mentioned that an SSD storage drive is not needed nor cost justifiable in my opinion just for the extremely fast speed it provides. But there are some other potential issues you may need to be aware of when selecting your storage drive. One recent reviewer ended up giving the Tablo Quad a 2 star review related to what I am about to say. He said he was generally happy with the Tablo unit but the deal breaker for him was due to his own experience with long delays of about 12-seconds every time he changed channels. He stated (and I agree) that this was due to “video buffering” which is the time it takes for the Tablo Quad to store a history of the video data prior to actually displaying the program on your TV. Buffering helps to eliminate image jittering and improves image stability during playback. I timed my Tablo Quad and after numerous channel flips, the buffering was never more than 8 seconds and sometimes as little as 2 seconds. My quicker response time compared to the other reviewer isn’t due to me having a blazing fast internet speed. No, I am still living in the dark ages with only 8-10 mbits/sec download speed from my DSL connection. That’s like 10-year old technology, but for now it’s the only thing offered in my rural area other than satellite internet. However, I don’t like satellite internet at all, and I don’t think satellite internet would work well with any DVR recording products due to data quota limitations that fill up quick with program recordings being done on a regular basis.
But let’s say you have a 5400 rpm external hard drive that only operates at USB Ver. 2 speeds and is connected through the Tablo’s USB port. That is going to be substantually slower than a 7200 rpm drive connected to the SATA port, and I think therein might be the other reviewer’s problem that resulted in longer wait times when the channel is changed. But also, if he is using a router that wasn’t specifically designed for high traffic such as a gaming router (mine was specifically designed for high traffic gaming), and if he has multiple devices fighting for bandwidth on his router, that could also slow the time it takes to buffer the video. But, I can see how a “channel surfer” might even be unhappy with 2 to 8 seconds of “buffering time” every time they change from one channel to another. Compared to cable and satellite boxes which are pretty much instantaneous, it may take some people a bit of getting used to. For me, I’m not unhappy with the 2 to 8 seconds of delay when changing channels.
(NOTE to Tablo firmware developers: Please consider allowing users to configure the settings in the Tablo to be either with or without buffering and explain the drawbacks if no buffering is selected. Also, please consider allowing the remote control to immediately change the channel instead of bringing up the channel list and making the user scroll up or down. The extra step is unnecessary if the user is just wanting to move up one channel or down one channel. If the user wants the channel guide list, pressing the “back” button or some other button would suffice rather than always making it a two-step process to go up or down one channel. I am using a Roku Ultra 2019 model, so I’m not sure if it works better with other streaming devices.) …and now, back to my review.
A VERY IMPORTANT THING to remember about the Tablo Quad, YOU MUST initially set it up with a computer (Ethernet connection preferred) or Tablet that are connected to the internet through your router. Things seem to work more smoothly when everything is connected to the internet through the same router so they can properly talk to each other. I don’t recommend a smartphone because the screen is too small and you may experience a screen hang during the registration of your Tablo Quad. Also, I don’t recommend using a cellular internet connection if using a tablet; use the same router your other devices are using to connect to each other and to the internet. I connected my laptop and the Tablo Quad with Ethernet cables and it zipped right through the Tablo’s setup process. The Tablo setup will format the hard drive, re-scan the OTA antenna channel reception, and download the OTA programming from the internet. Then you can disconnect your computer or tablet if you like. After the Tablo Quad scans for channel reception during setup, the results should match exactly with what you were getting when the antenna was connected directly to your TV. If not, check your antenna to see if it shifted and scan again.
Next, install the Tablo App on your streaming device which is connected to the same router as everything else. The Tablo App will then search for your Tablo Quad. Once found, the OTA channels and programming will be visible in the Tablo App of your streaming device. I was able to get my new outdoor antenna installed in about a day, and then a Roku streaming device in about an hour and a half, and then marry those up to the Tablo Quad in about 2 hours. There were no hiccups or surprises and everything works great… for now that is. I’ll be keeping a close eye on our system for a while to make sure nothing goes kaput.
I strongly believe doing all the installations piece-meal like I have described above will insure that the antenna is working right on its own, and the streaming device is working right on its own. THEN the Tablo Quad will have a much better chance of being setup without a hitch. Otherwise, you may be biting off too much to swallow all at once.
I have already scheduled, recorded, and subsequently watched OTA programming and the quality was great and the ease of access was satisfactory. I changed the default settings of recordings and playback to a higher resolution of 1080, which is not the highest but higher than the default setting. Although this uses higher router bandwidth it hasn’t been affected by my slow DSL speed because the internet does not play a significant role in the Tablo’s recording of programming or subsequent playback (remember the video is coming OTA, not the internet). However, if you turn on the “skip commercials” feature, then your internet upload speed will definitely be a factor because recorded programming gets uploaded over the internet for processing the “commercial skip” feature. Tablo recommends a minimum upload speed of 3 mbits/sec, which is much higher than the internet speeds offered in my area.
I am impressed with the fact that you can simultaneously record 4 different programs that are airing at the same time and in addition to that, users can view 2 more recorded programs simultaneously on two different TVs while the other 4 programs are being recorded. That’s a total of 6 simultaneous connections (4 live channels being recorded while 2 other previously recorded programs are being viewed). Or, you can have 4 different TVs viewing 4 different live programs.
The user interface and functions of the Tablo Quad may not be quite as slick and polished as satellite or cable boxes, but then again, look at all the money that you can save. I’m not talking about a few hundred dollars but closer to a thousand per year after the first year. All the hardware that you may need to purchase initially to cut the cord (about $300 to $700 depending on what you may already have) will make your first year savings less, but the savings will be all the more in the second year and thereafter. All in all, my wife and I are pretty excited with what’s out there to watch without paying an arm and a leg and without getting a bunch of pork barrel programming you will never watch but pay for with the satellite and cable companies. That being said, I would advise not to let yourself get sucked back in to the subscription prices that are being asked on streaming device for services such as Sling, Vodo, YouTube, AppleTV and others. It all adds up quickly and you may find that you haven’t saved that much after you’ve cut the cord. But I think Hulu’s $6 per month plan for on-demand programming is an excellent choice combined with OTA programming and Amazon Prime Video (which I’ve already had for years). In a few months, I plan on updating this review after I’ve put more miles on this system, and have actually shipped the satellite receiver back. But for now, I’m very pleased with the leap we’re taking by cutting the cord.