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Cut the Cord With Tablo TV?

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A couple of months ago, I wrote about how you can kill your cable box DVR monthly fees. For me, the biggest thing about cutting the cord isn't necessarily losing the cable television*, it's the time-shifting of network television shows.

On a basic level, it seems pretty silly to pay a bunch of money each month for what should be solved by one-time costs of a hard drive and a television antenna.

Fortunately a commenter on that last post mentioned TabloTV DVR. I had looked at it a long time ago (perhaps before it was actually released), but had forgotten about it.

It's something that I'm considering again though.

Most people are probably wondering what the heck I'm writing about. TabloTV is the device that can bridge a high-definition antenna and a hard drive and give you DVR. The 4-tuner version is under $300 and the 2-tuner version is under $200. I don't watch a lot of television, but there are some nights when three shows I follow are on at the same time. Other nights, it's zero. For me it's worth spending the extra money for the 4-tuners.

Of course it requires that you have an HD antenna set up. It also requires that you buy a hard drive to store all the shows. Then you need something on your televisions to connect to the network with your shows. This can be an Amazon Fire TV Stick, Roku, etc. I happen to meet that requirement on my two televisions already.

In fact, there happens to be a big ChromeCast deal today. Amazon will give you a $10 gift card when you buy it for $30.

If you are starting from scratch, you can probably put together a set-up, my favorite antenna, TabloTV, a harddrive, and a couple of Chromecasts for under $500. I'd estimate the average basic cable television bill at around $60. It would pay for itself in about 8 months... and after that you'd save significant money, $720 a year.

There are times when you can make a switch and save money without losing any functionality. The Ooma Telo free home phone service is a perfect example of this. In this case, you are going to lose access to cable channels... so it's not an even trade. However, it's not as bad as cutting the cord and losing access to record your own television shows.

What do you think? Is this a smart plan, or does it stretch frugality a little too far? Let me know in the comments.

* Actually I've become quite enthralled by Pretty Little Liars in it's last season. I wouldn't say that I passively watched it while working when my wife had it on, but it wasn't something that I put the laptop away for.

Posted on July 29, 2015.

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16 Responses to “Cut the Cord With Tablo TV?”

  1. Chris Muller says:

    This is cool, I’ve never heard of TabloTV but it sounds like a viable option to DVR. I wonder what the cost savings would truly be if you factor in the sunk-costs of investing in a TabloTV set up vs paying for DVR and cable? Probably quite a bit. Do you recommend any HD antennas?

    My wife is OBSESSED with Pretty Little Liars, also. We are ditching cable this week, so it’s funny you wrote this article when you did. I’ll have to mention TabloTV to the wife. We actually signed up for a trial of SlingTV which streams 20 channels for $20 a month. It even features DVR-type capabilities on some channels, although it’s limited. Might want to check that out too.

  2. Joey Dawson says:

    I have been struggling with this same setup. I have a 4 tuner Tablo, HD, etc – using Roku’s at the TV end. However the antenna portion of the equation is giving me fits – been through a number of antennas. My distance and everything else involved (line of site, interference, etc) are making this a challenge. We have coupled this with SlingTV, which is good but not great….only time will tell if this solution works. Saving money though.

  3. Todd says:

    Great post! I was able to cut the cord around 2010 using an over-the-air antenna and a used Tivo HD. At the time, the Tivo box was about $70 and a lifetime subscription was $300 (I think that has now increased to $400). Tivo still has an over the air model (4 tuner) that’s quite affordable ($50 refurbished + $350 lifetime service — https://www.tivo.com/roamiopma15).

    I like the TabloTV model, but I was somewhat concerned about the picture quality, given that the signal is routed via your home network. The Tivo takes you signal straight to your TV. In addition, it appears to get maximum functionality, a $5/month subscription is needed with TabloTV.

    My TivoHD hard drive finally failed this year, but I was able to replace it easily myself (and upgrade it to a massive 2 terabyte unit) for only $90. . .and my lifetime subscription remains active.

    The antenna was initially tricky for me, too. The TVfool website (http://goo.gl/VnAvzw) can be helpful in finding the right type of antenna. I live on the outskirts of a large city about 25 miles from the broadcast towers. I finally found an antenna that works really well (it isn’t nearly as pretty as the Mohu, mind you): RCA model ANT 751R (http://goo.gl/WKU7Pc). I recently moved a few miles away from the towers and behind some hills, so this inexpensive RCA antenna amplifier has been helpful (http://goo.gl/fhOc72). I have the antenna and amp in my attic (two story home) and pull in at least 40 channels. Adding in Netflix streaming ($8/month) and Amazon Prime ($99/yr) gives my family more options than we have time to watch.

    Hope this is helpful!

  4. I love Hulu too much. It helps us find other shows to watch, and we don’t have to worry about when the various shows actually come on.

    I know in the long run we’ll pay more than $300. But it also offers more channels. So to us it’s worth it.

  5. Ben Wolfe says:

    I am looking into it now but I have the solution to your cable needs! It is long to explain but the benefits are great! I use a combination of sickbeard, & couch potato! Along with Plex! Anyone wanting to cut the cord should look into those programs, they saved my wallet!

    • Lazy Man says:

      I haven’t heard of sickbeard, but I’ve had some problems with getting Couch Potato to work. I set up Plex a long time ago and I haven’t used it in forever. At the time I thought it was slow and required a lot of hand-holding to get everything presentable for the non-techie wife.

      • Ben Wolfe says:

        Might be worth another look! I have a non-techie wife as well. I gave her a few ways to access, I thought the easyest would be Amazon fire stick with little remote and plex app but she seems to actually prefer the web interface on a PC attached to the TV.

        If you need help setting anything up I can offer my services and have ability to do most of the setup / walkthrough remotely. (I do work in IT and have set this up for several people)

        • Lazy Man says:

          I appreciate the offer. I run my own Linux webservers on EC2. I think I’ll be able to figure it out.

          It hasn’t been much of a priority for me. We don’t watch a lot of televsion with a 1 and 2 year old. When we do, it’s usually some kid show from Netflix or Amazon Prime.

  6. Steve Jeffrey says:

    I cut cable earlier this summer. My plan has been to purchase the TabloTV 4-tuner and hard drive for this coming tv season. I have an antenna. I figure the total cost to be $400.

    Lately I’ve been looking at deals at Tivo. For the same money I can buy a renewed Tivo Roamio DVR with lifetime subscription. This dvr can take OTA or cable as input.

    The cons with Tivo are the limited drive size and additional cost for other tvs. But, I like the option of switching back to cable without incurring dvr fees from the cable company.

    With Tablo I can now choose any size drive, but you are limited to OTA as an input.

    I welcome other’s opinions on this decision.


    • Lazy Man says:

      Steve, that’s an interesting idea.

      I currently have a HD Homerun Prime which works with CableCARD. It’s pretty cheap if you have the computer.

      It looks like the Tivo Roamio subscription is $500, plus the hardware. It seems more expensive than TabloTV, no?

  7. Steve Jeffrey says:

    Normally but they have promotion:

    The promotion I was looking at for my original post has ended. The supersavings is even better
    Tivo Roamio DVR (Tivo-renewed) $49.99
    Product lifetime $249.99

    What do you think?


    • Lazy Man says:

      Wow, that’s a great price. So you’d be all-in at $300, which is the price of TabloTV. And with TabloTV, you’d need a hard drive too.

      I hadn’t considered Tivo. I eliminated based on the $499 lifetime service fee.

      I’d say there are things I’d think about. One, what are the Tivo Roamio reviews like? I honestly haven’t looked into them. They could be great. The other is that it appears that you are getting a refurbished product and paying for a service fee tied to the health of that device. It seems that the warranty is mostly for those who pay monthly subscriptions.

      I usually don’t like to think about the negative of something breaking, but maybe in this case it’s worth considering?

  8. Joey Dawson says:

    I had looked at the Tivo’s before deciding on the Tablo. My main focus was one device to rule them all. I was tired of having to switch inputs all of the time to control various different boxes (Sattelite, appletv, roku, etc). That was a big reason I landed on the Tablo solution instead of anything else – I can have a Roku at each TV, and utilize SlingTV (for cable channels), Tablo (for local channels), Netflix (other streaming), and Plex (local movies, etc) all from one device. The simplicity of this was what appealed to me, as well as being able to easily and cheaply replicate this at other TV’s within the house. Another benefit is all of the services I outlined above can be used by tablets/phones in the house via apps as well as all of them are remotely accessable anywhere I am with internet.

  9. Steve Jeffrey says:

    Joey, you make some great points.

    Your setup was my original goal. I bought 2 rokus and was planning on purchasing a 4-tuner Tablo.

    Over the summer we have used Netflix and Verizon but I’ve been missing cable tv. What has been your experience with SlingTV? I am more interested in time shifted viewing. I’ve read where SlingTv’s OnDemand is limited.

    If I do switch back to cable service then the Tablo won’t help much.

    Apparently TiVo now incorporates some streaming channels Netflix, Hulu, Verizon, Plex, etc. so I might not need to use my Roku. At the same time I’m not interested in buying yet another TiVo device to stream outside the home.

    I’m still undecided.


  10. Steve Jeffrey says:

    Haha, I guess so. Just stumbled upon it.

    I’m glad I found your site. Keep up the good work.


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