Home Theater Review

 

AT&T U-verse DVR and Service Reviewed

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HTR Product Rating

Performance
1 Stars
Value
2 Stars
Overall
1.5 Stars

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AT7T-U-verse-DVR-Review.gifWatching Deadliest Catch (Discovery) on Discovery HD is a nightmare. Discovery HD isn't what I'd call a shoestring HD operation, though if you had to judge it on its performance via U-verse you'd swear they filmed their programming with a store bought Flip camera. Nothing against the Flip camera, personally I think they're cool, but HD broadcast quality they're not. Deadliest Catch on Discovery HD is so insanely compressed that at times it appears as if they're catching red Legos and piloting through rough seas comprised of wet chunks of sand versus the turbulent waters of the Bering Sea. Black levels are deep, but banding and pixilation are out of control, not to mention there is zero detail throughout and almost no natural transition from light to dark. Colors are saturated and natural, which I guess is good; however there are so many appalling issues with the image elsewhere that you almost don't notice. Running the U-verse signal through a video processor like the one in my Integra receiver does little to correct the impressionistic mess and when I stepped up my game and installed my DVDO Edge video processor, the end results were only marginally better.

Changing channels to Fox in HD, I sat down for the latest episode of 24. Once again, the same errors were present; however they were not as frequent, instead replaced by a whole host of new problems. Image skip and pause has plagued my U-verse service since it was installed almost a year ago. Now programs on Fox seem more susceptible than others. When I say the image skips - I mean it skips. It freezes, sometimes for minutes at a time; all the while the audio continues to play. When the image finally does rebound, it's not in sync with the audio and the only way to correct the error is to change the channel and then return to it. The audio signal is average at best and too is prone to skipping, sudden dropouts and/or sync issues. I guess AT&T HD service was designed and modeled after their cellular service, which anyone with an iPhone will tell you sucks.

The problems became so bad that my fiancée, who is usually rather chill, took to throwing pillows at my rack in utter disgust when she couldn't make it through a single episode of Iron Chef on Food Network HD without the U-verse service skipping, distorting or refusing to play altogether.

The Hookup Part 2
Of course I called AT&T U-verse technical support to try and correct the issue. The first solution the phone-based technician could offer me was to unplug the boxes from the wall, count to ten and then plug them back in again. Really?!? Of course this nugget of genius was offered up only AFTER they asked me if my TV was plugged in. Oh, I could kill at this point. Of course unplugging the DVRs and receivers didn't solve anything except cause some of them to no longer sync with the main DVR, in which case the tech recommended I unplug the units again and try again. I demanded a technician be sent to my home immediately, like within 24 hours; however none were available for up to seven days.

With my appointment scheduled, I waited and sat through some of the worst HD signals this side of a first generation AppleTV. The technician arrived late as per usual, and proceeded to rip out every U-verse component in my home and replace them with new ones. He said they had done some "updates" across the board, but near as I can tell everything was the same only fresh out of the box. This time the technician stayed for ten minutes to try and see the issue first hand. We surfed through every HD channel I had at my disposal and found no anomalies. Satisfied, the technician left and I sat down to what I thought was going to be crystal clear HD programming.

Boy, was I wrong.

Performance Part 2
About a week later I sat down for some Thursday night viewing and cued up FlashForward (ABC) and made it about a half hour into the hour-long drama before disaster struck again. This time it was worse than before. At one point the skipping and freezing got so bad that it actually crashed the entire system, taking the Internet and our phone service with it as collateral damage. Unable to call AT&T for help we had to wait it out. Two hours later the service resumed.

I don't need to go into any more detail about the quality of the image or signal, for you never get to watch an entire show long enough unmolested for it to matter. When it works, it's nowhere near as good as satellite HD from Dish Network or DirectTV and while it pains me to say this - U-verse can't hold a candle to Time Warner or Comcast cable either.

I know that Home Theater Review is a home theater publication and not one that often comments on broadband or phone services. But since U-verse is largely pushed as an all-in-one entertainment/communication solution, I feel I also need to comment on their high-speed Internet and phone service.

The U-verse Internet is really the star of the entire package, which is why it can be ordered as a standalone service. When it's on, it's on and works well and at lightening speeds. Watching online movies via Hulu is instant with zero issues. Downloads via iTunes happen at record pace and allow for even HD rentals to begin playing within seconds, not minutes, of being purchased. That being said, the U-verse Internet service is temperamental and the modem/router is a complete piece of shit. Since having U-verse installed some 12 months ago I've gone through three modems/routers with each one working beautifully for a period of three months before failing catastrophically. Remember, when the modem/router begins to go so does EVERYTHING else.

The U-verse phone service is horrid and possibly the only thing worse than their HD and SD broadcast packages. Calls are riddled with noise and distortion making even local calls sound as if you were making them from a cave in Afghanistan. Can you hear me now? Nope, I've got AT&T. Beyond the quality of the U-verse phone service is the fact that it is 100 percent tethered to the Internet and U-verse's craptastic modem/router means its not really safe in an emergency. My house is a dead zone for all cell phones so when the wildfires hit my area last year and disrupted many if not all communication services, AT&T included, I was unable to stay on top of the situation or call for updates. Since I was trying to save money I didn't keep my landline, which I've since reinstated for emergencies or sudden AT&T service drop outs, which really does defeat the purpose of getting the U-verse bundle in the first place.

All in all, in my year-long abusive relationship with AT&T U-verse I've gone through two sets of DVRs, three modems and six cordless telephones. In return I've been comped free HBO for three months (it skipped like jump rope) and have had my Internet service upgraded to the fastest package, which completely wiped out my second modem/router, bringing me to lucky number three. On the plus side, I watch a lot less TV, spend less time on the phone and am forced to take breaks from my various online duties from time to time, so it's not all bad I suppose. Maybe I'm looking at this the wrong way, maybe it's not that AT&T U-verse is the entertainment equivalent of swine flu; maybe it's that AT&T wants to make sure its customers have time for their other hobbies like reading or enjoying a real sunset instead of watching one on Sunrise Earth on Discovery HD.

The Downside
I must say I'm struggling with this part of the review for as you can probably tell, just about everything regarding U-verse, in my experience, is a downside. However there are some hurdles that I haven't covered which are downsides if you're thinking about torturing yourself by signing up for this worthless service.

First, AT&T U-verse, like their cellular service, is not offered everywhere. In fact, minus my immediate area, I'm not sure where else in the US it is offered. Wait, that's a plus side.

Second, if you think AT&T U-verse is going to save you money, I'd urge you to take a second look at your math. If you're looking to get what you can get from, say, Dish Network in terms of HD programming and equipment you have to go for AT&T's largest package, which is actually more expensive. If you don't care about HD programming or the ability to record large quantities of television I guess U-verse can be a touch more economical but as soon as you begin to bundle your Internet and phone services with your U-verse package it costs about the same as everyone else. However, near as I can tell or remember, the U-verse Internet service, on its own, is cheaper and faster than the competition.

Lastly, the U-verse on-demand portion of their service is nowhere near as good or as comprehensive as say Time Warner cable. Where as Time Warner On Demand almost made recording shows obsolete, for their line up of shows was so vast, AT&T U-verse's On Demand resembles the 99-cent DVD bin at a Wal-Mart; packed to the brim with crap you wouldn't watch in the first place.

Conclusion
By now I think my feelings about AT&T U-verse are crystal clear. It's plagued with issues and offers up lackluster performance. The tech support is a complete joke and the other services like its high-speed Internet and telephone are great in short spurts but are as reliable as 1980's era British roadster.

By now you're probably wondering why I stuck with AT&T U-verse all this time if it was so unbearably bad. Truth be told, while I've had it for a year, I didn't completely ditch my Dish Network service and have actually bounced back and forth between the two all year in hopes of U-verse getting better so that I could stick with it and write a better, more positive review.

I want to like U-verse, I truly do, but if given the choice between it or a swift kick in the family jewels with a steel toe boot, I think I'd chose the latter for the pain and anguish would be over sooner. Maybe there are those of you out there with U-verse that have had better luck than I, but I can't recommend you stay away from AT&T U-verse more enthusiastically.

Additional Resources

• Learn more about AT&T U-verse from AT&T's website.

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