tablo.jpgWhen the notice arrived for a rate increase, we were ready to say goodbye to cable. It took a bit of planning and introducing the ClearStreamC1C short-range antenna and Tablo two-tuner over-the-air (OTA) DVR into the mix. But the cord’s been cut and we haven’t looked back since.

Our HDTV has a built in ATSC tuner for receiving OTA broadcasts. (Any HDTV bought after 2007 has an ATSC tuner). This means which we can receive HDTV over the air (OTA) broadcasts once connected to a good quality antenna. It seems ironic that we were heading back to an older technology with 21st century TV but the new antennas are very different from the old rabbit ears or aluminum skeletons on the roof.

Connecting to OTA

The ClearStream C1C short-range antenna is part of the new generation of antennas that are smaller and more powerful. At 30 cm (12”) by 30 cm (12”) by 12.7 cm (5”), the circular antenna resembles a modern sculpture. Lightweight, thin, and flat rectangular, the ClearStream is unobtrusive enough to be mounted on the wall, placed on a table top or outside on the roof. I went for the quickest set up so started off with the tabletop configuration. This was an easy and simple set up. I clicked the antenna receiver into the base, plugged the 182 cm (six feet) coax cable into it and the other end into the TV.

Clearstream1.jpgI forgot to switch the source/input to Antenna fromcable so the first thing we got on screen was snow. But once corrected, we did a channel scan and were ready to start receiving OTA. The hardest part of using ClearStream was placement. In our basement we had difficulty getting a signal until the antenna was placed high on the bookshelf near the window. But our basement is a black hole for signals in general–we even have trouble getting a cell phone signal down there. The ClearStream does have a generous beam width of 70 degrees and an outdoor range of 35+ miles.  

Reception was much better when we place the antenna upstairs; it was able to sit right beside the TV. If you have lots of shrubs in front of your house or live in an area with lots of hills or tall buildings nearby, your signal may be weak. If that happens, then you’ll need to go with an outside installation.

The ClearStream boasts a unique integrated diplexer (a passive device providing the port for the electrical signal) that grabs 98% of the signal so not much is lost.

We were able to get our favourite channels including PBS and other American stations. We were delighted to get some additional stations not included in our cable package. There’s been a lot of discussion about the various contracts and agreements between cable companies and producers that result in blackout channels and shows. With OTA, that kind of blackout can never happen.

We noticed the visuals were even crisper with the ClearStream antenna installed than they were with cable. This may sound odd so let me explain.  Local stations are still broadcasting in a standard-definition, except for special events that are shown in HD. But even when the stations are broadcasting in HD, it won’t be HD by the time it reaches your TV. Signals sent by cable have to be compressed in order to get them through the cables, which softens the image, and reduces the quality. The ClearStream HDTV antenna pulls the image unfettered from the airwaves. We did notice a difference; the images were crisper and clearer because they are never compressed in the first place. A better looking picture and free as well? It was a no-brainer. The cable companies must be worried.

Controlling the stream

Our teens are completely into streaming TV shows on their tablets and laptops so they were on board for cutting the cable. but wanted to be able to still control the stream. We added the Tablo two-tuner over-the-air (OTA) DVR to our new TV setup. This next-generation DVR captures the local HDTV broadcast and records it. It can even stream shows to your devices.

tablo box.JPG

The Tablo DVR acts as a go between connecting to the antenna and sending the signal to your TV or device via an Ethernet or Wi-Fi connection. Dual-band Wi-Fi (802.11n dual band at 2.4GHz and 5GHZ with MIMO) enables the DVR and antenna to receive OTA reception. The Tablo DVR isn’t for older TVs—your TV must be set up with an HDMI enabled computer or a set-top box. It’s also been designed to work on an iPad running Apple iOS7 or an Android tablet running Android 4.1.

Set-up was also easy. We plugged it into the ClearStream HDTV antenna, plugged in the USB hard drive and connected it to our wireless router. We did have a bit of trouble getting it to talk of our Wi-Fi setup and opted for plugging it directly into the router with an Ethernet cable. The issue resolved itself after we downloaded the Tablo app onto our computer and finished the installation. (You can also control the Tablo DVR through your Roku device or Apple TV.)

Once the app was downloaded we could control the DVR using our iPad. We could stream two HDTV programs simultaneously. If we had received the Tablo 4-tuner over-the-air (OTA) DVR for this review, we would be able to stream or record up to four HDTV programs at the same time.

We did have an issue with the USB harddrive that we started with. The first one we tried was a flash storage and didn’t work. The Tablo website indicated these types of USB harddrives just aren’t fast enough. We tried a faster USB 3.0 and it worked fine for recording our TV shows.

I loved the control that Tablo DVR gave me over my viewing experience. I loved being able to skip through the commercials or pause the shows. The Tablo also lets you schedule recordings so you never have to miss your favourite show. The best part of having the Tablo is being able to watch TV on six devices. The parents get the large screen while the teens can watch on their iPad or smartphone.

Tips for older models

Older TVs still receiving analog signals will need a separate HDTV tuner, which are often hard to find. If you are using your analog TV with a satellite service, chances are the OTA HD tuner is built into the satellite, which means you may want to reconsider disconnecting the service or it may be time to upgrade your TV. Lutema sells an affordable Digital ATSC Converter Box that works with most older models and allows you to hook up your TV for OTA viewing.

Resources

There are some great community forums out there to help you with your HDTV antenna:

HDTV antennas are very easy to install but if you still aren’t sure you can always contact the Geek Squad. Check out all the HDTV antennas at Best Buy.

I’ve been covering technology since 1992 and I’ve seen a lot of technology come and go. I enjoy following the trends, spotting the winners and losers and teaching consumers how to get the best products and services for their needs. My work has been published in the National Post, Reader's Digest.com, Yahoo, Miami Herald and other North American publications and websites.

1 COMMENT

  1. Some thoughts…

    • having the antenna in the window frame pointing to your local broadcast towers works great for me to get a half dozen channels in Vancouver.
    • check out this site and plug in your address to see what potential stations you can get.  Of course tall buildings can reduce what you can get…
      http://www.tvfool.com/?option=com_wrapper&Itemid=29
    • if you have a surround system, plug it into your TV’s audio out.  Many broadcasts are now 5.1 and supports full surround!
    • I was using the Hauppage Broadway box to do my recordings.  Just because it’s USB 3.0 does not guarantee it works, especially with modern large HD content.  I had to look for the hi-speed rated USB 3.0 thumb drives to avoid dropped HD frames.
    • too bad Tablo does allow you to insert a hard drive like an SSD.  32gb USB thumb drives fill up quickly with HD.  Need to invest in 64gb or 128gb drives.  On my Broadway, I think for each hour, 9gb would be consumed.  In your tests, how big are the Tablo files for a 1hr recording?

     

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