Apple TV Inherits OTA DVR Capabilities (via Tablo)

Dave Zatz —  June 17, 2016

With Apple presenting Sling TV at WWDC this week, it’s safe to say their Apple TV television service remains on hold. Unfortunately, Sling TV still features a problematic interface and doesn’t provide access to “the locals” — like NBC and CBS. Further, while Sony’s PS Vue does include broadcast networks (in some regions) and a 28-day DVR, that service is currently limited to Playstation and Amazon Fire TV hardware. Well, today, Tablo has made good on their CES promise to deliver both live and recorded DVR television to Apple TV.

As a refresher, Tablo is something of a roll-your-own DVR. It’s a small headless box (starting at ~$200, plus service), featuring 2-4 tuners, that you attach a hard drive and an antenna to — with streamers like Roku, Fire TV, and Nvidia Shield delivering the video to your television. Of course, you can also view and manage Tablo from smartphones and tablets.

At launch, Tablo’s new Apple TV app features most core functionality, including the ability to stream both live television and recordings. In limited testing this week, I came away pleased with Tablo’s performance. And it’s fascinating to see how they’ve put Apple’s touchpad to work, vs the Channels app that streams live TV from Silicon Dust hardware — I find Tablo’s implementation slightly better as I’m less likely to inadvertently take an action even though those actions may require an additional step. For example, to scrub, you’d click down and then slide your finger left or right to move around the video buffer. Tablo also includes limited voice control from Apple’s Siri-fied remote, in allowing you to jump ahead – when avoiding commercials, for example. Tablo intends to continue cranking away on the app, bringing the more full featured guide view, recording management, and remote viewing — think: take your linked Apple TV to the vacation house.

Disclosure: Tablo is currently running a banner ad campaign on ZNF.

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17 responses to Apple TV Inherits OTA DVR Capabilities (via Tablo)

  1. That click then scrub feature that you mention was a recent change in the default tvOS video player. I’d be surprised if Channels had a custom player and didn’t have that feature now too.

  2. One of the biggest knocks I’ve heard about Tablo is the time it takes to start showing a channel when you tune to it, as it must buffer/transcode the stream. That would make channel surfing a real drag.

  3. Tim, with any sort of network tuner or Slingbox, there will frequently be a second or so to spin up the buffer and/or start playing at lower res while the buffer is building in the background — that’s just the nature of real-time transcoding. Recorded Tablo content pops in quicker, vs live.

    Jeff, interesting, I will test and see if the interactions are the same since the last time I fired up Channels.

  4. no its not Dave, tablo is terrible at transcoding and delivering becuase the hardware is terribly under powered. the Channels app on the apple tv grabs the mpeg 2 file from my hdhomerun connect and transcodes it and buffers a full hour on the apple tv itself on the fly. changing the channel is instantaneous.

  5. no edit button to add:

    if they had a sense of forecasting, they could of chosen a better cpu. the tivo stream transcodes, delivers and changes much quicker than what a tablo can do. and dont get me started on tablo’s lack of engineering ability to enable surround sound. and yes, its lack of engineering, go look at the tablo thread at AVS, early on they admitted to having trouble figuring out surround sound, even with the chip manufacturers help.

  6. Al, Channels ingests the untouched video from Silicon Dust hardware (by default) vs allowing the SD hardware (that supports it) to transcode. There’s a tradeoff to be made – bigger data with faster playback or smaller data with slower playback. Also there’s a design decision to be made, that we faced at Sling for example, start playback immediately with low res and build a buffer in the background or build the buffer and start playback slower at higher quality. Tablo offers WiFi connectivity, vs Silicon Dust, which is probably why they transcode 100% of the time.

    Regarding specific hardware choices and engineering, I defer to you – I don’t have those details. I do suspect at some point Tablo might introduce new hardware, as they’ve been riding this platform since launch. However, I’ll do some more comparisons this weekend as I have both Tablo and Channels/Silicon Dust. Although, it’s probably worth mentioning that Channels is currently live television only. They themselves and Silicon Dust are working on competing DVR solutions.

  7. Seems like having a client with hardware-based MPEG2 decoding capabilities would be the best solution; no need to transcode anything, just let the network tuner pass the raw OTA MPEG2 signal off to the streaming box. Do any of the current-gen streamers offer hardware-based MPEG2?

  8. Dave, does the performance of the app seem any better on the Apple TV versus Roku? I am still interested in Tablo primarily because of the dedicated recording hardware along with the ability to play back via iOS devices but $300 without service would be a tough pill to swallow. Lack of surround is a bummer also. I also worry about them being purchased then the hardware being turned into a paperweight. I really like Channels as that is what I currently use but don’t understand why they don’t have an iOS app. However, I am interested to see their DVR solution. I have bought into the HDHOMERUN DVR but am not happy with the user experience and lack of iOS/tvOS/Roku support. Perhaps it will be better once it hits Xbox One.

  9. While the new Apple TV continues to be fleshed out, I suspect the best Tablo experience would be on Amazon Fire TV and NVidia Shield. Those platforms are more powerful than Roku (and developers have more freedom). Apple TV’s processing power is real good too, as proven by Channels taking the MPEG2 from Silicon Dust (and partially addressing Tim’s comment). I believe the Channels team is planning to release their DVR option this year – last time I discussed it with them, they were deciding upon the initial hardware platforms for storage and what not. But not sure if they’re contemplating anything other than aTV for playback.

    Back to Al’s point, I have a TiVo Roamio with “Stream” capabilities as well. The last show (recording, not live) I tried to watch a few weeks back… well, playback dropped three times. On my home network. :/ Will check how fast live TV spins up and there really isn’t much of a channel surfing experience, as “live” is really a streamed recording.

  10. RIP Aereo…

  11. Probably not going to be any head-to-head testing. Not this weekend anyway – just so little time with the baby. I did get the Silicon Dust tuner powered up, but then I had to swipe the HDMI cable the Apple TV was using in the kitchen for the Fire TV in the family room and have been watching the baby quite a bit. (The aTV is only for blog projects at this point and usually packed up – I much prefer my Fire TV and Roku devices for streaming.)

  12. I use my AppleTVs (1 3rd, 1 4th) very infrequently now…. Mainly for AirPlaying pictures or videos from my phone to my TV to show my family. TiVo now does all I need…

  13. I’m still waiting for more info about the AirTV before deciding to upgrade to something else. I’m currently using an old Silicon Dust tuner and Windows 7, WMC.

  14. With Memorial Day and Fathers Day coming and going, AirTV could be abandoned. Unless it’s so delayed, they’ll push for fall?

    Re; Channels vs Tablo. I did confirm primary scrubbing is controlled the same way. But skipping ahead and accessing the top menu are slightly different. Didn’t get any testing on channel load speed yet. Not sure when I will. Building a new infant seat and bouncer this week… :)

  15. C’mon, Dave, that baby was born months ago… When is she going to start pulling her weight around the house?? ;)

  16. 23 seconds to spin up “live” CSPAN on iPhone from TiVo Roamio…

  17. If they can find a way to offer local programming, this may take off. Otherwise, the competition will clobber it.