Tablo TV DVR vs Amazon Recast

UPDATE: It looks like the Recast uses about the same power as the Tablo TV DVR…

http://www.aftvnews.com/amazon-fire-tv-recast-power-usage-while-idle-recording-and-streaming/

My friend Bill has just moved to New Hampshire and found an antenna on the roof of his new home.  He replaced the pre-amp and pulled in stations from Portland Maine, Boston, and Manchester New Hampshire.  I loaned him a TiVo Roamio and a Channel Master DVR+ so he could see how good broadcast television can be.  We have been been talking about Roku TVs as well as whole house DVRs like Amazon’s Recast and the Tablo TV DVR.

The Tablo team put together a really even handed comparison of the two devices here

Tablo TV DVR vs Amazon Recast

The bottom line (according to Tablo’s blog)…

  • Tablo is an open system supporting most streamers and services while Recast is a closed system designed to work with Amazon devices and services (see table below)
  • Some Tablo products have internal storage and all support external storage to 8TB while all Amazon devices have internal storage and none [currently] support external storage
  • Tablo supports six concurrent streams while the Recast supports two
  • A Tablo DVR includes basic guide and recording functionality, but you must purchase their premium service to match (and surpass) what is included with the Recast
  • Tablo (with the premium service) provides full out-of-home viewing and control while Recast is limited to mobile device playback
  • The Tablo DVR uses less power than the Recast due to streaming architecture

This table compares client compatibility…

That’s what Bill thinks, anyway.  I’m a little suspicious of the energy efficiency claims and Amazon has promised external storage will be available sometime after launch.

One of the devices missing from the table above is the Amazon Echo Show.  I open Plex on the Show to watch recorded programs.  It’s kind of a pain since you have to open the browser and type in the plex.tv url each time you want to watch something.  So far, I have not been able to get live tv from my Extends.  I really would like to watch live TV on my Shows, so this is a big plus for the Recast as far as I am concerned.

The Tablo TV DVR scales better since adding a second DVR does not require adding a second service (and you cannot add a second Recast at all).  You can attach up to 8TB of storage to a single Tablo TV DVR

Amazon only supports one Recast per account.  For me, that is very disappointing.  Amazon has really disappointed in consumer electronics from their phones to the Echos and now the Recast.  There is no reason to assume they will eventually get it right.

The comparison really does not address cost.  Cost is very important.  If you want an appliance with no monthly fees, the Recast wins.  The retail cost of a 500GB, two tuner Recast is $229.99 and will be $179.99 on Black Friday.  Use an Amazon credit card to pay and your OOP is $171.  The 1TB, four tuner model is $279.99/$219.99/$209.  The Tablo TV two tuner DVR is $139.99 BUT you will spend another $50 on a 1TB disk and you really need to shell out another $150 for all the features the Tablo blogger was talking about.  So, $340.  Get a refurb for $119.99 and you are still talking $320.  The Tablo TV four tuner DVR is $199.96 BUT you will spend another $50 on a 1TB disk and you really need to shell out another $150 for all the features the Tablo blogger was talking about.  So, $400.  You can get the older two tuner Tablo TV DVR for $89.99 which would end up costing $290.

So, Bill, if cost is not an issue, get the Tablo TV DVR.  It is simply the better DVR.  Go ahead and get the four tuner unit, spring for the Lifetime Service, and get a really big disk.  If you are not ready to throw $500 at a DVR, then get a Recast.  Don’t bother with the four tuner model because the box is not robust enough to support four tuners.

Bienvenue au New Hampshire!

PS To DLFL who asked…

What does [‘Don’t bother with the four tuner model because the box is not robust enough to support four tuners’] mean and what is the evidence to support that statement?

It means you are limited to two streams regardless of which model you purchase. Combined with the fact that you can only have one Recast per account (also from the ARFYou can register one Fire TV Recast per Amazon account), this is very limiting…

from Amazon’s Recast FAQ

How many programs can I record at once? Can I record a program while watching another live or recorded program?

With a 2-tuner Fire TV Recast, you can either:

  • Record up to 2 programs at once,
  • Watch up to 1 live and 1 recorded program on different devices, while recording another;
  • Watch up to 2 recorded programs on different devices, while recording 2 programs in the background; OR
  • Watch up to 2 live programs on different devices at once.

With a 4-tuner Fire TV Recast, you can either:

  • Record up to 4 programs at once;
  • Watch up to 1 live and 1 recorded program on different devices, while recording up to 3 other programs in the background;
  • Watch up to 2 recorded programs on different devices, while recording up to 4 programs in the background; OR
  • Watch up to 2 live programs on different devices at once while recording up to 2 other programs in the background.

from the Tablo Blog Post

  • On-the-fly transcoding requires A LOT of processing power, so every Recast device is limited to 2 concurrent viewing streams, regardless of whether you have a 2 or 4-tuner model
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Is the Best OTA DVR a TV?

When we left Comcast, we replaced their set top boxes with Dish Network DTVPal DVRs.  I liked these because they required no service and no connection except to an antenna.  When Channel Master abandoned the DVR+, the only autonomous DVRs on the market were low end digital converters that also record like the Homeworx devices.

It’s been more than a year since I bought my 55″ TCL 4K UHD Roku TV.  I paid $400 for the first one and $315 for the second.  I almost never use the Roku apps.  Here’s why I love this television…

  1. It’s inexpensive.  I was looking to trim my electric bill by weening my kid off the 60″ plasma.  My kid loves it for games.
  2. It’s pretty.  It’s not plasma and the picture fades if you are far to the left or right or far above or below the set, but from most of my living room, it looks great and I see no motion blur watching sports.  I bought the second one to replace a 43″ plasma in my bedroom.  Very satisfied.
  3. It’s smart.  Not smart like it can run apps (it runs the Roku OS).  Smart like it remembers what input you last used when powered on.  That means if you use an antenna, it comes up like a dumb television.  For some of us, that is very nice.
  4. It’s informative.  Hit the back button on the remote and you get a full screen grid style EPG (Electronic Program Guide).
  5. It’s tricky.  Plug a 16g USB 2.0 thumb drive into this television and you will be able to pause, rewind, and fast forward through 90 minutes of television.  This television does not record programs, but it does most of the things we do with a DVR.

So, for ~$350, you get a 55″ TCL 4K UHD Roku TV which is great for games and sports, remembers your preferences, has a nice EPG, and can pause a program long enough for you to answer the phone or eat dinner.  What could be better than that?

Amazon Recast: More Good, Less Bad

from https://variety.com/2018/digital/features/fire-tv-recast-amazon-1202960053

  • The company…announced last week that it would soon let consumers connect their own hard drives for additional storage.
  • Amazon wants to simplify discovery of over-the-air content with future software updates. For instance, there is currently no way to just browse upcoming movies or sports programming, but it’s on the list to be added
  • Amazon is considering to add advanced ad skipping

External storage is a big deal.  Amazon needs to announce a Roku app, remove the ‘one Recast per account’ restriction, and promulgate a privacy policy that respects its customers.

Amazon Recast In Context

Among Amazon’s next wave of connected devices is the Fire TV Recast. The Recast is a network tuner and DVR similar to the Tablo OTA DVR.  The Recast comes in two configurations: a $229.99 2 tuner, 500 GB/75 hour model and a $279.99 4 tuner, 1 TB/150 hour model.

The Good:  There’s lots to like about the Recast.  For starters, there is no monthly service fee for the program guide.  Cord cutters hate monthly fees, and Lifetime service adds $150 to the cost of a Tablo TV DVR.  The included storage is sufficient for time shifting and casual collection.   The Recast can be controlled with an Alexa device.  Alexa can search for shows, change over-the-air TV channels, control playback, plus browse, schedule, cancel, and delete recordings.

According to AFTNews.com, the Fire TV Recast supports Dolby 5.1 surround sound, both for live channel viewing and for recordings.  Again, according to AFTNews.com, the Recast stores content as unprotected raw MPEG-2 video files in their native resolution and streams the raw MPEG-2 video files transcoded to H.264 with a maximum resolution of 1440×720 at 60 frames per second.

The Bad:  This device can only be used with Amazon streamers.  If you have other devices in your home, you will need another network tuner.

Storage cannot be expanded.  For those who like to archive movies or binge watch television, 150 hours is not a long time.  One season of Chicago Fire would use a sixth of the 1TB model’s storage.

You can only have one Recaster per Amazon account and can only watch live or recoded programs on two devices simultaneously.  (note: AFTNews.com disputes this, “I explicitly asked Amazon about that exact thing and they explicitly told me that 4 recordings AND 2 pre-recorded viewing streams are possible simultaneously on the 4-tuner model (2 recordings and 2 pre-recorded viewing streams simultaneously for the 2-tuner model). Tuners are NOT used to view pre-recorded videos.”)

The Ugly:  Amazon collects information relating to your use of over-the-air TV content which may include the name of the channel watched, the name of the program watched, and the duration.

The Competition:  Recaster’s main competition is the Tablo OTA DVR.  The four tuner OTA DVR costs $219.99, but requires a usb disk for storage.  A 1TB WD Passport cost $49.99.  To enable a premium guide and remote access, you must pay for service.  Lifetime service is $149.99.  So, the 4 tuner 1TB Tablo OTA DVR with Lifetime Service will cost $419.97 — a $139.98 more than the $279.99 4 tuner 1TB Recaster.

The Lifetime subscription is per account not device, so, as you add or replace DVRs, that cost falls.  You can add as many DVRs to your network as your wallet (wife) allows.

The Tablo OTA DVR works with Roku, Amazon Fire TV, Apple TV, Xiaomi MiBox (Android TV), Nvidia Shield (Android TV), and Xbox One.

Tablo’s DVR supports 8TB USB disks and third party apps enable download of recordings for playback on unconnected devices.

The Verdict:  This device is perfect for someone interested in streaming OTA to a limited number of Amazon devices in and out of their home.  The plug and play approach will appeal to those who do not want to deal with the complexity of plugging in a USB disk but are comfortable managing a wireless network (assuming such a demographic exists).

That said, given the limitations of this device, I believe most people would be better served by an open box four tuner Tablo TV and a 2TB Western Digital Passbook with Lifetime service for $360 — doubling the storage and increasing  compatibility for $80.

$13,632 and Counting

Each year on May 5th, Mexicans commemorate their army’s victory over the French Empire at the Battle of Puebla.  Each year on that very day, I celebrate my victory over another empire — Comcast.

In October of 2009, with my Comcast bundle promotion coming to an end, I purchased an Ooma Hub and Scout at Best Buy ($210).  That VOIP telephone was my first ‘cord trim’.  It reduced my monthly phone bill to $0 — which didn’t matter because I lost a Comcast bundle discount of about the same amount.  In November, I negotiated a six month extension with Comcast which was the same money for [much] less service.  In January of 2010, I bought a DB8 ($74.23) antenna from Amazon.com.  During a week long power outage in February of 2010, we relied on that DB8 for news and entertainment.  In April of 2010, after a strained and unsuccessful negotiation with Comcast, we switched to Fairpoint for high speed internet and said good by to Comcast.

That was 96 months ago.  The service we bid adieu to consisted of a single DVR, one other set top box, no premium channels, and a rapidly shrinking set of channels which could be tuned on digital televisions plus high speed internet (with regular warnings of excessive use of my ‘unlimited’ service).  All for $155 per month.  In 2016, I replicated my current service using Comcast’s new ‘skinny’ offerings for just $192/month.  (Comcast just raised prices again.)

Happy Cinco de Mayo, Cordcutters!

OTA DVRs

When my family fired Comcast, I did not think we needed a DVR.  We had a DVR with Comcast, but the only recordings on the box were unwatched episodes of Who Wants to  be a Millionaire and the Bonnie Hunt Show.  We soon found out that a DVR is much more than a digital video recorder.  Right away we discovered we had no idea what was on TV.  It turns out an Electronic Program Guide (EPG) is a very good thing.  Then the phone rang.  A lot of people pause television for phone calls, meals, and potty runs.  People ‘rewind’ television too — to see what was missed while the eyes were resting, to watch again an unexpected wardrobe malfunction, or settle for good whether or not it was a catch.

Fortunately, cord cutters have a lot of DVR options.  In fact, most digital-to-analog converters can be used as a DVR by simply plugging in a USB storage device.  For less than thirty bucks, you can add an EPG and a DVR to just about any television.  While these inexpensive devices are very limited, they are a great way to add functionality to a rarely used television.

DVRs take two forms — set top and whole house.  Set top DVRs sit on top of the television set.  They have an antenna input and some kind of television output.  Sometimes you attach a storage device.  They can have one or many tuners.  Whole house DVRs connect to an antenna and your network and stream programming to some other device.  Sometimes you attach a storage device.  They can have one or many tuners.  Set top boxes tend to perform better — faster channel changes and no buffering.  Whole house DVRs are great if you do not have coax close to your television set or have a lot of televisions you use from time to time.

TiVo is the premium set top DVR.  It’s  been around for twenty years and is the only DVR that might be the only box you need.  It’s also the most expensive set top DVR.  For cord cutters, TiVo offers a $399 Roamio/OTA which includes Lifetime Service (no monthly fees).  The 1080p Roamio has four tuners so you can record four shows simultaneously, watch one and record three, or even share tuners with televisions in other rooms (to a $179.99 TiVo Mini).  It streams Netflix, Hulu, Amazon, Vudu, HBO Go, and apps like Plex.

TiVo also offers a 4K HDR Bolt that can use either (but not both) broadcast or cable as a source.  Broadcast television is limited to 1080p, but, for those who stream, HDR might be appealing and having both cable and antenna options mean you can cut the cord at will and change your mind back again.  With a $14.99 monthly fee, the Bolt costs $199.99 with 500GB (75 hours) of storage, $299.99 with 1TB (150 hours), or $499.99 with 3TB (450 hours).  You can purchase ‘All In’ Lifetime Service for $549.99 or pay $149.99 annually for service.

The TiVo Mini allows use of a TiVo tuner on a second television in your home.  There are no fees and no moving parts.  The experience is virtually the same as watching a TiVo.

What I like about TiVo..

  • Tivo is the only box you need.  It streams all the important services.  It doesn’t stream the cable alternatives like Vue, DirecTV Now, or Sling TV, but, if you have an antenna, you do not need those.
  • One remote is all you need.  The TiVo remote controls volume and power.  Its inactivity timer turns off signal to the television, so the television shuts off when I fall asleep.
  • Low total cost of ownership.  This is a recent development and may not last long, but the last two years, TiVo has routinely made the Roamio/OTA available for $199.99 and $299.99 with LifetimeService.  Right now, with a bigger disk, it is $399.99.  That is about half what TiVo has been historically, and less that the cost of setting up most alternatives.
  • The Mini does not feel like a remote client.  Except that it does not shut down the attached television after inactivity, it works just like its big brother.

Tablo TV is a ‘whole house’ DVR.  It is a box containing TV tuners, attached to a disk and the internet, which uses a service to present programming information (guide).  Tablo TVs have two to four tuners.  A two tuner Tablo TV costs $139.99 and requires an external USB drive to record/pause/rewind.  A two tuner Tablo TV with 64GB of memory costs $179.99.  A four tuner Tablo TV costs $239.21 and requires an external USB drive.  While the 64GB model is a neat little package, you can get a 1TG USB disk for $50 these days, so the less expensive dual tuner DVR is a better value.  For most people, $239.21 for the four tuner model plus $50 for a USB disk will represent the best value.

You do not need the service to use a Tablo, but most people will find the service adds great value FOR $4.99/mo, $49.99/yr, or $149.99 for Lifetime…

Feature Basic w/Subscription
Manual Recording (date/time/channel/show) X X
Live TV Grid View X X
Schedule View X X
Recordings View X X
Prime Time TV View X
Movies View X
Sports View X
Filters (genre, new, premiering) X
Series Info (plot, first air date, etc.) X
Cover Art X
Record by Series X
Advanced Recording Features X
Tablo Connect (out-of-home streaming) X

You will need a streaming device to view the Tablo TV output…

  • A Smart TV powered by: Roku, or Android TV, or most LG WebOS 2.0 and 3.0 operating systems; OR
  • A Set-Top-Box/Streaming Media Device: Roku, or Amazon Fire TV, or AppleTV, or Nvidia SHIELD, or Xiaomi MiBox; OR
  • A Streaming Stick: Roku Stick, or Amazon Fire TV Stick, or a Chromecast dongle (casting from an Android device or Chrome browser); OR
  • A Gaming System: Nvidia SHIELD, or XBox One; OR
  • An HDMI-enabled computer: Tablo web app in Chrome/Safari

What I like about the Tablo TV DVR…

  • It’s on a lot of devices.
  • It allows for wireless clients.
  • Lifetime Service is for YOU not the BOX.
  • I like the Live TV Grid Guide.

One device I have never warmed up to is the HDHomeRun.  I have a HDHR3-US and a pair of HDHomeRun EXTENDs.  They work fine, but without an annual subscription, you get a very limited guide and no DVR functionality.  You also have to run a PC or a NAS 7×24.  Too much work for me.  (Same reason my Plex server gets so little love.)

I happen to have purchased a couple TCL Roku TVs.  This television integrates streaming and broadcast television very nicely at really attractive prices.  If you plug a USB drive into the set, you can pause and rewind within a 90 minute buffer.  It’s not really an OTA DVR, but trick play and an Electronic Program Guide warrant an honorable mention.

Do you love a DVR I need to know about?  Post a comment below!

Time for a Refresh?

Or time to retire?

A co-worker approached me about installing an antenna a month or so ago.  We talked a bit and ran a TVFool.com report.  I gave him a link to this blog and went on my way.  A couple days later, I ran into him, “Gonna give it a try?”  “Maybe.”  “Was the blog helpful?”  “It’s a little dated.”

It is a little dated.  The problem is that I have lost interest.  When we left Comcast, we had an antenna and some cable.  I experimented with different antennas and different locations, splitters and joiners, amps and pre-amps.  It was very exciting to pull in a new channel or bump signal across the spectrum.  Now, I have the best array of antennas mounted and pointed for the best reception.  We spent a lot of time looking at DVRs.  This was frustrating and expensive.  Now, we have seven excellent set top DVRs and I have no desire to add to the fleet or upgrade.  I’ve tried most of the streamers and streaming services.  All, for the most part, work as advertised.

Over the coming months, I will be refocusing this blog on FreeTV — removing Everything Else and updating what is left.  I’m done investigating new ideas, but I will try anything anyone wants to send me and I’ll continue to post about interesting developments.  New mission:

  1. Provide a path from premium tv to free tv
  2. Document ‘best solutions’ and ‘best practices’
  3. Investigate new ideas and technologies

Suggestions and criticisms welcome!