It's a surprise to many that you can get free over-the-air (OTA) TV with excellent HD image quality just by plugging an antenna into your TV. But even if you're OK with the reduced channel selection, the problem is that you're stuck with live TV. That means no time shifting or delayed viewing unless you pony up for one of the handful of OTA DVRs on the market.
Tablo is the latest entrant in the budding over-the-air DVR space, launching today on the crowdfunding site Indiegogo. It's a small black box that records over-the-air content and streams content to a variety of connected devices. You'll need to supply your own USB hard drive and antenna, plus you'll need a secondary device to watch content -- the box itself doesn't have a video output.
Tablo is promising support for Roku, Apple TV (via AirPlay), and Google Chromecast for TV watching, although when I talked with a company representative, Chromecast support seems more like a work in progress. Apps for both Android and iOS are on the way, and Tablo will be capable of streaming both within and outside your home network.
If all this sounds familiar, that's because it's awfully similar to Simple.TV, which debuted at CES 2012 and also used crowdfunding (in that case, Kickstarter) to fund its first generation of products. Tablo is touting a few advantages over Simple.TV: there will be both two-tuner and four-tuner models, and both models have integrated Wi-Fi. (Simple.TV just rolled out new hardware adding two-tuner support.)
The bigger challenge for both products is the rise of Aereo, which offers live over-the-air TV viewing and recording on Roku, iOS, and Android devices, but without the need for an antenna or hard drive. Aereo is currently limited to nine cities (New York, Boston, Detroit, Atlanta, Miami, Houston, Dallas, Denver, and Salt Lake City), and is currently fighting off lawsuits from a host of broadcasters, including CNET owner CBS. But with no initial upfront cost or bulky hardware, it's hard not to see it as a superior alternative if you live in one of the areas it's offered.
Tablo is aiming for an early 2014 release date; the two-tuner box will cost $200, and the four-tuner box will sell for $250. The boxes will also require a monthly subscription fee for guide data, which the company says will likely run around $5.