Tag Archives: Tablo TV

TabloTV Update

A couple of years ago, I wrote about Tablo TV, an off-air DVR product. Since then, TabloTV continues to improve with an Apple TV 4 App in the works (real soon now). TabloTV made firmware updates to support the app but the app is still awaiting release.

Plex

Plex is a OS independent media server that runs on Linux, MacOS, and Windows. The server component is free with the clients a la carte. There is also a subscription option that enables watching content away from home.

Plex has plugins that allow Plex to present foreign content such as Tablo TV recordings and live TV. I’ve started using Plex to watch the evening news and recorded content. The Plex Tablo plugin has a much nicer interface for viewing content than that in the iPad app. The plugin is unable to manage schedules or recordings but it allows AppleTV 4 to play content without AirPlay from an iPad. My iPad is free for ill-behaved apps like Facebook (network hog).

Recommendations

All of this stuff works well enough that I’ve been using Plex for most of my audio and video playback. The Plex Media Server is mature, the Plex ATV plugin is mature, and the iPad client is mature.

Once the TabloTV AppleTV client becomes available, it should be possible to manage recordings and schedules directly from AppleTV. Until then, the Plex TabloTV server plugin will fill the bill.

Tablo TV One Month On

Back in June I took a flyer on brand shiny new gadget TabloTV. TabloTV had been on the market all of two months so there was little more than press releases at the time. To fill a void, I wrote about how one went about setting up and using TabloTV.

Where is Tablo Now?

Tablo is still ensconced in my media cabinet next to his friend AppleTV. Earlier this week (July 7), a firmware update shipped. My normal process with firmware updates is to start them right before turning in. This time, I decided to apply the update between programs. It went smoothly. This update added some nice things.

  • Parsimonious record new episodes logic
  • Record by time and channel
  • Support for program guide subscription

Tablo is a work in progress. The firmware that shipped in April provided a usable but partially complete DVR functionality that could not record by time and station and would greedily record new episodes (the guide would mark all airings of this week’s new Nova as new). The new front end and back end changes fixed this issue. Now, only the prime time airing is marked new. Tablo no longer records the late night showing and the next day showings on 15-2. Now I can pick series record all new episodes knowing Tablo is not going to eat the disk.

Tablo Disk Management

Tablo logic for disk space management is still in development but should be coming later this year. Until that time, delete programs after the household is finished with them. No TiVO like logic to garbage collect the file system of old watched episodes as disk space is needed.

Tablo Program Guide Subscriptions Coming

The folks at Tablo are not charging for the program guide currently because they are still working on functional issues and back end subscription management support. The latest firmware does check subscriptions. Until the store and front end features are ready, all owners are treated as subscribers. Eventually, free things will come to an end but not without adequate warning to subscribe to the guide.

Tablo TV Arrives

I placed my order for a 2 tuner Tablo TV on Sunday afternoon. On Monday, Tablo shipped my unit by USPS from upstate New York. It arrived in Wednesday’s post. While waiting for my Tablo TV to arrive, I did some reading and selected a LaCie Porsche Design portable USB 2/3 disk.

References

  1. http://www.tablotv.com
  2. http://www.lacie.com

What you need

To make a complete Tablo TV installation requires the following.

  • ATSC HD TV antenna, preferably external.
  • Tablo TV
  • Tablo TV iPad or Android app
  • External USB 2/3 disk drive
  • Local WiFi network for iPad/Android
  • Local WiFi network or Ethernet for Tablo TV
  • Internet access to Tablo to acquire the program guide

Choosing a Disk

DVR service is a moderately aggressive use of a disk drive. The DVR can spend 2 to 3 hours per day recording material and a similar amount of time playing back material. This duty cycle is more aggressive than the typical laptop/desktop duty cycle but less so than a corporate application server. It was with a little fear and trembling that I went looking for a disk to use with Tablo TV.

After some poking around on the InterWebs, I settled on a 1 TB LaCie USB 2/3 portable disk. These are the ones in the pretty package and are “compatible with Time Machine.” I’m hoping that LaCie chose wisely from Seagate and WD’s offerings and picked a disk that is suitable for several hours of continuous activity per day. Only one way to find out, have a smoke test.

Unboxing and Installation

Tablo double boxed Tablo TV for shipping. The inner box was typical of recent Apple or Nest packaging, simple graphics and thoughtful design to protect the product during handling at retail. The inner box was sized to be a snug fit in the outer shipping box so little dunnage was required. The package contained the following.

  • Switching power supply
  • Tablo TV
  • Ethernet cable
  • Quick start sheet
  • 2 weeks trial use of the program guide

Cabling up is simple.

  • Connect the antenna
  • Connect the disk
  • Connect the Ethernet
  • Connect the power supply
  • Plug in the power supply

The unit powers up as indicated by a blue flashing light. The light flashes at different rates during self test, program loading, OS initialization, and application initialization. Once ready, the light is solid. The behavior is similar to that of Ooma Telo so it may be a Linux thing.

Settling In

The next step is to install the partner Tablo TV application on your favorite mobile controller, for me, an iPad. Once you have a blue light, start the Tablo App and select the option Connect to TabloTV. If not previously initialized, this will be the only choice available.

If your Tablo TV is on the wired network, the application will find it without fuss. If using WiFi, the connection process is a bit more complex and is similar to that for Belkin WeMo devices. The Tablo TV will advertise its own network. You divorce from your home network, connect to the Tablo network, and do the initial configuration dialogs to set the SSID and password. Then Tablo joins your home network and you have your iPad rejoin.

Once found, the Tablo App will guide you through channel identification, program guide loading, and disk formatting. Tablo TV will reformat your external disk which will take some time. Plan on this part of the process taking 30 minutes or so.

Will Power!

Resist the temptation to watch live TV on the first day. Tablo needs some time to complete disk formatting. Once the program guide is aboard, you can schedule recordings but give time to have the disk ready and a day to settle down. That said, I was able to schedule recordings about 30 minutes after I began installation and made my first recording at 8 PM, five hours after installation started.

Using the Tablo App

The remarks that follow apply to the iPad Tablo App. I expect the Android app will be very similar.

A menu button appears in the upper left corner of the display. Tapping the menu button opens a side bar menu. From this you can choose the following.

  • Live TV
  • TV Shows
  • Movies
  • Sports
  • Scheduled
  • Recordings
  • Settings

Use the Live TV menu to view a channel/time matrix of what is now airing or about to air. From this, you can select a channel to watch by tapping the channel label in the left column. This will open a player window that you can use to play live TV on the device. On iPad, this view includes an AirPlay widget that allows you to direct playback to any AirPlay server on the local network. Think Apple TV or a Mac running Mountain Lion or Mavericks.

TV Shows, Movies, and Sports allow you to see the scheduled programs in these genres. Selecting TV Shows will show you a listing of each series or single episode show. Selecting Sports will show tiles for the major north American sports genres. Tapping a tile shows a list of available programs that can be recorded. Tapping a REC button picks that episode for recording. If the show is part of a series, the upper part of the pane while have a series record button. Activating series recording presents the choice to record all episodes or new episodes.

TV Shows Organization

Selecting Tablo TV’s TV Shows menu item opens a matrix showing tiles for each series or unique program appearing in the program guide data. At the top of the matrix, a tool bar lets you filter the view to show all shows, series with new episodes or new shows, series that are premiering, or shows by genre. This last button opens a genre side bar. The side bar has categories for news, talk, educational, children, consumer, reality, religious, animated, sitcom, crime drama, comedy, drama, etc. This list is sorted by number of entries in the category. A program may appear in multiple bins, for example, Magnum PI might appear in drama, action, crime drama, etc. Tapping a tile brings up the program summary and recording options.

A similar Channels option lets you filter programs by the originating channel.

 Play Back

Tapping the Recordings menu item brings up a matrix of shows for which recordings are available. Tapping a tile brings up a form showing the series description plus a list of available episodes. Tapping the play button at the right side of the episode tile begins playback on the local display or on the active AirPlay server.

Disk Space Management?

I missed the part of Tablo’s materials that talk about disk space management such as deleting watched programs, etc. Disk space management is currently manual. There is actually a way to delete recordings. It’s on the episode tiles appearing in the program’s entry in the recordings view. Tapping the center of the tile reveals the episode description with a delete button located below.

Work in Progress

Tablo TV is early in its development life cycle. The product launched in April 2014. Tablo’s frequently asked questions indicates that a number of product features are coming to make it possible to save recordings, use network disks, etc.