AT&T U-Verse - Cable TV and broadband using your phone lines
If you have not heard about AT&T U-Verse, you will soon enough. I'm getting weekly marketing slicks in the mail and seeing a lot of commercials. So what is it and why do you care? Well, you might not care at all if you are happy with your current broadband and cable/satellite TV provider. Since I got my HD flat screen TV earlier this year, I have been looking to switch my analogue cable to a good HD option. After many months of hunting, AT&T U-Verse arrived in my neighborhood. I got it installed a few weeks ago and figured I would share my experience.
How it works
The system runs over your phone lines. Basically you get a big Internet connection (about 30 megs) which is controlled by AT&T and everything streams through that connection. The installer can use your existing phone and/or coax TV cabling to run the system in the house. This system is based upon a fiber optic connection from the core AT&T site to a local Vrad device in your neighborhood. There needs to be an AT&T Vrad close by your house to get the service though. You can go here to see if service is in your area http://www.att.com/u-verse/
Like all good cable installations, it took several tries and lots of hours waiting at home for them to arrive. Some thing never change even though the technology does. The initial installation was set for 12:00 one Tuesday afternoon and the installer finally showed up around 5:00. He did call however to say he was running late. Soon after arriving, he determined that the phone line coming in the our house needed to be upgraded. The next day, another AT&T tech arrived and replaced the cabling from the telephone pole to the house (free by the way and it looked like it was the original cabling from 40 or more years ago). The phone line checked out OK so then I tried the installation again. It took several days to get back on their calendar and then someone else came out for the install and was only a couple of hours late this time. In the end though, the system was fully up and running.
Ultimately my cable and Internet bill went up about $20 a month compared to my basic analogue cable and Verizon DSL. For the extra 20 bucks though, I now have a ton of HD channels (I got the HD package for $10 a month extra), a great DVR, and a faster 3 meg Internet connection. Well worth the money in my opinion and also less expensive than Comcast.
- Excellent DVR - which can record 2 HD and 2 SD channels at the same time. It also allows other TV's in your home to access and play back the recorded items. Really convenient.
- Very Good Remote - The universal remote is laid out very well with most of the buttons in the right places and works well with my other equipment. I have a fancy Harmony remote which I do not use any longer since this one works so well.
- Great wireless - The install includes a 2Wire router with wireless. You can keep your existing wireless if you want, but this one works great so I retired my other wireless router.
- Fast Channel Changing - Like most men, I like to channel chase. I've used other systems that had annoyingly slow channel changing, but this system is real time and as quick as my old analogue cable.
- Great TV guide - Very easy to use and included several ways to utilize the system including picture in picture and recording abilities.
- DVR Programming via the web - you can access your DVR via the web and setup recordings and you can even do this from your PDA.
- HD Quality - not that it is "bad" but it is not the greatest compared to other providers I've seen. I notice a lot of pixilation especially with fast moving or dark scenes. This is definitely the signal and not my TV. It also seems to depend on the quality of the TV show since some programs like the local news look amazing while others on the same channel just do not look that great. I figure since the service is new that things will only get better.
- Drop outs - Quite often my TV will drop picture and say "signal loss" for about a second and then go back to normal. This can happen more than a dozen times in a one hour show or not at all. I do not think it is my TV (it never did it before U-Verse), but then again the TV in another room has never done this. AT&T has come out a couple of times and cannot find anything wrong. Maybe I'll try a firmware update to the TV to see if that helps.
- HDMI - Oddly the system does not work with the HDMI connection since there is some issue with the DVR code. AT&T has been working on it but from what I can tell it has been over a year and still no fix. Because of this you need to use the component video and RCA audio. You do not loose any picture quality, but to get digital 5.1 surround sound, you will need to use a digital optical cable.
Even with the slow and painful installation and the core TV signal/quality issues, this is still a very good option over Comcast or Direct/Dish TV. The price is good and the system includes a ton of features for the money. If you are looking for a new TV provider, check out AT&T U-verse as an option.