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An alternative for cordcutters?: A review of Nuvyyo’s Tablo

Nuvyo recently landed its Tablo OTA DVR app on Apple TV, opening up the option for cord-cutters looking to stream local broadcast content on the big screen. We've got the crucial details in this video from CE Week 2106

The appeal of that extra cash -- while keeping access to live news, sports, entertainment and other options available with TV subscriptions – is what Ottawa-based technology company Nuvyyo is hoping will push more Canadians to cut the cord and plug in a Tablo.

“Compared to a traditional platform, like cable or satellite, Tablo provides access to the majority of the content people pay Rogers or Bell … without the cost or the contract, and with a much more user-friendly interface,” Laura Slater, a spokesperson for Nuvyyo told Yahoo Finance Canada by email. 

A CRTC report released earlier this summer found that the average Canadian TV subcribers’ monthly bill was $66.08 in 2015, up from $65.25 the year prior.

This jump in prices helped the industry offset the loss of nearly 160,000 subscribers who cut the cord in 2015.

And that’s where Tablo comes in. As more consumers cancel their TV subscriptions, they turn to streaming services such as Netflix, Hulu, Shomi or CraveTV, but Nuvyyo is hoping to fill the void felt by users who still want to watch and record live programming.

“Tablo (is) the app for live and recorded TV on your device of choice, just like Netflix is the app for movies and previously aired TV series,” Slater suggested

The matte-black box streams live and recorded TV programming to an assortment of devices in your home, as many as six at a time, through your home network via WiFi or Ethernet cable.

The technology uses an HDTV antenna, which needs to be purchased separately, to get you access to these channels.

In addition, Tablo has a digital video recorder that lets you capture and save content so you can watch it later. The base model has dual-tuner functionality, which means you can record two programs simultaneously, or watch one show and record another, and a beefed-up version with four tuners. 

But enough background, let’s get to the good stuff.

Pros

Setting up and using Tablo was very easy.

All it took was plugging in antenna into the box, hooking it up to the router with an Ethernet cable for the setup and then connecting with my laptop or phone via WiFi. 

And getting access to Tablo’s content wasn’t any more difficult. I downloaded the free app to my Nexus 6 and I was able to use it on my laptop with Tablo’s web app. Tablo is also accessible through iOs and Android devices, Roku boxes, Apple TV, Chromecast, Android TV and Amazon Fire TV.

Both versions had an intuitive and easy-to-use interface that is broken down into straightforward categories such as live TV, primetime, TV shows, movies, sports and recordings. Under these headings, there were show listings with descriptions that are in line with what is offered with digital TV boxes. 

A screenshot of Tablo's Live TV menu. 

One of the biggest attractions is that image quality is fantastic. I got to catch some of the Olympics via CBC and the picture was crystal clear.

It was also super simple to record shows, which you can do just by clicking on a listing.

And these recordings look fantastic when done on the highest setting, 1080p, and stream beautifully from the devices.

As an ardent fan of the “The Daily Show,” who would watch on the Comedy Network’s website the next day, it was great to clearly see Trevor Noah rather the pixelated one I previously saw on streams, and who was frequently interrupted as it buffered.

Tablo also allows you to schedule your recordings, so you can don’t miss next weeks episode and it doesn’t save duplicates.

Previously, the device had issues allotting extra time to record sports that exceeded their time slot, but Slater said this ability has been added and now recording times for sports and other live events are given space for up to an additional two hours.

Cons 

Everything Tablo promises to do for its users it does well, but it does have some flaws that hold it back.

One major drawback is that the Tablo platform is not directly integrated with streaming services such as Netflix or Hulu. To get them all in one place would require a device like Roku, which can access Tablo as well.

This just adds another piece of equipment to fully replace the simplicity of a TV subscription.

However, Slater expressed that Tablo doesn’t see devices such as Roku as competitors, and believes the devices that can connect to its network -- such as laptops, tablets and smartphones -- already give users ability to stream content. 

Another issue is that while Tablo’s network-based set-up gives it the flexibility to connect to various devices throughout a home, it could be trickier for some users who were hoping to connect directly to their TVs as it doesn’t have an HDMI port.

That could force less tech savvy customers, who may have only access to a desktop, to purchase a new device. 

This is one of the several added costs that Tablo customers may be forced to endure.

Tablo initially comes with a free 30-day trial of its guide data subscription, which provides the cover art, synopses and metadata for its apps. 

After that, it comes with the relatively inexpensive price tag of $5.99 a month or $59.99 a year. 

Another cost is the antenna itself, which can also make a huge difference in the programming available on your Tablo.

Antennas can range from under $20 to more than $200 for something that can be mounted outside your home in all weather conditions.

I personally picked up a $20 indoor antenna, and I could pick up 11 channels from my home in downtown Toronto.

According to TVFool.com, I could pick up an additional four channels with the help of an attic-mounted antenna.

A further 9 channels could be available if I had one mounted on the roof. 

But in my case, what I could watch was very limited, not much worth tuning in for beyond CTV, CBC, CITY TV and TVO, and most of their news and programming is available free online. 

This limits the technology’s appeal for me personally, as the only type of content that is truly not available to me online or via streaming is sports. 

While the Olympics were lined up with the time of my review and I was able to watch as CBC was the official broadcaster in Canada, other speciality stations such as Sportsnet and TSN, which carry most major sporting events, aren’t available via antenna.

As a massive sports fan, Tablo would not be able to cut down on added costs for NBA League Pass or NHL Gamecentre Live.

Tablo also doesn’t have any internal storage, so recording requires you to plug in your own external hard drive, which could rack you up even further costs.

On top of that, the base device itself retails for about $279.99, while the upgraded versions with four tuners costs $379.99.

Tablo said it doesn’t include the antenna or a hard drive to give customers the flexibility to use their own, and in the case of the antenna, to buy one that is best suited their home.

Verdict

Tablo does everything it promises to do well. Is it the most cost efficient or best cord cutting solution on the market? No. 

However, as Slater emphasized, the company’s target customer is between their 30s and 50s and is actively looking for alternatives to traditional TV subscription. 

And Tablo could provide a good way for this demographic to dip their toes into a cable or satellite free home.

It offers an easy transition for users to a different technology without drastically changing TV watching habits.

For me, Tablo was a great way to record shows in high quality and skip over commercials, rather wait for streams to buffer and, in the end, watch them in lower quality.

But without integration with my other streaming services, switching between Tablo and Netflix, for example, seemed like a chore.

And getting a device for hundreds of dollars, as well as all of the other add-ons, in exchange for a handful of channels, depending on your antenna, seems unnecessary. 

Overall, Tablo has many of the right ingredients, but the finished product still leaves you wanting more.