27 September 2008

U-Verse first impressions

AT&T U-Verse brings what they always told us fiber optic cables would. A single data connection goes into a U-Verse “gateway”. Out of the gateway comes telephone, video, and Internet.

The U-Verse digital telephone is VOIP, but the gateway provides POTS. It’s hooked directly into the existing wiring in the house, so—to my phones—nothing has changed. AT&T even installs a UPS for the gateway so that your phone will still work if there’s a power outage. Perhaps the best part of the U-Verse phone service is that you can check your voice-mail online. Does this mean iPhone-esque visual voice-mail for my home phone? We’ll see. I haven’t gotten a message yet.

The U-Verse video also hooked directly into my house’s existing video cable. It’s a digital signal—not straight video—over the coax, so you need a set-top box for each TV. The living room box includes a DVR. Both boxes support HD. You can’t currently watch recorded shows from the non-DVR box, but the tech that installed it tells me they’re currently testing that capability. So far, it’s at least comparable to Dish Network. I don’t think we lost any channels, and we did gain a few that I wanted. With the Dish DVR, we could only record two programs at once (and it mattered which TV you set up the recording from). With U-Verse, we can record up to four shows simultaneously. Perhaps the best part is that you can search for programs and manage recording online.

From a user interface perspective, the video service is as good as any other service I’ve used. Looks really good, though. Very slick.

The Internet service is pretty straightforward. The gateway acts as a router (NAT) and Wi-Fi access point. I turned off the Wi-Fi since I have a Time Capsule. Currently, both the U-Verse gateway and the Time Capsule are doing NAT. I’ll probably disable NAT on the Time Capsule.

Of course, bundling all these services has cons as well as pros. A single-point of failure for multiple services being the most obvious disadvantage.

I have to say, the guy who did the installation was knowledgeable and efficient. I was lucky that I didn’t have any problems with signal strength or needing additional wiring or anything, but I’m sure this guy would’ve handled any challenges as well as could be done.

So, those are my first impressions. Anyone who’s interested in my impressions after I’ve lived with it for a bit, give me a poke when your ready for a follow-up, and I’ll try to oblige.


Craig Weeks said...

Hey, here's a relevant review (click "review").

Robert said...

I did wince when I saw WinCE whilst browsing the system information.

I bit of an update:

The other day, both the boxes told me that they’d been automatically updated for Total Home DVR. (Meaning I could watch and manage recordings from the non-DVR box.) Yet, the feature was not there.

Today, I rebooted both boxes. They both then downloaded an update. After the update was installed, Total Home DVR is now working.

I also discovered that the boxes automatically downconvert HD → SD. Which is nice since I’d only been recording stuff in HD since I could only watch it on the HD TV.

The bad news: This evening there were lots of glitches no matter what I was watching on either TV. Annoying levels. A bug in the update? Overloading the DVR box? (Unlikely, since things were just as bad on the non-DVR box when watching live TV.) Bandwidth congestion? I don’t know.