Tablo just announced the next generation of its networked over-the-air (OTA) tuner and DVR earlier this week. One thing that immediately appeared in comments was concern over the device’s picture quality, since previous Tablo models were often criticized for downgrading the incoming broadcast before streaming it to devices. Jared Newman from TechHive recently interviewed Nuvyyo CEO Grant Hall and learned a lot more about the Tablo 4th Gen, including details about how and when it does and doesn’t transcode video which suggests video quality complaints may be a thing of the past when it comes to the new generation of Tablo DVRs if the device is used a certain way.
Just as the Amazon Fire TV Recast does, older Tablo models transcoded the video broadcast in real time before delivering the content to streaming devices. This meant that the native MPEG-2 broadcast was usually downgraded slightly, resulting in worse video quality compared to what you would see if you plugged an antenna directly into the tuner built into your TV. This was done to avoid issues caused by poor WiFi networks, since the transcoded video required far less bandwidth than the uncompressed MPEG-2 broadcast. This is why HDHomeRun tuners, which don’t transcode video and are, therefore, regarded as having superior image quality, don’t offer WiFi and require a wired Ethernet connection.
Unlike past Tablo models, the new Tablo 4th Gen will not transcode video while watching live TV and, instead, stream the native MPEG-2 video to devices like Fire TVs. This means that the live video quality from the Tablo 4th Gen should be the same as the quality you would see if you connected your antenna directly to your TV. This does, of course, mean that both the WiFi connection to the Tablo and the WiFi connection to your streaming device are solid with enough speed to handle the full-quality MPEG-2 broadcast, assuming you’re not using an Ethernet connection at all.
There is, however, an instance when the Tablo 4th Gen will transcode the broadcast video and that’s when it is recorded content to the built-in 128GB flash storage. In that instance, the full-quality MPEG-2 broadcast will be saved as an H.264 video at a maximum of 30 fps in order to reduce the video size and achieve its rated 50 hours of internal 128GB storage. Thankfully, Nuvyyo kept video enthusiasts in mind and made it so that the Tablo 4th Gen records and streams the full-quality MPEG-2 broadcast if an external hard drive is being used. That way customers can avoid transcoded video altogether if they’re willing to provide their own sufficiently large storage drive. While it can vary greatly based on the content itself, internally stored transcoded H.264 video will use about 2.5 GB per hour of video, while externally stored full-quality MPEG-2 video will use about 8 GB per hour of video.
For those upset that there are only two tuners in the Tablo 4th Gen, Nuvyyo plans to convert more models to the new hardware methodology, so you can expect to see a four-tuner model in the future. The company is also still planning to release an ATSC 3.0 device as well, but that won’t arrive until next year. They wanted to get a low-cost device on the market first, before releasing more expensive models. Be sure to read Jared Newman’s article for additional information about Nuvyyo’s past, present, and future Tablo hardware, as the products are going through a lot of changes.