AT&T U-Verse – Video

AT&T offers three separate services through their U-Verse branded advance communications offering.  This post will deal with video.

U-Verse video isn’t a traditional cable service; rather it’s a feature rich digital entertainment service.

When you have AT&T U-Verse video you can select standard set-top boxes for televisions or two different levels of digital video recorders [DVR] (I don’t see why you’d need more than a single DVR since you can watch the content of the DVR from any set-top box).  The televisions in your home can be connected via the existing coax plant or preferably through CAT5 cabling (which would also allow computers to be connected as well).

Your installer will present you will a plan for cabling all your televisions to the system.  And while you may incur additional installation charges if you decide you want it done differently, I found my installer more than willing to work with me to make me happy (I didn’t ask him for anything unreasonable or substantially more difficult than he suggested).

The DVRs and set-tops boxes require registration with the AT&T video servers, and there’s a great potential for things going wrong in that process — so you might find during installation a defective piece of equipment makes the install take much longer than it should — but if your installer is like mine, your service will work correctly before he leaves.

The number of channels you get depends on the service level plan you choose; and whether or not you get high definition depends on whether or not your pay for it (it’s not free, and I think it’s only included in the U450 plan).

Also, pay close attention to the terms and conditions of any promotion you plan on redeeming as to what plan you have to subscribe to and how long you have to keep it… again, AT&T doesn’t engender trust, and any mistake you make they will be sure to use it against you (in fact, from what I’ve found you’ll end up fighting for the rewards you’re clearly eligible for).

The DVR can record up to four different programs at once; and you can play back multiple programs while recording (there’s going to be a limit — it’s not really advertised, at least not clearly).

The DVR and set-top boxes are based on Microsoft Windows CE; whether or not that’s the source of some of the problems are not I can’t say — but there are problems… lots of problems.

I find one of the first things you’ll have to learn is how to reset/reboot the box… and it’s the only way to resolve things like:

  • All (or at least many) of your recorded programs disappear from the listing;
  • You can’t play a recorded program;
  • You can’t use any features when playing a recorded program (like fast forward, etc);

Remember, when you reset/reboot the box you’ll interrupt anything being recorded — and generally you’ll find you have the “same” program twice, actually the older listing is the first part, the newer listing is the second part — and there will be some missing content (re-record it if you want to watch it all).

I also find that video glitches fairly often, particularly when another program starts / finishes recording… often recording have glitches in them; of course you’ll see “line drops” just like with digital cable once in a while as well.

The DVR / set-top boxes are slow to respond, and freeze on occasion (sometimes they become responsive after a few moments, sometimes they don’t).

I don’t have HD service, but I can only imagine that the problems get worse with the higher data rates HD demands.

If you feel “antenna” quality video is good enough, you’ll be happy with AT&T U-Verse service — but keep in mind that I find satellite and digital cable equally horrible — and satellite boxes and advance cable boxes are just as buggy… which is probably one of the reasons I likely won’t keep the service.

AT&T U-Verse also offers video on demand (VOD) service — that means you can watch a number of programs any time you like; and they offer a number of “free” VOD selections as well as a large catalog of pay-per-view VOD programs (though I believe you can watch those several times within a window once you pay for them).

The DVR has the ability to record a single program or a series; however, since AT&T doesn’t seem to provide sufficient meta information in the program guide you might find that when you record a series you miss episodes (particularly when there’s a “marathon”) or you get double recording of the same series.  My feeling is that this SUCKS, it simply isn’t that hard to “remember” what I’ve already recorded in a series, and only record it a second time if there was a problem with the initial recording… and of course, how hard is it to figure out episodes of a series that haven’t been recorded (even if they’re shown at an alternate time).

Over all my feeling is that the AT&T U-Verse video offering is weak; very weak… buggy; very buggy… and expensive; very expensive.

I’m not much of a TV fan — I prefer to watch movies and programs commercial free, and I prefer not to deal with Mid evil video playback technology (particularly when I’m being charged premium prices).

Originally posted 2010-05-16 02:00:20.