Possibly leaving TiVo ... Questions about Tablo

Short version: Although happy with my TiVo’s (2 of them) for the past 6 years, the current issues with the Rovi guide change are forcing me to consider other options. Although I would happily keep the TiVo’s, I don’t have a great deal of faith that the guide issues for my area will be resolved … and I’m also not willing to invest months of waiting for a solution in the hopes that resolution might happen ‘someday’. Guide data is the core of the functionality - and if I have to set manual recordings for a percentage of my needs then I may as well be using a basic Iview or its clones.

A couple of the things I’ve grown to love with the TiVo’s that I now consider highly desirable in another solution are:

(1) Unified interface between home media library and recorded TV. Currently this is accomplished using pyTivo so that library items can be placed in the NPL side-by-side with the recorded shows. With metadata transferred, library items are indistinguishable from recordings.

(2) Ability to pull or transfer previous recordings over my network – regardless of whether current programs are being recorded or not. i.e. No pulling of hard drive necessary.

The desire for (2) automatically disqualifies options like the ChannelMaster product - where archiving or whole-home options mean waiting for nothing to be recording (or soon to be recorded) and physically removing the hard drive.

The desire for (1) would likely be a greater inclusion of Plex. We have been using it more lately for library media and really like it. Even better - it is wife-approved so a solution that leaves TiVo for a Plex-like solution would be an easy transition. Initially - I assumed we would just go with the Plex DVR as it seemed to tick both boxes. However, since live TV is not supported with Plex DVR and you can’t access a recording until it is finished, I don’t think I can consider it as a solution Although it ticks both boxes above - I’m not big on moving to a system based on what it might do ‘someday’ - but rather what it can do out-of-the-box right now.

So - the questions regarding a Tablo setup are:

(1) When subscribed to guide data - what is the source? Previous Gracenote data was fine for my area - but the Rovi data has serious issues with how they group by DMA. If Tablo’s source is Rovi - I haven’t eliminated my problem and there would be no reason to proceed.

(2) I understand that there is no official Plex app (and the 3rd party app seems abandoned from what I’ve read here). So a direct ‘unified-interface’ as mentioned above would require pulling programs from the Tablo using one of the 3rd party solutions available and placing them in my Plex library location. Not ideal, but not a deal-breaker. (I’m assuming the reverse is not possible – sending files to the Tablo like files can be sent to the TiVo). When pulling files from the Tablo - since they are already in h.264 format, is it simply transfer speed of your network? Or are there other post-transfer conversion operations necessary like ffmpeg recode, etc? I’m trying to get a feel of the workability of this use-case by estimating time involved in the file-pull. I get that if I add steps like post-transfer commercial removal, for example, I get a time-hit. But a simple pull and move to the Plex library (commercials and all) - am I just looking at transfer time?

(3) My wife has daily shows that she records (GMA, Kelly Ripa, Rachael Ray, etc) that she typically catches up with on weekends. She never watches the all the way through - she simply fast forwards through the bulk of each program, stopping only when she sees a guest or segment that interests her. In a Plex recording world - I would need a separate library for her daily shows that has thumbnail creation on so she has the visual cues while fast forwarding. Because of that - it would not be terrible to have her daily shows outside of the ‘unified interface’. If using the Tablo app for watching those recordings - are preview images pretty reliably generated? How responsive is resume from fast forward? A few seconds delay? Or reasonably instant?

(4) I made note while researching of some people complaining of soft volume with Roku. Since I already have them, I would likely use them in a Tablo solution. Are these isolated instances? Or does everybody who has a Roku have the soft volume problem?

(5) Finally – and this is not as important – how big is the delay (or buffer needed) for live TV? I mean - how far behind live TV is … well, live TV. :slight_smile: The only reason I’m curious is for Sunday football. I like to watch games while listening to my local radio play-by-play guy. As radio broadcasts are always ahead of TV - I have to find a stream online that is behind the TV broadcast so I can use the DVR to ‘sync’ the video and audio broadcasts. This is harder than you would think. I have a reliable iHeart stream - but it is always ahead of the TV broadcast. Usually - after much searching, I can find an audio stream that is behind the TV broadcast (and their stream hasn’t been blacked out because they’re not supposed to be streaming the game over their website anyway). With the TiVo - the difference between ‘TiVo-live’ and ‘actual-live’ is literally just a couple of seconds, which makes it a bit easier to find a suitable audio stream. With Tablo I’m assuming that difference is more? That recording, transcoding, and transmission of live TV results in something with a greater delay. Is the difference between ‘Tablo-live’ and ‘actual-live’ on average 15 seconds? 30 seconds? More? Less?

Thanks for your attention and assistance. I certainly appreciate the time invested by people familiar with the Tablo to help me make an informed decision regarding my desires for what a TiVo replacement would have to do.

Let me try to answer #5 for you. I have an antenna connected directly to one of my TV sets, and I use that to watch live sporting events (mainly NFL football), mainly because it is as close to live as you can get (plus I can use my surround sound that way).

I just did a quick test watching at the top quality setting and then watching that same channel on my phone with the Tablo app. There was a 17 sec difference between the live antenna feed and the Tablo app.

Generally speaking, Tivo is an “apple” and Tablo is an “orange”… so don’t expect some of the same kind of behavior that you got UI wise with the Tivo.

  1. Meta data for Tablo is “their choice”, but currently it’s coming from Gracenote or tributary thereof (pun intended).
  2. Wouldn’t be terribly hard to at least code up a fixed playback app for Plex. Other operations might be more difficult. A direct (?) pull from Tablo results in tiny little mpeg4 .ts files (really under a pl/pls wrapper). Programs like SurLaTablo, pull and join them together and also transcode (lightweight rewrapper) them into mp4 (h264/aac) and can transcode any which way you want (but obviously slower if a full transcode). So, with the lightweight rewrap (mere seconds), you get pretty much what was on the Tablo but in a more typical form. You are correct in that you cannot send files to the Tablo. SurLaTablo (for what it’s worth) has a built in commerical zapper (actually two algorithm choices). This uses a parse of the concatenated .ts, split apart and full transcode (sorry) into a resulting mp4 (h264/aac). The loss currently is with subtitles (converted CC)… that doesn’t work currently in SurLaTablo when commercial zapping. SurLaTablo can produce both formats pretty easily… commercial and without… which is what I do. Note: as the author of SurLaTablo, sometimes commercial cutting (automated as it is) can go horribly wrong.
  3. Selected frontends can deal with the .bif files produced by Tablo and thus you get periodic thumbnails. These are produced post recording and not during. So you get some visual indicator while FF and RW only AFTER a little while past the end of the recording period (they are post generated by the Tablo)… but ok for you wife’s situation, just don’t expect an experience where a device is directly connected to a TV serving up raw mpeg2-ts… Tablo doesn’t do this.
  4. On volume, well, for me my TV handles it just fine, but I"m just 2 channel audio. Can’t speak for what other have “heard”.
  5. The buffer is not horrible when you consider you’re tapping a live transcode in progress. But the delay can be many seconds (and feel like an eternity). It is going to be a bit behind (those seconds mentioned). It might be 15 seconds. 30 would be on the very long side (but some have said as much).

Btw, even with a direct grabber (non-transcoding) like Tivo, even a couple of seconds is actually really good.

Because it’s certainly “apple vs. orange”… I’d say both styles (Tivo vs. Tablo) have their strenghs and weaknesses.

Just did a quick time test of watching “live tv” on my phone (Sprint LTE). Took about 30 seconds before I could watch the show.

It appears #s 1 and 5 have been adequately answered. I’ll try to focus on the other 3 and give you some perspective as a relatively new Tablo convert coming from a TiVo Roamio (it was the original Basic model so I actually over time used it both with Time Warner via a cable card and at the end OTA via a Mohu antenna).

(2) I use Tablo Ripper myself and basically anything we will likely watch as a family and that will not be kept (most TV shows) is kept on the Tablo and the rest gets transferred to the NAS (and as a result to the Plex library) and deleted from the Tablo. This all happens overnight. If I recall Tablo Ripper only takes maybe 15 minutes per raw hour long show (I can confirm that later via log files when I get home) to transfer over, be re-assembled and be available in Plex.

(3) The very reason the shows we will watch as a family are kept on the Tablo is because the seek functions and preview images on the Tablo work perfectly fine for us. If I recall correctly the preview images cannot be created until after the recording has been completed and do took a little time but since we generally don’t watch any of the programs the day they are recorded the preview images are always ready. Our primary TV has a Shield TV that we use with the Tablo app and it is extremely responsive for fast forwarding and resuming between breaks. That’s the one thing I thought I would really miss coming from a TiVo, Skip Mode. I’ll say this, it’s responsive enough with Tablo that I don’t really miss it given all the other advantages the Tablo offers. Our second TV has a Roku 3 that is used for Tablo but mainly for live TV so I can’t offer much information on the Roku responsiveness on recorded stuff. Generally that TV is used more for watching things via Plex that may not be stuff the entire family is interested in watching on the primary TV.

(4) Can’t say I’ve noticed any issues with the Roku on our secondary TV. If it does ever seem low I’m not sure I’ve noticed if it’s specifically with the Tablo app and I’ve probably just turned up the TV itself regardless.

I will say we’ve been extremely happy moving from a TiVo to Tablo. We only had the Roamio itself and no Stream or Minis so when I started researching options as far as being able to stream to multiple mobile devices the Tablo was just a better fit for us and offered it all in one device. Yes, it’s a bit of an outlay of cash up front (get the 4 tuner for sure) but for us it was the right choice and the availability of Tablo Ripper and other third party utilities makes the integration with Plex pretty painless. Direct support for Plex would be nice at some point in the future but that may take a while. In the meantime, we have Plex Pass so the ability to sync specific things to specific devices just opens up all sorts of possibilities.

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Just keeping things honest, another nit against Tablo is what it calls “syncing”. This is basically the unit syncing a (fairly large) WebSQL database on your browser. Obvioulsy this only applies to things with browser like frontends.

Until the “syncing” is done, you will not have an accurate representation in the Chrome browser interface of what is on your Tablo. Syncing of ton of channels can take a VERY long time (minutes). Takes longer the longer betweeen syncs. So sync and sync often.

If I’ve syncd once already today, a subsequent sync will take seconds. If I haven’t sync’d in a few days, it will take many minutes. Things that sync are things like Chrome, android app, and more. The more channels, the more data, the longer the sync if it hasn’t been done recently. Could be one of the biggest flaws of the device.

Another nit, Tablo has “tuners”, but you need to view them not as tuners, but as processors. Anything Tablo does (and it does a lot) requires a “tuner”. Thus if you buy the 2-tuner Tablo, you may find Tablo “busy” doing things when you need it the most. For example, if remote, and you are fortunate enough to get rate limited remote viewing working (more later on that)… that process requires a tuner. Thus to watch ONE program remotely at (for example) 1Mbps, requres two actual tuners. Creation of those thumbnails mentioned earlier requires a tuner, etc, etc.

On remote viewing at reduced bandwidth… anything but Direct (no reduction) is sort of a crap shoot. You’ll get a mysterious message on your phone saying Unable to Play Stream or something like that (except maybe the first time). This is especially true if you’re trying to “slow surf” via the mobile device when watching “live TV”. Even if you know that no tuners are in use (though it’s possible that tuners are in use, you can’t know on the Tablo). There’s many posts about this… there is no “fix” yet.

Also there is no surround sound, hopefully you know about this. Closed captions do not work on all frontends.

Not trying to make you change your mind, just want you to know the problems up front. Too many people get excited about the Tablo and are quickly dissappointed by some of the items I list. Doesn’t mean it’s a “bad” device, but you might want to lower your expectations, just a bit…

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Another item to keep in mind- in the event that previous comments have not made this clear-
Tablo has no direct connection to the TV. Your choice of player will have a distinct influence on your viewing experience.

Chromecast is the least favorable playback device.
Anything that is a stick is less favorable than the box of the same maker.
Roku occasionally screws things up with their updates.

I use AndroidTV for my playback devices- NVidia Shield (2x)- because it integrates most of my content pretty well under the top level voice search. I use HDHomeRun Connect tuners for my live TV (via Google Live Channels), and Plex for my personally owned content library. Tablo may get integration someday, but I am fine with knowing to look for my recordings in the Tablo app. (I could use a 3rd party app like SurLaTablo to pull my recordings over to Plex, but I prefer to “watch then delete” my DVR content).

Also, Live TV on Tablo is not a good experience if you are a “channel surfer”, as the transcode process will add a minimum of 10 seconds of delay while buffers fill and content gets converted.

I like what Tablo gives me for DVR and remote watching, but it is not a stand- alone kind of setup like Tivo.

You are being too kind.

Strange never had a problem with my Roku TV yet.

I do the same thing. I only view live tv on Tablo if I’m in a room thats not hardwired. I guess be are both sports nuts and need that full-quality OTA…oh heat, that 5.1 as well.

Make sure your Tablo is hardwired to your router, you have a good router, and um, don’t expect to bounce around between Live channels, unless you have a 4 tuner, then you can at least bounce back and forth between a couple of them. Never had a TiVo, they are just now getting onboard and removing monthly fees, ugh!!!

I have my Tablo hardwired to my extended network airport and that works just fine for 2.6 yrs.

Glad to hear it. I rarely fly any more, so I can watch all the Tablo I want at home.

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