Sling complement candidate #1: Tablo

Tablo's projected Roku app interface

Tablo’s projected Roku app interface

As I wrote last time, Sling TV looks like it could be the low-cost streaming solution for some viewers, particularly with the (temporary?) demise of NimbleTV. But Sling only works if the viewer also has a set of local over-the-air broadcast channels to complement it. I saw several candidates for that job at the International CES, and the first was Tablo, an OTA tuner, DVR, and streamer.

Before I start, I should mention Tablo’s main competitor, Simple.TV. It was just last year that Simple.TV used CES to announce the launch of its first two-tuner receiver. This year, Simple.TV had no official presence at CES. When I asked before the show, a rep told me that some Simple.TV folks would attend, but that there wouldn’t be any opportunity for meetings. While I was at the show, I heard rumors from two other companies that Simple.TV is exiting the hardware business to focus on its software. My single-tuner Simple.TV still works solidly, albeit slowly, and the company continues to release maintenance updates. Simple.TV is still around, but it’s not giving me a lot of reasons to recommend it.

At CES, I met with Tablo CEO Grant Hall, and he was excited about the improvements that are in the Tablo pipeline. Hall was showing off the innards of his next receiver version – the Tablo METRO, which includes a couple of OTA antennas built into the box. (You can see a photo at the Tablo blog.) I can’t imagine folks who don’t want a rooftop antenna, just like I can’t imagine folks who don’t think the Three Stooges were funny, but I guess they’re out there, and this receiver could give them everything they need without an external antenna. That’s if it works as advertised; we’ll see when the METRO comes out in a month or two.

The other update on the horizon is to Tablo’s Roku channel. The current version looks like a lot of other Roku channels – manageable but nothing like a modern program listing grid. As you can see in my photo above, the new Roku channel will look exactly like a modern program listing grid. Shoehorning this kind of functionality onto the Roku platform will be quite an achievement if it works. Hall was basically showing a mock up, but he wouldn’t do that if he didn’t think his team could pull it off.

When I reviewed the Tablo, I thought it was already a little better than Simple.TV. If these improvements pan out, I might have to consider buying a Tablo receiver and shelving my Simple.TV. Then again, maybe one of the other two major Sling complement candidates will work better. More about them next time.