We’ve tested nearly every over-the-air (OTA) TV DVR out there, and while some of them came close, none of them really hit the target for us. The TabletTV system, however, makes a ton of sense. It may not have a massive built-in audience waiting to pounce on it, but once word gets out about how cool it is, we have a feeling it’s going to be extremely popular.
If you got lost in that wash of acronyms just now, an OTA TV DVR is a device that can tune in free, over-the-air, HD TV signals from all your local broadcast stations and record them, just like your cable or satellite DVR does. The best one we’ve tested so far is the TiVo Roamio OTA, which does a great job of pairing free local broadcast TV with Internet apps like Netflix and YouTube. But it must live at your home, sitting with your home entertainment components, connected to the Internet. The TabletTV system, on the other hand, suffers none of those limitations.
The TabletTV comprises two parts: a portable, battery-powered device called a TPod, and the Tablet TV Plus app, available for iPad now and Android tablets soon. The TPod doesn’t need to be connected to your Wi-Fi router to work, though you can certainly set it up to use it if you want; rather, the TPod itself acts as a Wi-Fi access point your tablet connects to. A built-in battery allows you several hours of operation while on the go before you must charge it up, making it ideal for use in an airport or any other place you may be stuck at while the big game is going on.
Once you connect your tablet to the TPod, you instruct it to search for stations available in you area. Using that information, the Tablet TV app will create an on-screen guide showing you which channels are available, and what shows are airing up to 6 days out. Once setup is complete, you can tune into any station you want and watch live TV right on your tablet. TabletTV also makes several Internet streaming apps available inline with your live TV, so you can quickly switch to HBO, Showtime, Netflix, Hulu, Sling TV, and Amazon Prime services, provided you have a subscription and an Internet connection available.
Additionally, the TPod’s single-tuner DVR and included 8GB micro SD card (with the $90 package) will let you schedule and record TV shows, with enough storage for about four hours of HD video and roughly seven hours of SD video. Of course, a bigger micro SD card will expand that storage space considerably, and TabletTV offers upgraded packages with larger cards, if so desired. You can also transfer recordings to your tablet for watching any time the TPod might not be available (like a flight). Clearly, the TPod stores the video recording as a very large MP4 file (2GB per hour!) however, that high-quality video will pay off when played on a larger screen. Which brings us to our next point …
Watching isn’t relegated to just a tablet. TabletTV is also compatible with Apple TV via AirPlay, and it’s Chromecast friendly, meaning there’s a $35 solution for getting all your OTA TV and recordings to your big screen, and it won’t use up your tablet’s battery to do it! If a wired approach is needed, an HDMI adapter cable is always an option.
So far, we’ve really enjoyed using the TabletTV. Initially, we had a hard time imagining exactly when we might use it, and by extension, how much appeal the product might have. But, once we started using it and realized just how portable and easy to use it was, we found ourselves using it all the time. So far, we’ve used it at the office, in waiting rooms, at church (shhhh!) and while stuck in an Uber in traffic.
In case you’re wondering whether that tiny antenna and little box are any good at pulling in stations, let us assuage any concerns: we’ve found the TPod is about as powerful as most built-in TV tuners combined with standard antennas. Of course, if you have trouble pulling in stations in your home, there is no guarantee the TPod is going to do any better, but the fact that you can place it nearly anywhere in your house a power outlet is nearby increases the odds that you’ll be able to maximize its reception potential.
So far, we have few complaints. When streaming from the TPod to the TabletTV, we noticed some fast-action moments (usually during sports) caused a bit of blurring or pixelation. This isn’t something you notice when playing back DVR recordings that are stored on the tablet itself, but be prepared for a little bit of blurring if watched live via streaming. Also, we wish the battery in the TPod lasted a bit longer, though at the same time we’ll acknowledge that we’re glad the TPod is so small, lending to its portability. Currently, you can expect to get four or five hours of performance in battery mode, depending on whether a recording is being made. Really, that’s perfect for making sure you catch that football game.
At $90, the TabletTV is an incredibly fun device, and far more useful than we had anticipated. If you’re looking for a gift for the tech enthusiast that has everything, the TabletTV will certainly come as a pleasant surprise. And for anyone who has recently cut the cord to their cable or satellite provider, TabletTV makes the perfect fill-in for Netflix and Amazon Prime subscriptions. We’re loving TabletTV, and we think you will to.