Sayonara U-verse…it’s been a slice

“So when are you actually going to do something about the noise the Tivo is making?” I’d only been talking about fixing the whining hard drive in the DirecTivo for about a year and my wife was reminding me again that I’d been talking about doing something about it, well, for a year. “Soon” I said. “But the places that sell the drive replacements online aren’t exactly cheap and we’ve got a bunch of other stuff coming up that are a higher priority.”. But damn that whining was annoying.

Coincidentally I was talking with a friend, Brian, about AT&T and their U-verse product because at some point they’ll probably start working on fiber-to-the-curb like Verizon has been doing with FIOS. I had checked the U-verse page quite awhile ago to see if it had been available at my house and at the time I was out of luck. I checked again though right after I finished talking with Brian and it turned out that U-verse was available at my house. Even more shocking was the fact that I could get the system installed the next day if I wanted. I signed up for an install and thought I was saying so long to DirectTV.

Let me talk about DirecTV for just a moment because I’ve had their DirectTivo service almost since it was first available. The price has always been right, the programming selection has always been good, and I’ve always had good results with their customer service. The two strikes that they always had against them, even though both happened only sporadically, were rain fade and snow on the dish.

Rain fade, in most storms, affected almost every channel but the local channels I was receiving via DirecTV. During a big storn, that could be miles away from us but still between us and the satellites, we’d lose every channel that wasn’t on a spot beam. A spot beam is how DirecTV broadcasts your local channels and the signal area is much tighter than the general signal and generally much higher power. In the worst storms we’d lose those as well but most of the time they were OK.

The other big hit was snow build up on the dish out in our backyard. Simple enough to clean off but in any significant storm, and we had a lot of those this past winter, it is a drag to have to trudge out in the snow to brush off the damn dish to be able to watch TV. Admittedly this hasn’t been too much of a problem but it was really annoying this past winter. U-verse had the promise, like cable TV, of no rain fade and no concerns about snow. Enter U-verse.

For $60 We’d get more channels than we had with DirecTV. We’d also get a DVR unit that would record up to four standard definition (ie: regular TV) shows at once which is great because we don’t currently have HDTV. With the DirecTivo we’d had only 2 recordings at once as a possibility. Oh, and not contracts. I wasn’t really sure what else to expect aside from those things but it sounded like a good trade-off so that is why I ordered the service.

The serivce guy shows up. He does a nice install job. The new wiring required for the DSL line was very cleanly done. He didn’t ask me where I wanted things installed but he was a nice guy and did a nice job overall so I really didn’t care much. I could always move it myself. When he left I had an upgraded DSL circuit with a bit more download speed and a significant boost in upload speed. I had a new router which I wasn’t too happy about initially since I really like my Linksys WRT54g but since I didn’t have a choice and hadn’t explored the 2wire unit that was installed yet it really wasn’t that big of a deal.

I also had the DVR unit upstairs which was connected to the 2wire “Residential Gateway” in the basement by coax cable. The installer had it easy because the only thing he had to do was disconnect one of my two wires coming in from the DirecTV dish outside and hook it up to the 2wire gateway device. He didn’t have to cut anything since the installer for DirecTV did a great job way back when I had DirecTV service first installed. The AT&T guy only needed to unscrew the coax from the grounding block on the wall for the satellite and screw it in to the gateway device. The other end only needed to be unscrewed from the old DirecTivo unit to the new U-verse DVR. Pretty simple stuff.

So how is the service? Pretty good.

  • The picture quality for standard definition is better than what I was getting with DirecTV.
  • How can you complain about 4 recordings at once? T
  • The system is snappy and channels change quickly.
  • Since the system is integrated with DSL I can access some AT&T Yahoo! stuff pretty easily like
    • My Flickr account and all the photostreams in it.
    • Some AT&T Yahoo! games.
    • Via the “U-bar” my local weather, stock portfolio, etc.
  • Video on demand which we didn’t have with DirecTV.
  • You can program recordings and delete old recordings remotely.

So I’m speaking in the past tense here about DirecTV yet the title of this post is bye-bye AT&T so what gives? Well, the initial honeymoon was short lived and my wife and I quickly started to not like the service. We had three major complaints with the service that caused me to go crawling back on my knees to DirecTV (well, not really but I’ll talk about that in a moment).

  1. We lost the ability of the the DirecTivo to have two shows being buffered for playback at the same time.

    The DirecTivo has two physical tuners built in and via the remote control you could switch between the two. Want to have the local news buffering in the background while you watch something else and then, during commercial breaks in the important show, go back and scan the news? Easy as pie on the DirecTivo. Switch each buffer to a different channel and you’re set. All of this without having to worry about recording something. Turns out losing this feature is one of the biggest complaints people have about the newer, non-Tivo, DirecTV DVRs as well. More on that later.

    With the AT&T unit any change away from the channel you’re watching clears out the buffer. The scenario I laid out above simply isn’t possible and quite frankly that was a show-stopper. The unit even clears out the buffer of the currently watched channel even if you stay on that channel but watch something that has already been recorded.

  2. We lost the XM music channels that are provided by DirecTV.

    You might think I’m nuts but that was a big deal for me. I’m a classical music freak and I listened to the XM classical stations a lot.AT&T, which apparently provided Music Choice at some point and which I had with DirecTV before (maybe it was Dish), switched their music to URGE which, quite frankly, sucks. The classical selection really stunk. Based on reports I’ve read on various U-verse-related forums I was not the only person not happy with those music channels.

  3. No FitTV.

    Laugh if you will but it is an important channel for my wife.

    The thing that was odd was how AT&T had their programming. FitTV was actually available with their U Family package which was the low-end offering. It wasn’t available (along with others) in the next two tiers, U100 and U200. U200 was the offering I chose for $60 a month. It was available in the U300 tier which is an extra $20 a month but includes some movie channels.I don’t give a damn about movie channels. I’ve tried them multiple times with DirecTV and always end up dropping them because they play the same stuff far too often to make it worth my money.

    I can’t understand why FitTV wasn’t in the U200 offering. It seemed very odd since almost every other channel is included in that tier aside from the movie channel offerings.

Given those things I wasn’t too comfortable sticking with AT&T for TV service and decided to hightail it back to DirecTV and hope they’d take me back (OK I’m exaggerating..I hadn’t canceled my service yet).

I called DirecTV last Tuesday, less than a week after having U-verse installed, to cancel my account. Not surprisingly they offered me incentives to stick with them having been a customer for so long. I was offered $10/month off my bill for a year plus a new DVR unit for free. The DVR upgrade means I will be sticking with DirecTV for another two years but I guess that is OK as I’ve been with them for six years already 😉 Given the issues I wrote about above I accepted their offer. Last Friday I received the new DVR unit, an R15 model, via second-day FedEx and hooked it up.

A bit later I will post about the R15 and the annoyances we have with it but I’ve got XM back, my wife has FitTV back, we still have two tuners, and life is good. Oh, and DirecTV added the ability to at least set up new recordings remotely. The feature isn’t as good as what AT&T offers but it’s close and very convenient.

Overall the AT&T service was pretty good but some issues were just too much for us to overcome. I’d actually recommend the service to other people if they didn’t care about the types of things I outlined above. The price is fair, there is no contract, and you get good DSL service too boot.

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