So I’ve unpacked enough to set up my “office” in the apartment and crank up the ol’ PC. So now I can get around to writing on my blog once more. Huzzah!
Which brings us to the first topic on my mind then, AT&T U-Verse. What is it? Is it all that it’s cracked up to be?
Well, AT&T U-Verse is basically just your every day cable/internet/phone bundle from AT&T. It’s “fiber optic”. Which basically means DSL in fancy-speak. Yep, ye olde phone line is what powers U-Verse. And your cable channels? IPTV of course! At least that’s near as I can figure anyway. I didn’t opt for the phone option, as my cellphone is sorely underutilized as it is, so I don’t know if U-Verse uses VOIP or honest to goodness regular analog phone like old DSL options did. Either way doesn’t much matter. The point is thanks to companies like Tektronix, we’re able to find ways to push crappy old lines to data rates never even remotely dreamed of. That crappy old DSL technology that couldn’t even remotely compete with cable … now can!
First, the caveat. The setup in my apartment is not ideal. Let me just say that my apartment complex, The Landmark at Hatchery Hill, has been somewhat less than ideal so far in that the apartment has a plethora of niggling problems and so far hasn’t even acknowledged that they should maybe get around to fixing any of the problems on the move-in checklist. The apartment manager happily checked off the whole list as all ok, only for us to find 36 real issues. From cosmetic “small hole in wall” type things, to water damage, mildew damage, shower door problems, phone jack broken, missing screws in electrical covers, etc. Some things we’ve fixed ourselves out of necessity. Everything else is a nuisance, but “livable”. One such obvious hindrance is that broken phone jack in the living room, where our main TV is, not to mention my “office” where both my wife’s computer and my own reside. So the primary TV and internet usage is in the room with the broken phone line on what is essentially a DSL-based service. It brings out both the good and the bad of AT&T-s U-Verse.
That caveat stated, first let’s look at the good: AT&T was able to provide us with a wireless setup. I don’t just mean Wi-Fi. I mean a wireless TV signal as well. The secondary TV in the bedroom is actually set up as primary TV as far as AT&T is concerned. It gets the wireless router with built in DSL modem. And it gets the actual DVR. And to connect to the living room box, it gets a wireless TV antenna connected via ethernet cable to the router.
In the living room we get a wireless TV box that takes that wireless TV signal (effectively one heck of a good wireless router system I guess, on a different bandwidth I hope) and gives us TV. As a fortuitous surprise, the wireless TV box in the living room also has a network port which I have successfully glommed all of our living room’s networking off of! I wasn’t expecting that, but it’s been a life-saver since the wireless router has to be in the bedroom in this broken-jacked apartment. (At least until maintenance finally gets around to doing something about it.) And that all works. (Though I have not tested the networking speeds. They seem quite good, which again suggests that this isn’t a simple Wi-Fi system delivering the wireless TV signal.)
And, like any modern system, you can access your recorded shows on your DVR from the other boxes as well. So that’s something.
The TV boxes are pretty good in theory. They have HDMI jacks and even component and composite wires and stereo analog and optical digital audio. They have coax. Great!
Now, the less-than-good and the bad.
Yes, the TV boxes all support High Definition. Almost. It’s everything that you could ask for in a box, really. …Except 1. no pass-through and 2. no 1080p. You read that right, in this day and age, where HD can practically be taken for granted because the standard is so old by now, and we’re all wondering when the next iteration of HD is coming, AT&T limits you to 1080i at best. That’s pretty sad. Not life-endingly sad, but certainly not the best technology can offer … has been offering for many years now. I suspect this is how AT&T broadcasts their HD signals, so even if the box supported 1080p you’d still be stuck with a 1080i signal. I have no proof, but that’s my guess. It does significantly cut down the bandwidth after all, even if it is a less-than-ideal technology.
Speaking of substandard technologies, so is AT&T’s wireless router. It’s an IEEE 802.11 b/g standard with minimal security. Yes, you read that right. My personal ancient router is a b/g/n, and AT&T is still pushing g as their standard? Not only that, but my ancient router has real firewall feature built in and takes security seriously. AT&T’s router? Not so much. So that’s why I have (and likely will keep it that way) my own router as the main point of connection for all of my PCs, wired and wireless.
And while it’s been claimed that we can watch four shows at once, that simply isn’t true. DVR three HD shows for the same time slot and the thing wigs out and forces us to switch to viewing one of those three shows – at the recording. It doesn’t even let us watch the channel that it’s recording like my old crappy Frontier cable box would let us do simply at the press of a button. It forces us to switch to the DVR and watch the recorded show. Three. Not four. Three.
And now for the real kicker, how does AT&T’s wireless TV connection handle every-day life? Not flawlessly, that’s for sure. Even with all bars allegedly present, indicating the best possible signal strength, AT&T’s wireless U-Verse TV is … flawed. It likes to just plain drop its connection on average of once a day. And I don’t just mean skip for a second. I don’t mean lag. I mean flat out FUBAR drop to where the box, after a minute of no signal, finally reboots itself. (Or if you’re impatient, you get up and yank the power cable out of it to hard-boot it because the box completely stops responding during this time so you can’t soft-boot it.) Thank goodness this isn’t the DVR!
It did that before I even had my own wireless router plugged in. Before anything was even using the network at all actually. Just pure TV, epically failing once a day. And for the record, those other lags and brief second-long drops happen too, much more regularly. You’d think you were on an ancient satellite TV system, you get so many flaws. The only reason that I put up with it instead of cancelling the service is because eventually, when the apartment complex finally fixes my phone jack, I’ll be switching the boxes around so that the wired TV is in the living room and the awful wireless TV signal will be for the rarely used bedroom TV set.
And then there are all of the weird eccentricities. For example, the channel guide is neither color coded, nor even bothers to show you when a program is “new”. It must know it somehow, since the DVR can be set to record only first showings, but you’ll never find any kind of indicator that a show is either new or a re-run. The preview of the channel as you use the channel guide is theoretically a good idea … except that it lags moving on to the next channel until each and every channel has loaded, making it very slow and painful to scroll through channels. A simple programming change to delay the preview of a channel until you’ve rested on a choice for a second could miraculously solve that dilemma. There’s no way to set the default recording behavior of the DVR and AT&T’s default settings are not what I would have thought anyone, let alone myself, would want as a default. And so on and so forth. It’s just a lot of poor design.
So, there you have it. AT&T’s U-Verse is not cable. It’s throwing a lot of technology at an age-old problem, that phone lines just don’t carry enough bandwidth. And a lot of that technology is cutting a few too many corners. AT&T has come up with an “okay” solution. It’s not awe-inspiring. It’s barely keeping up with the Joneses. It’s not 1080P. The wireless router is cheap crap. The wireless TV makes you feel like you’ve got unreliable satellite even at its best connection strength. The box/DVR software has some less-than-ideal design that makes some things awkward to use. In all, everything about it only just barely does the job adequately. But, that said, it does the job … just. I’d give it a 3 unusable phone jacks out of 5.