Tablo vs. HDHomeRun: Battle of the networked OTA boxes

An old HDHomeRun box with a new Tableau box.
An old HDHomeRun Connect Quattro with a 2023 Tablo over-the-air tuner. Phil Nickinson/

Over-the-air television is still a thing in the 21st century. Yes, streaming is the future. Yes, cable and satellite still exist. But there’s still room for the original technology that beamed black-and-white TV into homes around the world decades ago.

But you can do better than plugging an antenna into a tuner on the back of a television. Instead, you can plug in a connected box that shares the feed over your home network, making your local broadcast channels available to any device you own.

The two major players in that field are Tableau, which released its fourth-generation hardware in late 2023, and HDHomerun, which is still moving forward the same way it has for years now. both work. Both have a place. But which one is better? Tableau or HDHomerun? Let’s break it down.

price

This part is fairly simple math, although the options vary slightly between Tableau and HDHomeRun. And we’re going to talk about the general price range here, as sales can and do occur frequently.

Retails at $130 (or less) including an indoor antenna with dual tuners, or $100 if you already have an antenna. A quad-tuner Tablo is available for $140. And they all come with 128GB of built-in storage to record whatever you want.

Both devices are in the same pricing ballpark, but the Tablo is a better value.

– With two tuners – Cost $110. So we’re in the same ballpark. But it doesn’t have any kind of storage built-in. If you want four tuners, you’ll have to purchase the new HDHomeRun Flex 4K, which costs $200. It has four ATSC 1.0 tuners and two ATSC 3.0 tuners. (That’s what gives the 4K part its name.) However, neither the Flex Duo nor the Flex 4K have any built-in storage.

the winner: Tablo, especially if you need four tuners in a single device. These are good prices, especially considering that the Tablo has built-in recording capability.

Feeling

This part is going to be a little weird, and there’s a reason I’m putting it so high. The short version is that I’m concerned about the longevity of the HDHomeRun as a product. This is something I’ve been using for years. And it still works fine today and is still being developed somewhat actively, as you can tell from posts on the SiliconDust support forums as well as Reddit. This is good.

But HDHomeRun’s website is a mix of current and older devices, some of which are no longer available at all. (Including the four-tuner Connect Quattro, which I’m still using today.)

Tableau, on the other hand, is run by Nuevo, which is owned by EW Scripps – a major player in the sector. And you get a completely different experience with Tablo as a company than you do with HDHomeRun.

the winner: tie. And I’ll be the first to say that this is all quite subjective on my part. But I think it’s something that needs to be mentioned here.

Hardware

For the most part, there isn’t much to be said about the hardware in this type of device. If you’ve ever opened up a TV tuner of any kind (and I have), it’s a very basic circuit board with power and antenna and other things attached to it.

Coax cable plugged into HDHomeRun
The HDHomeRun box has remained basically unchanged for years. Phil Nickinson/

The HDHomeRun is a small black box, about the size of a few decks of cards. This is very basic. The fourth-generation Tablo is roughly the same size, though it’s rounder and duller white, with a much brighter LED on the front. (By the way, you can and should turn this off in Settings.)

Me? My stuff is buried in a box of exercise equipment in my bedroom. (Probably because it fell off the adjacent dresser and I never bothered to move things.) Just set it and forget. This is not something you should put out where anyone can see.

Fourth generation Tablo box.
The Tableau has been redesigned in its fourth generation. Phil Nickinson/

the winner: I’d call it a tie. None of these are going to be visible, and whether you have it out in the open where people can see it depends a lot on where your antenna connection is in your home.

networking

This section is very easy. The Tablo has Wi-Fi capability. This is a good thing because you aren’t forced to hard-wire it into your wireless router or switch. By the way, it’s using Wi-Fi 5 or 802.11ac, which is fast enough for the job. It also has an Ethernet port if you prefer the wired route. (I always plug in if possible.)

HDHomeRun requires a wired connection via Ethernet. If your antenna isn’t anywhere near your router or switch – well, it’s going to have to be there somehow. Therefore it is not as flexible as per its location. This isn’t a deal-breaker; it’s not so easy.

the winner: Tableau, obviously.

Recording

The Tablo has 128GB of built-in storage for recording shows and movies (good for about 50 hours) and can accept up to 8TB of external storage via the USB-A port on the back.

You can record with Tablo or HDHomeRun, but only one makes it easier

HDHomeRun doesn’t require you to be able to navigate to any kind of network-attached storage and install additional recording software. (It appears that its own HDHomeRun Cervio external storage device is no longer available.) If you run a NAS (Network Attached Storage) and rock Plex, you’re probably fine on your own.

the winner: Tablo takes it. We are not going to expand on this with too many details. Yes, it is still possible to record with HDHomeRun. But Tableau’s recording is built-in and it’s much easier to use. If recording over-the-air TV is important to you and you’re not one of those people who runs a NAS, get Tablo.

Software and availability

If I have one complaint about HDHomeRun over the years, it’s that its built-in software… wasn’t great. at all. And it hasn’t really changed. It’s functional but far from good.

HDHomeRun App.
The HDHomeRun app is not a flashy app. But it is functional. Phil Nickinson/

But you can still use an app called Channels (Android, iOS) instead, which is much better on all platforms. (I’ve been using Channels for so long that I actually had to pay for it back in the day. The app is free to watch live TV through HDHomeRun.)

HDHomeRun also has apps for Mac and Windows; Tableau doesn’t.

Tableau Live Guide.
The latest version of Tableau software is one of the best live guides anywhere. Phil Nickinson/

In contrast, the Tableau app is great. It’s easy to use, which is what really matters.

the winner: Tableau, hands down.

Excessive

An over-the-air tuner is a relatively simple device, even one with network connectivity that lets you monitor multiple devices. And given that both Tablo and HDHomeRun are network-connected tuners, they have a few extra tricks up their respective sleeves. Or, rather, HDHomeRun does.

Screenshots of the HDHomeRun feed inside the Plex app.
Screenshots of Live TV in the Plex app using HDHomeRun as a source. screenshot

The current generation of HDHomeRun devices isn’t much of a change from what we’ve experienced over the years. And that means a bunch of extra features that aren’t available on Tableau. Consider that HDHomeRun:

  • Supports Plex for live TV as well as DVR
  • And that means you can watch outside your home network
  • Can be managed via command line interface, or web browser
  • Can be viewed through a third-party app, channel

Tableau doesn’t do anything like that. It’s all contained inside the Tableau app. This isn’t a bad thing at all – it’s just a noticeable difference.

the winner: hdhomerun

the winner

Tableau TV Box.
Phil Nickinson/

For most people, the fourth-generation Tableau should be the clear winner. It has new hardware, including recording capability. It has better software. And it has the image of a company that plans to continue in business for the foreseeable future.

This doesn’t mean there isn’t a place for HDHomeRun. If you’re using one of the devices that Tableau isn’t currently supported — Apple TV, or a smart TV system that doesn’t run Amazon Fire TV, Google TV, or Roku — then HDHomeRun is your best option. . Or if you know you want to run things through a NAS, you’ll want HDHomeRun. Or if you must have support for ATSC 3.0, but don’t have to have that yet.

Plus, there’s also the issue of price. The Tablo wins there too, especially if you want four tuners. And at the end of the day, that’s really what it’s all about. Getting the most free TV for the least amount of time, money and hassle up front.






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