Friday, February 5, 2010

UVerse First Impressions

So, I never thought I would say this, but - I'm now an all AT&T shop. My cell phone has been with AT&T since I got it (well, technically it was Cingular to start with, but still the same provider). But now I've switched over my phone, tv and internet to AT&T UVerse. It did take a while - the UVerse web-site didn't believe I was in a service area until I alerted them to the problem. But once that was resolved, the order and install went pretty smoothly. My install took about two hours, which included installing a new junction box (or whatever they call it) on the outside of my house and replacing a telephone port on one wall, but not running any new cables. We just reused the coaxial cable from my existing DirecTV installation to connect the set-top box in my living room to the main gateway box in the back office.

First impressions:

  • The Total Home DVR service is nice. I can setup and view recordings on either of my two boxes, with up to four streams recording. My previous DirecTV setup only had one box capable of recording/viewing, with two streams maximum.
  • The DVR itself is not quite as capable as the Tivo box from DirecTV. There is no thumbs-up/thumbs-down ranking available, no automatic recording suggestions, and while there are searches available, it doesn't look like I can setup a recording schedule based on that search. It terms of the basics, however, the UVerse DVR is certainly capable enough for most use cases.
  • Basic TV viewing is fine. The channel surfing is faster than the DirecTV boxes, but I haven't found a way to only surf through my favorites. I don't really want to pass by the channels that I don't even receive - that's just a dumb interface. The Tivo box was much better in this regard.
  • There are some rudimentary interactive capabilities. The Weather On Demand might get some use (I had this problem with DirecTV also - no local weather from The Weather Channel), but I tend to use the internet on my iPod touch for "instant" weather information. But at least they are there, and maybe they will get more robust over time.
  • There is home media server support through Media Share on UVerse, but it is officially Windows-only. My media is on my iMac, so I'm going to poke around to see if there is any way to trick Media Share into seeing my iTunes-based library.
  • On a related note, the UVerse router is blocking my existing UPnP-based media sharing (which I currently use to stream from my Mac to my PS3). I'm going to need to find out what firewall rules need to be relaxed for this to work - this is a major show stopper for me.
  • Other than this UPnP issue, the router itself seems to work fine. None of my devices (computers, iPods, PS3) had any problem connecting, and the speeds and signal strength seem to be good enough for my house. According to SpeedTest, I'm getting close to the advertised 12 Mbps speed for downloads.
  • The phone service also looks good. I was able to switch over my cell phone to use the same voicemail system as the UVerse land-line, so now both phones drop messages into the same box, and the messages can be retrieved on phone or over the web. Nice.
  • UVerse comes with its own branded version of the Yahoo services. However, I already had my own Yahoo account (along with related accounts like Flickr). It isn't clear that I can merge the two in any way, so I have to decide if I want to migrate to the new AT&T Yahoo account, stick with the old one, or maintain both of them.
So, really, the only big sticking point for now is the UPnP blocking. It also remains to be seen how the HDTV signal looks, once I get my new TV (which may be happening this weekend). And of course, it's nice that the bundle is going to be cheaper than my existing SBC/DirecTV/Earthlink combo, while also providing me with better features. Ah, technology.

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