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AT&T U-Verse page on DSLReports
Six Month Rating

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Review by goillini See Profile

  • Location: Madison,Dane,WI
  • Cost: $110 per month
Good "reliability"
Bad "price, customer service, tv quality, DVR"
Overall "U-verse pricing not competitive."
Pre Sales Information:
Install Co-ordination:
Connection reliability:
Tech Support:
Value for money:
(ratings below consensus)

(Updated March 8, 2011)

AT&T rolled out U-verse, their competitor to cable TV service, in Madison back in October 2008. As someone who loves playing with new technology, is frequently frustrated by Charter’s cable TV service, and who has too many trees to get satellite TV, I wanted to be the first kid on the block with U-verse. We had it installed in November 2008.

After using the service for a month, we ditched the TV service and kept the Internet service. So, the review of the installation and TV service reflects how things worked in 2008. Maybe things have improved since then.

We just canceled Uverse Internet service last week. The price was no longer competitive with Charter -- I was paying the same price for 6 Mbps service as Charter's list price for 12 Mbps service. And I was able to get a bundle promo from Charter that basically made the 12 Mbps service free with my current TV package. We really didn't have any problems with Uverse Internet after ironing out some initial glitches; the only reason we switched was because of the high price.

AT&T's prices for Uverse TV and Internet are obnoxious. The promotional prices for the first few months look good, but the sky-high fees for the HD DVR and additional TVs make the TV service a really bad deal for pretty much anyone, unless you're going to have just one TV and a very basic channel package. Likewise, Uverse Internet pricing is not competitive with cable.

-- original review --

Installation

Let’s just say that if you’re going to have U-verse installed, prepare to spend an entire day on the install. My installer showed up at 8:45 a.m. and finally wrapped up after 5 p.m. — and I only had one TV to hook up. While the installer was very friendly, and knowledgeable about the product, that’s simply way too long for an install.

The biggest delay was trying to sort out the wiring in the local “VRAD,” one of the refrigerator-sized equipment cabinets AT&T’s been installing all over town. The way the installer explained it to me, there’s an “in” and “out” side to the VRAD, with numbered sets of telephone cables. Set #1 on the “in” side should go to the same house as set #1 on the “out” side. Instead set #1 on the “in” side matched set #25 on the “out” side. So, the installer and his manager spent a couple hours tracing cables through the VRAD.

Once the installer and his manager finally sorted out the wiring problems with the VRAD, the install went somewhat more smoothly. But there were still some other problems:

* The installer didn’t realize we had AT&T phone service and disconnected our phone line. When I told him our phone line was out, his response was “Oh. You have AT&T phone service?” So, our phone was out for a few hours while they sorted that out, too.

* After the installer finally had the U-verse TV service up and running, it was time to set up the Internet service. As the customer, you have to register an account with AT&T to activate the Internet service. I ran into a problem where the activation “looped” — after I finished the last page of the registration process, it kicked me back to the beginning. If I tried to re-register, it would say I had already registered. But it wouldn’t let me online, either, because it said I needed to register. The installer had to call AT&T and have them manually activate the account.

* To get U-verse service, the installer usually needs to run a new cable from the “network interface device” (NID), the grey box on the back of your house that the phone line comes into. The new line runs from the NID to the new U-verse DSL modem or “residential gateway” (RG). Our installer just left the new cable hanging off the side of the house instead of using some zip-ties to secure it. This isn’t a big deal, it’s just sloppy.

Over 8 hours after the installer showed up, I finally had U-verse TV and Internet.

TV Service & Picture Quality

The U-verse feature I was most excited about was the HD TV service — U-verse has many more HD channels than Charter, including Bravo, Science, SciFi, USA and WGN. But, when comparing HD picture quality between U-verse and Charter, U-verse’s HD picture quality was not as good as Charter’s. AT&T’s HD quality was not as sharp, and U-verse did not handle sports or other programming with a lot of action as well as Charter — U-verse was more likely to have macroblocking than Charter.

That said, the difference between U-verse and Charter wasn’t huge. For many people, the picture quality would probably be good enough. But it is noticeable . My wife, who isn’t as big a picture quality snob as I am also noticed the difference. For her, the problem was that everything looked darker on AT&T, so shows like “the West Wing” which have a lot of dimly lit scenes were nearly unwatchable, even after cranking up the brightness on the TV.

Digital Video Recorder (DVR)

Our biggest problem with U-verse was the DVR. It shouldn’t be a big surprise that a set-top box relying on Microsoft software crashes, but it doesn’t make it any less frustrating. In the one month we had the U-verse DVR, I had to reboot it three times and had numerous other problems. A couple times, the DVR stopped responding to the remote (and not because we forgot to hit the “AT&T” button on the remote). The AT&T DVR goes into a screen saver mode if it hasn’t been used in a while. To wake it up, you press the “OK” button on the remote. When the DVR stopped responding to the remote, we couldn’t get it to wake up by hitting OK on the remote, but if we hit OK on the front of the DVR box, the remote would start working again.

Other times, the DVR would just display a screenful of snow. Sometimes, the DVR would recover after I mashed on the channel change buttons, other times a reboot was required. And did I mention that the U-verse takes an eternity to reboot?

Other times, the DVR was sluggish. And because you also have to point the U-verse remote right at the box, it wasn’t immediately clear whether the reason the box wasn’t responding was because you hadn’t aimed the remote right at the box or that the box was being sluggish again. This often made recording shows (find the program in the guide, then press record once for just that episode or twice to record the whole series) an adventure.

We had Tivo DVRs with our Charter cable service and, to be honest, we were pre-disposed not to like the AT&T DVR because it wasn’t Tivo. But I honestly hoped that if the AT&T DVR was good enough, we could avoid buying a new HD Tivo. For those that have never had a DVR before, there’s no basis of comparison, so it’ll probably be cool just to have a DVR. But, for those who have had Tivos or even Dish Network / DirecTV DVRs, it’s a big step back.

While the U-verse DVR offers a few advanced features like online scheduling (also offered by Dish, DirecTV and Tivo), there are multiple missing features. With Tivo and other DVRs, you can set how many episodes of a show you’d like to keep (for example, keep only 1 episode of ABC World News, keep all episodes of “Lost”). Not with the U-verse DVR. There’s also no way to easily prioritize which shows you’d like to record to avoid conflicts. And those are just basic DVR functions that are missing. With Tivo, there are a whole host of advanced features that U-verse doesn’t offer. We could watch Netflix movies online, burn recordings to DVD, and play MP3s stored on other computers on our home network.

In the end, the biggest factor in our disappointment with AT&T’s U-verse TV service was its buggy, feature-poor DVR. On the bright side, U-verse’s DVR did convince my wife to green-light the purchase of a HD Tivo.

Customer Service

AT&T customer service vs. Charter customer service is like the flu vs. a cold. They’re both terrible. When it became clear we did not like AT&T’s TV service and wanted to cancel it, I called AT&T to cancel. The first AT&T customer service representative I talked to said I could not cancel the TV service and keep the Internet service — despite the fact that many folks who try the U-verse TV service do just that. This is probably part of some AT&T customer retention plan — lie to your customers, assume they’re sheep and hope they just accept the lie.

I called back and talked to a different customer service rep who apparently already hit their customer-retention quota and canceled the TV service for me without argument or hassling. But, when he canceled the TV service for me, he somehow goofed up our account and downgraded us to the slowest DSL tier, instead of the fastest one, which we were still being billed for. It took another half-hour call to AT&T to get that straightened out, though at least that time I talked to a very helpful Tier 2 representative who was able to fix the problem.

Within the first few weeks of having the U-verse Internet service we also had a problem with the Internet service. There were several websites we could not reach from home that we could reach fine from work. Despite multiple calls to AT&T’s tech support by myself and another customer in Madison with the same problem, we weren’t able to get the issue resolved until I posted about it on dslreports.com and an AT&T network engineer saw the post and fixed the problem.

Also, beware of AT&T’s “30-day money-back guarantee.” AT&T’s “guarantee” only applies if you cancel all service. That’s my fault for not reading the fine print. I canceled TV, but was not able to get a refund on the TV service because I did not cancel the DSL service as well. Likewise, AT&T went ahead and billed me for next month’s service, but won’t update the balance now that I’ve canceled TV. So I have to pay the full amount and hope that they get the billing right and I’m credited the overpayment. I don’t have a crystal ball, but I foresee another call to AT&T’s ever-so-unhelpful customer service department in my future.

Conclusions

There were a few things I liked about U-verse, like the bigger & better HD lineup and more sports programming like the NFL Network and Big Ten Network overflow channels, neither of which are offered by Charter. But, there were too many problems with reliability, the DVR was too buggy and feature-poor, and the HD picture quality was inferior. MaybeAT&T has ironed out some of these problems since then. But I just don’t see a convincing reason to switch to U-verse TV.

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