Tablo TV tips and tricks: How to master this OTA DVR

Tableau TV fourth generation box as seen from above.
Phil Nickinson/

Free over-the-air television is one of technology’s best-kept secrets. Well, it’s not really a secret, considering it’s been around for decades – possibly longer than you’ve walked this earth. But the point remains the same. In a world where subscription fatigue is a very real thing, the ability to watch the most basic of live TV – the old broadcast networks – for a relatively low-cost, one-time price is really attractive.

One of the major players in that field is Tablo, which significantly revamped and simplified its lineup of over-the-air (OTA) DVRs in 2023. You no longer need to supply your own hard drive to record anything. You will no longer be forced to pay for more Live Guide data. And Tableau’s updated software is much better. Be sure to read our full fourth-generation Tablo review, but the bottom line is that it’s a very good device, with almost all the bells and whistles you could want at this point.

We can help you get the most of your Tableau experience with some useful tips and tricks to get you started.

It’s all about the antenna

Everything related to over-the-air TV starts with your antenna. This is who gets all the free television. And so if your antenna is not done properly, everything that follows will be affected. That’s why it’s worth taking a little extra time (and maybe even spending a little more money than before) to get this part right.

Clearstream Fusion Outdoor Antenna.
A Clearstream Fusion antenna is mounted on the side of the author’s home. Phil Nickinson/

We have a full explainer on over-the-air antennas, so we’ll just hit broad strokes here. Your antenna must be able to see or receive radio waves flying through the air. This means it should point in the proper direction, and not be obstructed by things like mountains or trees or buildings.

First, you need to determine which is the best way to point your antenna. There’s a useful tool for this available online – and Tableau even includes it in the setup process within its app. The appropriate direction will be different for everyone. For me, it’s west-northwest. So I mounted my antenna on the west-facing facade. However, you’ll need to make sure you’re able to run coax cable into the house somehow, and all of this can affect where you’re able to mount your antenna. It’s perfectly fine to plant it outside if you can.

An indoor antenna in a window.
If you must use an indoor antenna, try placing it in a window facing the direction of the TV towers. Phil Nickinson/

If you can only install the antenna indoors, that’s fine. But higher is still better than not. Try to find something in the window too if you can. And being indoors makes directionality even more important.

The bottom line is that it is better to be outdoors and upstairs than indoors and downstairs. Do you know how radio towers are very high and open? Same principle.

to increase, or not

Antennas require amplifiers to ensure proper signal strength. We’re not going to get into the radio-frequency engineering part of the equation here, because it’s partly science and partly magic anyway. But one way or another, your antenna needs an amplifier.

A handheld over-the-air antenna amplifier.
If your TV antenna already has an amplifier, you may want to disable the amplifier built into your Tablo TV box. Phil Nickinson/

If you already have an antenna or you’re buying a new antenna, it’ll probably come with an amplifier that you’ll need to connect to power somewhere somewhere. (Mine uses a basic micro-USB connection.)

Or if for some reason you don’t already have an amplifier, Tablo’s fourth generation devices have a 10db amplifier built in.

The Tablo’s amplifier is turned on by default – this is important to note if you’re using your own amplifier as it’s absolutely possible to over power things, which will affect the quality of your signal. In fact, I was able to get channel 117 with the Tablo’s amplifier and my antenna’s amplifier turned on. When I turned off the Tablo amp, I was able to get channel 122. Never mind that I still only wanted a specific half-dozen channels available at any given time at first.

To toggle the amplifier, go in Adjustment,

Choose your channel

When Tableau (or any over-the-air plan for that matter) scans for channels, it’s going to return anything and everything it’s able to pick up. This includes the main broadcast channels in your area, as well as all sub-channels.

Screenshots of Tableau TV channel options.
You can choose to hide channels completely in Tableau, or add them as favorites. screenshot

For example: I have a pair of sub-channels associated with my ABC affiliate. CBS, Fox and NBC have even more. And so on, including duplicate broadcast partners that I have been able to find. I never want to see any of them again, and they’re just taking up space on my list.

There are two ways to address this with Tableau.

The easier way is probably to mark which channels are your favourites, and then you can sort your live guide according to those favourites. It’s a little messy from the front:

step 1: For any channel you want to favorite, first you have to go to a specific show, and then you will be able to mark that channel as a Favorite, Repeat that process for each channel you want to mark as a favorite.

step 2: Or you can take your phone or tablet, then go to Adjustment Of Tableau app. scroll down guideAnd then channel lineup,

That section allows you to uncheck any channels you don’t want to watch. But given that I only want to show half a dozen channels out of over 100, perhaps another approach is better.

dim that led

The brightest light in the world is the one that keeps you awake at night. And the blue LED on the Tablo hardware is particularly piercing, whether you’re trying to sleep, or watching a movie in the dark, or anything else. It is bright.

Phil Nickinson/

You can cover the LEDs with tape, or a pair of pants you should probably put in the laundry. Or place the device where you cannot see it.

Or do this:

step 1: Go in Adjustment In the Tableau app, search General Section.

step 2: search led And tap it to turn off the LED.

you are welcome.

add some storage

The Tablo now comes with 128GB of on-board storage, and most of it is available for recording shows. Tablo says you should get about 50 hours or more out of it.

But what if you want more?

Setup screen for the hard drive connected to the Tableau TV.

Flip your Tablo device over and you’ll see a USB-A port on the back. This is for expandable storage. You can connect up to 8TB of additional storage there.

However, one thing to consider is the type of storage you are going to use. The short version is that you should avoid flash storage, which generally isn’t meant for the kind of continuous read/write cycles that video requires.

So you can’t just use a thumb drive lying around. Good News? Hard drives of this nature are quite inexpensive. But we’ll wait a bit before buying anything new, just to make sure the on-board storage isn’t enough. If you don’t need to spend money there is no need.

Once you’ve connected your new hard drive to the Tableau Box, you’ll need to format the drive in the app’s settings. However, it only takes a few seconds, and then you’re ready to record afresh.

Leave a Comment