Amazon Fire TV Recast vs Tablo – networked OTA DVR compared

Since Amazon Fire TV Recast was announced I’ve been meaning to compare it against its main competitor on the feature set Tablo. Since Recast isn’t released yet I am only basing my opinion on what was a released by Amazon as well as the hands on preview that was done by Janko Roettgers from Variety here and some detailed technical information from AFTVNews here.

For this review I will be focusing on Amazon Fire TV Recast 500GB (2 tuner) model and I will compare it to Tablo DUAL 64GB OTA DVR.

Let’s start with similarities.

Both devices are networked DVR (headless device) that makes free over-the-air (OTA) HD channels and recording available over the network. There is no HDMI port to plug into your TV so both require another device to view both live TV and recorded content. Both can be placed anywhere in the house wherever your antenna reception is the best and there is no need to extend the coaxial antenna cable to the TV like it is the case with Tivo, Channel Master or Android TV Live Channels solutions. Received TV signal is then recorded to local storage or live feed is broadcast locally over your wired or wireless network to both TV and mobile devices.

Now let’s talk about differences

Simultaneous streams and recording format:

 

While both Amazon Fire TV Recast and Tablo are similar here as well is one major distinction in how they operate and record that will have a huge impact on functionality and storage requirements for each box.

Recast records raw MPEG-2 over-the-air video files. All recorded or live content is transcoded on the fly to H.264 and quality adjusted as needed. There can be maximum of 2 simultaneous transcodes and maximum resolution is 1440×720 at 60 FPS. This means that ONLY 2 devices can watch either live or recorded content simultaneously but at the same time the device can continue to record 2 more channels (or 4 more for the 4 tuner model).

Tablo does it differently and in my opinion their approach is better. Instead of recording in MPEG-2 it encodes all video files to H.264 before it stores them on the hard drive. This means that a lot less hard drive space is used  and 64GB model can record up to 14 hours of over-the-air HD (720p@60fps at 10mbps) video versus Recast 500GB model which gives you 75 hours. Another perk is that since there is no more transcoding needed you can watch recorded content from up to 6 devices at once.

There is however one big impact of Tablo’s approach and that is an extensive delay when switching live channels “channel surfing”. Tablo users reported 10+ seconds delay unless the channel is already tuned. That is one of the reasons I returned Tablo after testing it for a few weeks.

We will see if Recast’s on the fly transcoding will handle this better. If Amazon was paying attention to Tablo customers that was the number one complaint from all Tablo users which may be the reason that the chose the path they did. In any case there is no way to know for sure until it hits the market.

From the real world functionality what all of this means is that Recast can only stream to two devices at a time while Tablo can stream on up to six. While it is streaming Recast can still record on both of it’s tuners unless one of those tuners is used to watch live TV. As it stands today Tablo is a very clear winner here but if Amazon’s approach will allow for painless channel surfing then you’ll have to ask yourself what is more important being able to switch channels quickly or being able to stream from up to six devices.

 

WINNER: Tablo
Connectivity:

 

As far as connectivity goes Amazon Fire TV Recast supports dual band (2.4 ghz and 5 ghz) 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac wireless while Tablo DUAL 64GB OTA DVR only has dual band 802.11n wireless. There is no 802.11ac. Strange omission in my opinion. On wired connectivity Recast has a gigabit (1000 mbps) ethernet vs Tablos fast ethernet (10/100 mbps). If you opt out of built in storage on Tablo and go with the Tablo Dual LITE OTA DVR model you will gain faster 802.11ac wireless but at the same lose storage.

Amazon Fire TV Recast is the winner here but having faster connection will probably not have much impact in the real world since the H.264 streams will not max out either connections. Only time it could come into contention would be if Tablo is actually streaming to 6 clients at the same time.

 

WINNER: Amazon Fire TV Recast
Storage:

 

Amazon Fire TV Recast comes with 500GB (1TB/150 hours in the 4 tuner model) that allows to record approximately 75 hours of the HD content. While spec sheet shows that USB cannot be used to expand storage at the moment according to Amazon it will be added right after launch.

Tablo DUAL 64GB OTA DVR comes with 64GB of storage but due the fact that it records compressed video in H.264 format approximately 14 hours of (720p@60fps at 10mbps) HD content can be recorded. While Tablo is rating this model at 40 hours that would mean that the video is heavily compressed to 720p at 3 mbps. Storage is expandable by adding up to 8TB external drive.

This is a tough one. On one hand Tablo is much more efficient due to compressing files before saving them to the hard drive which results in much smaller storage requirements. On the other hand Recast has a lot more storage built in (14 hours vs 75 hours) and if their approach results in the ability to tune channels quickly then I would say that was a better technical decision.

 

WINNER: Amazon Fire TV Recast.
Supported devices:

 

Amazon Fire TV Recast supports all of Amazon ecosystem devices like Fire TVs, Echo Show and Fire tablet (5th Gen or above). On the mobile side both iOS 10 (or above) and Android 4.4 (or above) are supported.

Tablo on the other hand supports pretty much every major TV and mobile device with the exception of Playstation and Nintendo consoles. Android TV, Apple TV, Chromecast, Fire TV, Roku, Xbox One, LG Smart TVs running LG webOS 3.0+ and Samsung Smart TVs running the TIZEN OS are supported as well as both Android and iOS on mobile.

Amazon is either really short sighted or they want to test Recast in their ecosystem before rolling it out on other platforms. While I don’t expect both Apple TV and Android TV applications unless they bury the hatchet with both Apple and Google it would be great to see Roku and remaining platforms being added in the near future. As it stands today Tablo wins this category by a huge margin.

 

WINNER: Tablo
Price:

 

Amazon Fire TV Recast 2 tuner model retails for $229.99 and doesn’t require any monthly subscription fees. There is also bundle available now which adds new Fire TV Stick 4K and HD antenna for the low price of $249.97. This will get you started on a single screen without the need to purchase anything else if you are within 30 miles of the broadcasting station.

Tablo DUAL 64GB OTA DVR costs $219.99 and requires either monthly ($5/mo), yearly ($50/mo) or lifetime ($150) subscription fees. First month is free.

So let’s say you want to replicate Amazon’s offering, you would have to add lifetime subscription which would put you at $369.99 compared to Recast at $229.99 even before taking the offered bundle discount into consideration. Amazon Fire TV Recast is the clear winner on the value proposition.

 

WINNER: Amazon Fire TV Recast

Amazon Fire TV Recast vs Tablo – networked OTA DVR compared

Here are the differences summarized in the table if above was too much to read:

Amazon Fire TV Recast Tablo DUAL 64GB
Simultaneous streams 2 6
Recording format MPEG-2 H.264
Wired connectivity Gigabit Ethernet Fast Ethernet
Wireless connectivity Dual-Band (2.4 ghz and 5 ghz) 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac Dual-Band (2.4 ghz and 5 ghz) 802.11 a/b/g/n
Storage 500GB 64GB
Hours of storage at 720p@60fps 75 hours 14 hours
Supported TV devices Fire TV and Echo Show Android TV, Apple TV, Chromecast, Fire TV, Roku, Xbox One, LG Smart TVs running LG webOS 3.0+ and Samsung Smart TVs
Price $229.99 $369.99 ($219.99 + $150 lifetime subscription)
Summary and recommendations:

 

It is great to see Amazon coming to the over-the-air DVR market. Hopefully this will improve and reinvigorate competitive landscape which will be good for all of us.

If you are an Amazon household and already have Fire TV and Echo Show devices deployed throughout the choice is very clear. Amazon Fire TV Recast provides much better value and I am sure that it will be very well integrated into the Fire TV UI as well as provide voice controlled operation through Alexa.

If however you have other streamers like Android TV, Apple TV, Roku or you use smart features of the Samsung and LG TV then Tablo is a very clear winner. Even though it costs more it supports many more device types. You’ll just have to look past the channel tuning delays that affect their devices.

Now let’s say you don’t have any streaming devices deployed yet and are currently deciding between Android TV, Apple TV, Fire TV, Roku, etc. Well I would definitely wait to see if Recast delivers because between that and the new Fire TV Stick 4K they probably have the strongest offering that will combine over-the-air and streaming into one platform.

Now we wait and see if Amazon delivers on their promises.