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September 18, 2023

Tablo Replaces Amazon FireTV Recast for Over-The Air-Viewing and Recording

Amazon has abandoned this market.

Below is a picture from my blog four years ago when we replaced DIRECTV with Amazon devices.

Old replace

Now the Amazon FireTV Recast (lower right above) is gone and replaced by a Fourth Generation Tablo device below.

Tablo

The Recast and the Tablo have the same functions: capture live TV from the over-the-air-antenna hanging on the wall, record it for future viewing, and redistribute the over-the-air (OTA) broadcasts and stored shows to our four TVs scattered around the house. We don’t have cable or DIRECTV but have access to (almost) everything we want to watch either by streaming (we have Netflix and Amazon Prime) or OTA.

Back then I wrote “No question Amazon enabled us to break the dish. I do wonder who will disrupt Amazon when.” Turns out Amazon disrupted themselves; they discontinued the Recast I liked so much; and, although they nominally still support the device, support has gotten worse and worse and bugs and glitches have been proliferating. Although the Tablo is better than the Recast in some ways: cheaper low-end model, better picture and sound, easy to extend storage with an external hard drive, records free ad-supported streaming channels (FAST), it’s not really disruptive. I wouldn’t have bought it if the Recast were still working well.

Why would Amazon abandon Recast?

Amazon’s device division has been underperforming and reportedly losing money. Kindle changed the way people read books and served its purpose for Amazon by creating an enormous market for ebooks. Alexa was a hit for a while but lost lots of her alure when she was caught eavesdropping. AmazonTV and the Amazon Firestick share a market with Roku, Apple, Google, and others and Recast only served the Amazon portion of that market. To have a hit of Amazon scale, Recast would’ve had to work in these other ecosystems. The Recast developers may have wanted to do just that; upper management may have asked “what’s the strategic advantage?” A competitor like Tablo is incented to serve the whole market; they are working hard to do that.

It's also possible that Amazon decided over-the-air TV is a market not worth investing further in despite the fact that the number of households using antennas grew by 10%  in 2021 according to Nielsen. Antenna use accelerates with cordcutting since local channels are not fully available through streaming; but, if everyone is eventually broadband connected, will local stations continue to maintain costly broadcast antennas or simply “broadcast” all content online? Topic for another post.

Tablo facts

The Tablo 4G product I bought is very new and somewhat buggy according to Reddit forums. It’s predecessor at first flourished by supporting alternative to Amazon FireTV and by offering services like automatic ad-skipping, which FireTV doesn’t support. Ad-skipping is not available in the 4G product and, so far, it can only record two channels at once while its predecessor had available support for four simultaneous channels. The three main advantages to the new product are better signal processing to correct for glitches in antenna reception, better picture and sound because the video stream is not compressed in storage or on the way to the TV, and a free program guide. It is available for as little as $99 or $109 with an antenna. Onboard storage is only 50 hours but you can attach an external hard drive (I did) for about $100 to increase capacity.

The Tablo box connects to a coax cable from the antenna and can be connected to your router either with WiFi or an ethernet connection. I’m using WiFi and so far that is working fine. Setup is with an app which works on Android or Apple IOS. You then need to download a Tablo app to your smart TVs. It currently works with Roku, firetv, androidtv, GoogleTV, and Apple and Android phones and tablets. According to Tablo, support for AppleTV, Samsung, LG WebOS, and Vizio is “coming soon”.

All of the supported devices must be on the same WiFi network as the Tablo box but that network can be one which has been extended with a mesh. We use Orbi (RBR20 base unit) for mesh. Recast had problems being reachable through the mesh. So far Tablo has been fine although there are reports on Reddit of problems with other types of mesh network.

I had one glitch during setup and chatted online with tech support. Minimal wait for an agent and an easy fix (just retry). Tech support emailed a copy of the chat without being asked.

Recommendations

Don’t buy Amazon Recast even though some are still in stock; it’s an unloved orphan. I’m recycling mine rather than reselling or even gifting.

If you have Recast and it’s still working for you, wait awhile for the Tablo 4g product to settle down before replacing Recast.

If you are considering cutting the cord, you will probably still want local TV and network sports. Some streaming bundles include them but at a fairly steep price. Over-the-air TV is a cheaper alternative if you live within range of a good signal. The Federal Communication Commission has a web page which shows where your nearest towers are and what signal strength you can expect for each network. You’ll need a device like Tablo if you want to record over-the-air shows and play them back with fast forward, rewind etc. Tablo has competitors I haven’t tried and my experience with it is very short; this post should just be one data point in your evaluation.

See also:

A Tale of Two Antennas – The Cord Cutting Saga Continued

FireTVStick Thrashes at&t’s DIRECTV

https://www.reddit.com/r/tablotv/

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