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03 February, 2008

ATT Uverse vs DirecTV

We've been long time subscribers to DirecTV. You know, that satellite service that beams down all those great TV shows like .... o.k., I can't think of any right now.  Our service was fine. It was standard definition, with HBO and Showtime. I was content. The family was content. I don't think we had a single problem with the service. Even during heavy rain and wind, the picture remained sharp and stable. 

The few times we spoke with customer service, it was pain free. No long telephone queue with Barry Manilow trying to fill your brain with day old egg mcmuffin muzak. The folks were courteous and knew their stuff.  

Then, about a year ago, I went out and bought an HD display. A nice 40" 1080p Samsung.   We didnt' have any media to play through the Samsung so we just watched all our regular DirecTV programming and DVDs care of NetFlix.  The picture was a lot better then our old 30" Toshiba energy sucking boob tube and everyone was happy.  As an added bonus, the lights didn't dim every time we powered on the Samsung. The Toshiba made our neighbor's lights dim it sucked up so much juice. 

After a while my wife asked "Are we ever going to get HD Satellite?" That kicked me into high gear and I did what any self respecting husband would do. I made a spreadsheet outlining the pluses and minuses of Cable, Satellite, HDDVD and BlueRay and mulled them all over. After what seemed like a perfectly respectable amount of time I called DirectTV to find out how much "ouch" I'd have to incur to get upgraded to HD.

They told me that since I was such a great customer I could have my HD for only $300 plus a monthly charge of $10 on top of the $80 charge I was paying plus HD tax. If I wanted a second HD receiver I'd have to buy that too for only $100 but if I acted in 2 weeks that price could go up to $150. And then there was the dish, cable and an installation charge and a keg of beer for the installer because my roof was so high. O.K., they didn't say a keg of beer but after they said $300 I got this strange ringing in my ear and I don't really know what else was said.

 I had looked around and knew that if you did not have DirecTV  you could get some really killer package deals out there. Just promise not to cancel until you had and raised a kid, and when they moved out you paid for thier DirecTV.

I was bummed so I went back to the spreadsheet and thought about it all some more. Cable was a possibility. We have an unlimited number of cable companies around here. You can pick any of them as long as they are Time Warner.  But after seeing my friend almost choke a chicken because the cable was out on Super Bowl Sunday I didn't think TW was going to be a top notch choice. As an aside, when I was driving to my friends house that Sunday, I did notice the Time Werner truck about a block away parked with a couple of guys in hard hats (I want one of those!) standing around laughing and jiggling cables.  I didn't think much of it then but now I wonder if they were pissed off for having to work on SBS and so they were expressing themselves artistically by disconnecting the neighborhood.  We will never know. All I know is that the chicken died, my buddy got satellite and my wife was saying "no way we are getting cable!" 

About that time, I started getting peppered with little adverts from AT& T for something called Uverse. They promised 6Mb internet connection and on-demand television in both standard and HD.  Hardware was "free" or included in the monthly and that included a DVR. When I ran the numbers I could get their total package with higher speed internet for about the same price I was currently paying for Satellite and a 3Mb DSL connection.  

So, I called DirecTV once again to see maybe after a few months they had a better deal. Nope, the same old deal. $300 plus donating my organs to their new company DirectOrgans. That did it. As soon as I hung up the phone and checked my spreadsheet one more time, I called AT&T. I needed a few more pieces of information before making the decision and this is how it went...

"AT&T Uverse, how may I help you, Sir?"
"I'm thinking about Uverse but have a few questions."

"I'll try to answer them, what do you want to know, Sir?"
"How long does the install take?"
"Anywhere from 3 to 6 hours depending upon how much wiring in the home we have to do, Sir."
I am prewired with Cat5e so this should be easy

"Is the connection to the house FTTP or CTTP?" 
"Excuse me Sir, I did not understand the question?"
"Is the connection to the house Fiber to the Premises or Copper to the Premises?"
"Premises? We connect to the the house not the premises, Sir."
"Premises means my home in this case."
"What was the question?"
"Do you connect my house via Fiber or a copper wire like telephone wire?"
"Oh, it is Fiber, Sir."
"Fiber? Really? Because there is only copper running to the side of my house."
"The technician will run Fiber from the street to your house, Sir"
Now, I doubted this one though the idea intrigued me. Copper would still run from the side of the house to the router inside, but fiber to the house! How 2010 is that!

"I heard that you can only watch or record one HD signal."
"No sir, you can watch up to 4 programs but only one HD program can be recorded at a time."
"Really? I can watch a High Def program while recording a second HD program?"
"Yes Sir."
"Did you increase the bandwidth to the premises, I mean house or increase compression? A number of people on the ATTUverse boards are saying the big downside to this system is not being able to watch and record HD at the same time."
"Oh no sir, that was a problem before but we have fixed that."
"Yes, but how did you fix it?"
"We have the best technicians to fix those things, Sir."

Hmm, at this point I was beginning to think that maybe they did fix this. There were rumors that ATT was working on it. Perhaps, with Fiber the bandwidth was greater and they could stream multiple HD signals.

"O.K., last question - what is your uptime?"
"Uptime? I don't understand, Sir."
"Roughly, what percentage of the time does the system go down?"
"Oh. It never goes down. All of our cables are underground, Sir."

I'm serious, that is what she said. I love it! All of our cables are underground so we never have down time. In some weird way it is almost sensical. 

"I'm sure many of your cable are underground but your system can still fail. I've read of outages, how often do those occur?"
"Um, let me get my manager."

Note the lack of "Sir". The manager comes on line and I ask the same question. 
"Our uptime is greater then 95%!" 
He said that with such pride that I'm pretty sure he had no idea what he was saying.
Over the course of a year they are down less then 8 days a year.  That should of been the smelly red herring that sent me running but I just took it as the manager not understanding what uptime, downtime or where their cables were.

So, what did I do? I signed up for the bloody service because my spreadsheet said ATT had the best deal and I didn't have a column in there on number of days their call center said they expect to be down.

And what has been my experience over the last 2 months? Do I recommend ATT? Am I sorry I divorced myself from DirecTV?  Should I have divorced my wife and given TimeWarner a call? Where does Time Warner keep their wires? 

Come on back and I'll answer all of those great questions.
Until then may your uptime be greater then 99.99%  ...

Cio, e tutto per oggi! 


BradG said...


I'm interested in your U-verse experience. I'm thinking about dumping Direct-TV, but reading some negative stuff about potential bandwidth issues with U-verse. I'm curious about the actual throughput you are seeing with the inet connection, and about the quality of the HD picture. Also curious about the interface with the DVR capability, the wife loves Tivo...

Thanks in advance.

Sarre9 said...


I'm behind in my next post. Sorry about that but I'll give you the spoiler for part II.

Uverse video quality for standard definition appears better then what I was getting with DirecTV. However, I wonder if that is due to the compression and not an increase in resolution. Some compression methods increase the contrast and clean up the image to give the impression of higher resolution. I'm not saying Uverse is doing that, but I have to wonder. Why?

Uverse HighDef is good but it is not the best I've seen. Unfortunately, I can't compare it directly to DirecTV HD. I can only go by what I see in the store vs what I have at home. For whatever reason DirecTV HD looks punchier and cleaner to me.

Then there is Uverse OnDemand. This is a great idea - you can start and stop a variety of HBO, Showtime and other shows. It starts quickly. Let's you pause the video but the picture! Argh! There is so much motion artifact I have to take a Dramamine. Watching ShowTime's "The Tudors" via OnDemand hurts my eyes and that has nothing to do with a 300 pound Henry VII bouncing the bones of some waiting lady.

So, did I make a mistake to drop DirecTV and get Uverse? Let's put it this way, there is a good chance that I'll drop Uverse and go back to DirecTV in a few months. Because of the picture quality? No! because of that bloody DVR! Let's put it this way, calling the Uverse DVR a "DVR" is like calling a PlaySkool Saw a fine woodworking tool. Works if you are 4 years old but beyond that it isn't even a toy.

Anonymous said...

I'm glad I found your blog. We have been loyal DTV fans for a very long time. Tried cable (while keeping DTV) but didn't like the picture quality or the DVR and cut that. U-verse has been courting us (and everyone else) for well over a year and yesterday we succumbed to the pressure. We signed up because it was a really good deal. Like you said, costs roughly the same and you get a little bit more. But you scared me with the DVR bit.
We've had TIVO since it came out and then when we switched to DTV HD. We switched two of our DVRs to the DTV HD DVR and kept one TIVO. It took some getting used to but they have some nice features that compare pretty well to TIVO. For me two things determine our choice of service, DVR and picture quality. My husband is not as set on the DVR as I am but picture quality is huge to him. Price is at least number three but maybe even further down on the list, obviously within reason.
I think we are going to be going to an AT&T store to check out their DVR. We might have to call and cancel that install.


Sarre9 said...


When you are at the AT&T store, play around with the DVR functionality. Try fast forwarding through a show and then stopping where you want. Then try and find that spot. It is almost random how far ahead the show starts up compared to where you wanted to start.

Also go to the end of a recorded show and take a look at how many button presses you have to hit to delete a show. TiVo has nothing to fear from AT&T.

We still have our old TiVo hooked up to one of the AT&T receivers. We keep it under a paper bag so it doesn't get confused by the Uverse remote control we use to manage our primary Uverse receiver. However, every now and the TiVo-Uverse unit gets confused and we end up recording just a blank Uverse screen that says "Press OK". So far we haven't lost the real important stuff like Top Gear but I do wish there was a better solution.

Anonymous said...

A couple of things...

1) You might have had a better conversation with the Uverse rep if you had spoken english. I mean seriously... you call the 800 number and expect someone on the other end of the line to know what FTTP and CTTP mean? They're making $7.50/hr and could care less. Customer service has NEVER been AT&T's strong suit, but ask normal questions and you will get normal answers.

2) Over the last year I have had Insight (Time Warner) Cable, Dish Network, DirecTV, and now Uverse. In that order. I can tell you that, in it's current form, Uverse is as good as DirecTV. The whole home DVR is awesome - much better than DirecTVs AR-21 DVR.

Some of the improvements? Changing channels on Uverse is almost instant - DirecTV can often take a full 2-4secodns. Doesn't sound like much, but it real world terms, it is.

The service starts immediately even from a cold start. DirecTV can take up to 5 minutes to restart your DVR. Satellite checks, downloading program guides, etc... pain in the A$$.

The Uverse service is easily better than DirecTV. Especially in the HD department! HD on Uverse is crisp and doesn't suffer the compression-related issues of DirecTVs. Motion is especially improved.

My only gripe to date? I've had Uverse (and the Elite internet DSL package) for less than 3 weeks and I just got a notice that UniversalHD is moving to a new "premium HD" package. I will be very, very pissed if they start moving channels and charging premiums for HD after getting me to ditch DirecTV - and don't put it past them... AT&T is the scum of the earth when it comes to customer satisfaction.

Keeping my fingers crossed...

Sarre9 said...

anonymous -
Thanks for your comments. I haven't tried DirecTV for about a year now, so my experiences are becoming more out of date all the time. One thing I don't like about the Uverse DVR is the inability to slowly fast forward or rewind. The resolution of the fast forward and stop button is very poor. Not close to the beauty that TiVo is.

As for the help desk question, well yes FTTP , CTTP are cryptic. But, I did ask if it was Fiber. Shouldn't companies teach their help desk about the basics of the product they are selling? My help desk is trained in our products. I want my support team to give accurate information. I don't want them to punt and come up with the wrong answer. I rather have them admit they do not know and say they will make an attempt to find out the answer. ATT isn't the only company with a less then adequate help desk, but sadly too many of us put up with it instead of insisting that companies become accountable.

Changing channels on Uverse may be faster then on DirecTV. But, the sound and picture quality around here is much worse. We are getting more and more dropped sound and stalled video lately. It may be a coincidence, but the sound and picture problems have gotten worse right when whole home DVR was made available. Actually, I have a few gripes about Whole Home DVR that I need to write up. It is a half baked solution at best.

On rebooting the UverseDVR - I don't know what unit you have, but if I power down the box to do a reboot (I'm on reboot # 3 this month), it takes a good 4 or 5 minutes before I can change channels. I believe it is the underlying OS that is the problem. Hmm, what is that OS? Can someone say Windows?

I too got the cryptic notice about UniversalHD and Premium HD. I too am paying for the most expensive Uverse package and I too am perplexed as to what AT&T is up to. Channels moving to Premium? I thought I had premium. Time to call AT&T.

Anonymous said...

I dumped cable and switched to Directv back in 2002. I was fed up with the low quality of the picture (snow and ghost on channels and the intermittent service outages of cable, usually after/during heavy rain or heavy winds). Their ads always boasted that Satellite is prone to outages, my experience during the past 6 years has been that I get much better service uptime from Directv Satellite than I ever got with cable (and I live in South Florida which gets lots of rain year round). Directv content is ALL digital and they have the most HD channels. Since the switch, I have gradually upgraded all my equipment and today I have 4 HD DVRs. So I can be recording 8 HD shows and download 4 HD ondemand shows at once and can be watching HD content off of all the DVRs at the same time. I also have the capability to watch anything recorded or being recorded on any of my DVRs on any computer in the house. I recently looked into AT&T U-verse since hearing a lot of hipe abut being able to record 4 things at the same time. I will tell you that it is in fact just "hipe". Here are some facts I found out: 1) the 4 things being recorded at once is in fact a limitation, ATT U-verse limits you to watching / recording only 4 things at once per household, and only 2 of those can be HD (usually only 1 can be HD depending on the local bandwith available in your area). So, if you record 4 things at once, like they boast, only one of those recordings (maybe a max of 2) can be HD content, the rest are standard definition, and while you are recording these 4 things at once, you cannot watch any other "live" show on your other TVs, they are restricted to watching the 4 "streams" that are being recorded or to watching something else off the DVR ... you are limited to a total of 4 "streams" of live and ondemand content (content can me composed of TV shows, On demand programing, or their help system and guide, yes you heard right, if you are accessing the help system or programming guide, that takes up one of the "streams") at once for the entire house!! 2) their "entire house" DVR has a puny 160gb hard drive in it, this can record up to 37hr of HD or 137hrs of standard definition content, there is no means of expanding this by adding an external drive like Directv allows you to do. Currently I have two of my Directv DVRs with 1TB external drive attached which allows me to records hundreds of hours of HD content and thousands of hours of standard content, my son has the complete series of Myth Busters plus many 007 movies recoded on his DVR and still has lots of room for additions recording, on the other DVR with the 1TB drive, I have the complete series of Survivorman, Man Vs Wild, Cash and Treasure and over 60 HD movies recorded and still have more than 25% free space remaining. The other 2 Directv DVRs came with a 300GB and a 500GB internal hard drive, all the new HR22 models have a 500gb internal drive 3) DIRECTV has 130 channels in HD plus HD pay per view channles, plus HD sports packages (Like NFL Sunday Ticket), Plus HD Ondemand content. Directv has plans to soon launch more satellites to add another 50 channels of HD, U-Verse has only 74 channels in HD and some ondemand content in HD with no advertised plans/date of when they will increase this. Today ATT U-verse has serious bandwith problems with the content they are currently providing. Adding more HD content to ATT U-verse is only going to make their household bandwidth restriction/limitation even more noticeable and more of a problem when their customers try to tune into HD channels on multiple TVs at one time and find out they cannot. 4) Excluding the cost of initial purchase of HD equipment for Directv, the monthly price is the same for ATT U-Verse but you get a lot less HD and a lot less capabilities with ATT U-verse. If you are a new Directv customer, you can get one HD DVR and 3 HD receivers plus the new Dish installed for free with a 2 year commitment. An additional HD DVR will cost you $199 but sometimes they run a deal and you can get it for $99.

OK, so lets look at a typical scenario:
ATT U-verse, lets say you have a household DVR (ATT U-verse restricts you to having only one DVR per household) and 3 additional HD receivers in you house. It is Monday night and you try to set your DVR to record Chuck and Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles at 8:00pm in HD but due to bandwith issue at your location, you can only record one of these shows in HD and are forced to record the other in standard definition. Your wife wants to watch re-runs of "Lost" on the Scifi channel and goes to the bedroom to watch it there but soon is hit with the fact that she cannot watch it in HD because you have hit your "stream" limit of how many concurrent HD content you can view at any one time (1 and possibly 2 at any one time), she reluctantly watches the show in standard definition after saying a few choice words to you under her breath. Your kids have been bugging you all night and to give you some peace and quiet you bribe them with an ondemand movie in their playroom so you start a stream of ondemand download and they start watching it there ( this one is limited to standard definition for the same reasons as stated above, you are now at your 4 "stream" limit: Chuck (in HD) and Terminator being recorded, Lost rerun and one ondemand download ... note only one thing is HD). You recall that a movie that you wanted to watch may be coming on tonight on HBO and try to go to the guide to see if it is coming on tonight, as soon as you switch to the guide, your wife's content on her TV in the bedroom is no longer available because you are taking up one of the streams with the guide (the priority for streams is: content being recorded, ondemand being downloaded/recorded, guide and help system, regular "live" content being watched). Ok, so you get out of the guide after your wife screams at you from the bedroom, but you realized that the movie you had been waiting for is in fact on in 20 minutes and is not playing again for another week. You are limited to 4 streams, so if you want to record it tonight you either have to cancel one of your two recordings, cancel your kids ondemand movie download and have them go play or do something else, or god forbid cancel your wife's show she is trying to watch in the bedroom.

OK, lets look at the same thing with Directv: Lets say you have 2 HD DVRs (ATT U-verse only allows you to have 1 DVR per household) and two HD receivers

You set one DVR to record Chuck and Terminator, both in HD, your wife goes into your bedroom to watch Lost re-runs on Scifi channel in HD and your kids are in the play room downloading and watching an ondemand movie in HD on their DVR. Directv ondemad is done through a network connection on the DVR (1 or 2 Cat5 connectors on the back of the unit), just connect the DVR to your home high speed network and the additional content becomes available in the guide within 24hrs of making the connection. You can record two shows and download one item from your ondemand queue all at the same time. So you remember that the movie you wanted to watch may be on HBO tonight, you go to the guide without disrupting anyone's shows and find out that it is in fact coming on in 20 minutes. You are lazy and don't want to walk to the kids playroom to set your movie to record on their DVR, so instead you pull out your laptop and you go to Directv's website and you tell the DVR in the Kids playroom to record your movie for you(in HD!!). After 20 minutes of watching Chuck, you decide you really want to start watching that movie on HBO but it is being recorded in the playroom and your kids are watching something else there. You get on your laptop and launch DIRECTV2PC and access your kids HD DVR and start streaming that movie right onto your laptop and watching it there in piece and quiet. So, at this point you are recording 2 HD shows on one DVR, you are downloading one HD show and recording one HD show on the other DVR, your wife is watching and HD show on an HD receiver, and you are watching something being recorded on one of the DVRs from your laptop, and you have another HD receiver sitting idle which could be used to watch yet another HD show. As you can see, you have much better flexibility and HD capabilities with Directv, with this setup, you could record 4 HD shows at once while downloading 2 HD content items form ondemand at the same time while watching two HD show on the HD receivers, while watching anything recorded on any of the DVRs on any computer in you housefold ... imagine what you could do with 4 HD DVRs like I have in my house!!!

ATT U-verse is a lot of hipe and has a lot of restrictions .... maybe 5 years from now it may be worth taking a look at again. Right now, Directv offers the most HD content and the most flexibility and capabilities around. However, they still need to work on their customer service, but ATT U-verse customer service in not any better, try calling them and you will see what I mean