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07 March, 2008

DVR Shoot Out — Uverse vs. The Arrogant Bastard of DVRs

The standard Uverse package includes up to 3 receivers one of which is a DVR. That is a pretty sweet deal. Throw in a DVR as part of the package. Don't charge anything additional for the DVR! Excellent!

Or is it?

I am a TiVo evangelist. I absolutely believe that TiVo is the best DVR bar none. I know, MythTV has the same functionality and it is free. Well, almost free. You have to supply your own hardware, OS (Linux easy), MythTV application (relatively easy), a video tuner card (more money), subscribe to a TV listing service (easy and money) and make it all work in a box that the significant other will allow in the family room (hard).

MythTV is great but I just don't have time to fiddle with it. As I have aged (gracefully, I tell myself all the time) I have found that there are some things worth doing on your own only until something hits the market that is as good or better. An example, before America's microbrew industry got into full swing, I brewed my own beer. By the mid-90's, there were just too many good microbrews out there to justify my spending time brewing and bottling.

For me, TiVo is the Arrogant Bastard of DVRs. The interface is intuitive. Response time quick. Programming is easy. It just works and I just happen to be worthy enough to enjoy my TiVo.

When we got Uverse, I decided to keep TiVo around to help the family transition to the Uverse DVR (Motorola box). Three months later, TiVo is still hooked up and is by far the primary DVR used. This, inspite of the fact we can not record in HD on TiVo.

Why are we still using this old Standard Definition TiVo recorder for Uverse content?

Programming --

To schedule a recording with Uverse you have several options. You can use the

Guide
Favorites
Search

The "Guide", is a 12 day listing of programming for all channels. Moving from today ahead 7 days, requires you to scroll throw the Guide at 30 minute intervals. A bit tedious and really only useful if you want to record a show that is going to start within an hour or two.

Favorites - same as the "Guide" but only shows those channels you have set up as "Favorites".

Search - Type the name or title and up will pop those shows that have that name or title. You can not search by genre, actor, or anything else. Compare that to TiVo and you'll get the feeling that this thing was designed as a High School project!


With TiVo, you can search by Title, Time, Channel, Actor, Category, Keyword and Swivel. That last one reminds me of those sticks you use to mix your drink. Only, in TiVo's case you get to mix up whatever word, keyword, concept, date and/or time you want to find a show. Swivel is like having a built in Google engine for video programming.

The interface on TiVo blows away AT&T's. When I searched for "Top Gear" on Uverse, it showed me a list of 3 to 4 upcoming broadcasts. But on TiVo, I get a list of 8 shows on one page and am told that there are 20 upcoming episodes. Uverse doesn't give me that sort of information.

Finding a Recorded Show

Uverse - By selecting "Browse Recordings", I can review my recorded shows by date or title. I only see 5 shows at a time but Uverse does tell me how many shows I have. That's not too bad. But TiVo stomps all over Uverse with greater flexibility.

I select "Now Playing" from the TiVo main menu and all of my shows are presented on a scrolling page. One screenful of shows gives me access to 8 programs. Series show up as folders with the number of recordings displayed next to the folder.

Watching a Recorded Show
Once I have selected a show on Uverse, the all important stop, pause, fast forward and rewind comes into play. These functions are probably the most used and sadly, Uverse does one of the worst jobs I have ever seen on a DVR. The response of these functions is just a little better then ... I can't think of anything... Let me give you an example.

Say I'm watching the latest episode of Lost and one of those marketing techniques developed in the 1950's interrupts my viewing experience. I think some people call these interruptions "commercials". Anyway, on TiVo, I can forward through the interruption at 3 different speeds stopping when I see the show start up. TiVo, automagically backs up to within a few frames of when I hit the Play button. Uverse should do the same right? Nope. It misses the mark by between 5 - 7 seconds. Not frames! Seconds! It is almost as if, Uverse was trying to force you to watch the last 5 seconds of the commercial interruption. If you try to forward through those 5 seconds, you'll be brought forward in time by about 9 seconds. The resolution on forward and reverse is thick. There is absolutely no excuse for this lack of functionality. This one issue has my family cursing Uverse and insisting on recording most shows with TiVo.

Once you have watched the show you want to delete it right? Uverse actually got this one right. Just select "Erase". What they messed up on is what happens if you want to save the recording so someone else could watch it later? You have to back out of the current menu, select Show Recordings, find the show you just watched and then select "Save Until I Erase". Can someone tell me what brilliant user interface designer decided this was a good idea? Oh, Motorola doesn't have user interface designers you say? Ah, AT&T never tested the box on anyone that has used a DVR? I see. Everything is so clear now.

On TiVo, the Save option is presented on the same screen as the Erase option. TiVo once again rocks. TiVo understands user interface design. TiVo actually tried their products on humans. I am convinced there wasn't anyone at AT&T that actually tried any competitor product. Shame on you AT&T. Your DVR functionality smacks of amateurish interface design.

Picture Quality
Uverse HD recorded shows look better then TiVo recorded SD shows. Umm, I'm not sure that is a fair comparison and I'd be a bit perplexed if it worked any other way.

So there you have it. If you have a TiVo and you are considering using Uverse, my recommendation would be to think again. Go with either DirecTV or Cable. If you go with Cable, then make sure you get a TiVo.


One more thing - you may wonder how I hooked TiVo up to Uverse. You'd think that it would be very simple. Well, sadly, AT&T has locked down their Motorola boxes so it is not as easy as it should be. On the Motorola box, you can only have one video connection live at any one time. So, if I try feeding the Component Video to the TiVo and HDMI to my Monitor, one of those signals will be turned off. TiVo (though this is just SD) keeps all of their video outputs alive. I understand (though disagree with) the idea that HDMI has to be copy protected, but why shouldn't the S-Video and HDMI or Component signals be alive at the same time? I have a right to record the programming as I am paying for this. No where does AT&T say that video output is limited to feeding only one device at a time.

My workaround was to take that third Motorola box and dedicate it to TiVo. This presented one other problem. I can have up to 2 TiVo units in my family room. Each unit controlled by their own remote. Amazingly, AT&T and Motorola didn't think about the potential of having more then one set top box in the same room as there is no way to dedicate one remote to one box. If you place 2 set top boxes in the same room, the remote will not be able to distinguish between the two boxes and all commands sent to one box will be captured and understood by the second box. TiVo thought this one through and allows you to flip a switch on the remote indicating which TiVo you want to control.

I took care of this problem by placing a blanket over the Motorola box that was connected to the TiVo and then using TiVo's IR blaster to send the signal to that box. It works as long as no one decides they need a blanket.

There is one other thing that I don't like about Uverse. I can not watch Uverse recorded shows anywhere except in the room where the Uverse DVR sits. One would think that the other set top boxes would be able to use their network connection to pull video from the DVR. That function has been promised since last year but is nowhere in site. At least not in my neighborhood. TiVo lets you share video recordings between units and even with your computer. With multiple live video outputs I can send the signal to other rooms with relative ease.

So there you have it. The more I use Uverse the more I am convinced I made a mistake ditching DirecTV. TiVo is still the most flexible, functional and user friendly DVR on the market. If only my Apple TV would let me record shows from Satellite or Cable. I'd ditch Uverse, get HD DirecTV and use the Apple TV to record my T.V.

Until next time

e tutto per oggi!

13 comments:

Anonymous said...

It took over a month to find out how to do it but you can scroll ahead in the guide by using the upper fast forward button for viewing. It goes 24 hours at a time. I was spoiled by Dish and it's ability to do that and disappointed when the installer told me I could not do it anymore. My son found the solution and I hope it helps others. I am going to hook up my Replay TV (like Tivo) in another room because it is rather frustrating to only be able to watch shows recorded in the room with the DVR.

Truman said...

I am about to switch from DirecTV (long time customer)to Uverse. After reading your blogs, I'm thinking this a stupid idea. Knowing what you know about Uverse, would you switch from DirecTV to Uverse again?

Sarre9 said...

Given the same choice again, I'd stay with DirecTV. Picture quality and ease of use are the main reasons. And now DirecTV and TiVo are in a partnership (or agreement or maybe just a wink and a nod) to work on a HD TiVo that works with DirecTV. That alone may be a reason to stay away from Uverse.

Jay said...

While I won't disagree that the user interface of the ATT DVR is so bad that it is almost like they tried to make it tedious to use, I think you should have mentioned the two reasons someone would want to use the ATT DVR:

1. Video quality -- For either HD or SD the Uverse DVR simply saves the raw MPEG stream w/o recompressing it. The video quality is a LOT better than using another DVR hooked up to the analog outputs of the Uverse box.

2. Recording 4 things at once. Uverse is not TV in its normal sense. The signal is sent as streaming video over the internet. The boxes are more like tiny stripped down computers than any sort of TV tuner. Recording multiple streams is about the same as saving four downloads at a time on your computer. It does not require 4 tuners inside the DVR like it would with Tivo, MythTV, or a Windows Media Center. Therefore ATT lets you record 4 things at one time.

Finally IMO the thing I miss the most when using the ATT DVR is category based search. You can look for "Movies" or "Sports." You can only search by title.

Sarre9 said...

Jay,

You are right that the video quality is generally better on the Uverse DVR the on the TiVo. At least on my TiVo which is an old Version 2 standard definition box connected to a Uverse receiver via s-video.

As for recording 4 things at once... kind of. Uverse limits us to 2 HD + 2 SD streams at once. If I'm recording 2 HD streams, I can't watch a third HD video. Now, is this a problem for us? No. We rarely have more then 2 shows overlapping in record time.

I just saw an endgadget post stating that Uverse is begining to roll out Total Home DVR. This gives folks the ability to play a recorded show from any Uverse box. This is a major feature upgrade for us, as TiVo has had that ability for years.

One more thing --
TiVo and DirecTV apparently will offer a DirecTV compatible TiVo (or is it TiVo compatible DirecTV box?). Anyway, soon we will be able to have DirecTV and TiVo. The best of both worlds.

Anonymous said...

What a cry baby the author is... TiVo is going to continue to decline into oblivion because they are too stupid and arrogant continue their relationship with the companies that helped them develop. DirectTV did the right thing in giving the them finger, Dish Network was equally dump in trying to rip them off, and now what does TiVo have left? Cable and over the air… Congrats TiVo for making a nice GUI and screwing up in every other department.

Again to the author of this “blog”, you and Dick Chaney can resist change together while the rest of the world develops… You think TiVo got it right the first time? Nope. Far from it.

Sarre9 said...

Dearest Anonymous,

Thank you for your viewpoint and calling me an "author"! I'm flattered! Being the caring, trusting good hearted person that I am, I feel crying every now and then is good for the soul. The next time I do, I'll be sure to put on my baby bonnet and think of you.

As for lumping me into the same bucket as Shotgun Dick, now you are getting mean. I don't even own a rifle let alone a safe in my office. Relax and drink a pint of Arrogant Bastard. It will be good for your soul.

TiVo has had some missteps, I'll grant you that. But they try and the fact that they are still around speaks volumes to their success. Rumour has it they are working on a DirecTV version of TiVo for release some time in '09. So, maybe, just maybe next year DirecTV + TiVo will be in the cards.

AT&T is trying too. They recently added the ability to watch recorded video from any Uverse box, not just the one with the built in DVR. That is a great feature, one TiVo has had for oh... a few years now. What I want is the ability to schedule and start a recording from any Uverse box in the house. Not just the DVR box.

That said, a friend (yes, I do have a few of those) that is getting Uverse, told me that AT&T claims you now can schedule recordings from any Uverse box in the house. So far I can't, but maybe it is coming soon. I hope so, that would be a nice add on. I'm waiting for his install to find out if this is true. While I believe everything the AT&T customer service folks say, sometimes they do get confused and report on features only available in other universes.

If only AT&T could get me to those universes, I'd bring my baby bonnet and a safe. Oh, and an Arrogant Bastard.

Chris said...

Any updates? I hate comcast, DirecTV doesn't offer our locals in HD (they keep saying (in 3 months)) and antenna reception sucks. So I've been dying for U-verse, I'd rather have FIOS but we have ATT here.

Finally I get the flier today and they say it is available, and they talk up this whole house DVR. Sounds nice... except it sounds absolutely retarded. You're only "allowed" 1 dvr in your house, ATT will not let you buy two, is that dumb or what? SO you can watch any show recorded in any room, but you can't set them to record? What monkey thought up that? So I can watch shows on the DVR in the bedroom, but if I actually want to record things or change settings I have to go down to the living room?

This is such a let down. Looks like I'm stuck paying comcast for awhile more.

Sarre9 said...

Chris,

You are correct. One DVR for the household which isn't bad as long as we could kick off a recording from any room with a set top box. Alas, we can't. The monkey that thought this up, actually works at Motorola and goes by the name of Rodrick. He insists it is for our own good.

If we had the power, the technology, a big TV (such a quaint name, "TV"), a catheter and bed pan, in a room with a comfortable bed, we would never have a reason to leave the room. By insisting we only record in the room with the DVR, AT&T is increasing the the chance of us getting some exercise.

It is oh so clear. Thank you Rodrick. Thank you AT&T and Motorola.

What I'd like to see is AT&T and Motorola adding the ability to set up recordings via any box in the house. We can schedule recordings from the web but we can't browse the web from these boxes. I too am perplexed why this simple functionality is lacking.

Good luck with Comcast and if AT&T ever does improve these boxes, I'll let you know.

Anonymous said...

Sarre9
I think I love you! We have been a Tivo household for about 9 years and recently upgraded to HD. I had heard that Tivo/Directv are getting married, but the marriage has now been delayed until 2010. After reading online reviews about other dvrs, and your thorough review of Uverse from the perspective of a Tivo user, I'm holding off until the Tivo/Directv marriage is consumated. I was flirting with Uverse, but will stick with my Directv rigged SD Tivo and over the air rabbit ear HD reception (with commercials!!) for now.

Anonymous said...

I've been a DirecTV customer for the last 3 years. I just switched to AT&T U-verse because my DirecTV receiver/DVR died, and my choices were buying a new one, or getting one free from DirecTV but committing to 2 entire years of using their service. Overall, U-verse does some things better and some things worse. The worst part of U-verse is the remote control usage when navigating a program you are watching. E.g., there is no visual feedback of how many times you've hit the 30-second button, as there is in DirecTV's remote. There is no ability to do slow motion. The fast-forward and rewind don't work as well. E.g., when going forward at level 2,3, or 4 in DirecTV, if you hit the rewind button, it will just go back one notch in speed. With U-verse, the same operation will put the program into rewind - much less convenient. The Play button on the DirecTV remote is large and centrally located, while in U-verse it is small and off to the side. Also, level-1 fast forward in DirecTV shows continuous action, which is nice. U-verse skips stuff even at level-1 fast forward.
U-verse is better in the organization and usability of the various screens which control the DVR and other capabilities.

Avcap DVR said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
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