This Tablo ATSC 3.0 tuner is a DVR for the 4K over-the-air TV future

This new Tablo box is built to grab TV from the air and record it. | Image: Tablo

The new Tablo ATSC 3.0 Quad HDMI is a DVR meant for the next generation of broadcast TV — which, if all goes according to plan, will involve 4K HDR content being sent out over the airwaves for free. It can record up to four channels at once onto an external hard drive, letting you watch programs back on your schedule, not broadcasters’.

In the age of internet streaming, cable, and satellite, it can be hard to remember that there are still local TV stations broadcasting their programs over the airwaves, which anyone can watch for free if they have an antenna and receiver. But for some enthusiasts, viewing broadcast television is the new cord-cutting — and it’s those signals Tablos are made to record and playback.

ATSC 3.0 supports 4K HDR broadcasts, which will largely be free to watch if you’ve got the equipment

Cordcutter-friendly DVRs are a pretty mature concept at this point, with companies including Tablo and HDHomeRun producing them steadily for years. ATSC 3.0 changes things, though — it’s the follow-up to the digital standard that replaced US analog TV broadcasts in 2009, and it supports plenty of upgrades, including support for 4K HDR broadcasts, high frame rate content, and more. While it’s currently not set to completely replace ATSC 1.0 anytime soon, some stations have started broadcasting content using both standards.

Last year, HDHomeRun launched a new lineup which packed in ATSC 3.0 but limited it to just two of four available tuners. The new Tablo supports four ATSC 3.0 tuners. The Tablo can record either type of signal, depending on the channel it’s set to.

You can read more on the history of how ATSC 3.0 came to be in our explainer, here.

Apart from the fact that it can record four ATSC 3.0 streams at once, the new Quad HDMI works a lot like Tablo’s other DVRs. It hooks up to an antenna, hard drive, and your TV, and you can use it to watch live TV, or programs that you’ve recorded. Tablo says the interface will tell you which channels are using ATSC 1.0 and which are using 3.0.

Image: Tablo

Tablo also offers a subscription-based TV guide service that unlocks additional filters and features.

Tablo does warn that the experience won’t be exactly what its longtime users are used to. It’s automatic ad-skipping feature will only be available for ATSC 1.0 recordings, not for ATSC 3.0 ones. Tablo says it “hope[s] to be able to support this popular feature on ATSC 3.0 recordings in the future,” but it’s always best practice to buy something for the features it ships with, not the ones it might have later. The new Quad HDMI box also won’t be able to stream recorded content to other devices in your house, a feature available on some of Tablo’s other boxes. It’ll only be able to playback video on the TV to which it’s physically connected.

The DVR will ship in “spring 2022,” for a cost of $300. That’s not inexpensive, especially after you factor in the added expense of an external hard drive, which is required if you want the digital video recorder to actually record. In its FAQ, Nuvyyo (the company behind Tablo) tries to justify the price — compared to other ATSC 3.0-capable DVRs, all four of its tuners can make use of the new standard, instead of others that only have one or two hybrid tuners. For comparison, the HDHomeRun Flex 4K ATSC 3.0 costs $200 and only supports the newer standard on two of its four tuners.

The extra NextGen tuners may not be that big of a deal now, since there aren’t tons of ATSC 3.0 broadcasts, but could become a boon in the future if the rollout expands and broadcasters start taking advantage of the ability to send 4K HDR content over the air.

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