Pros: The ability to record up to 4 programs simultaneously; playback on any TV
Cons: Can't forward/rewind from remote receivers; can't program manual recordings to recur
Since our HOA decides which service everyone can use in our building, we've been using Dish Network service provided by AT&T for the last few years. I have no huge complaint about Dish Network, except that this arrangement didn't allow me to bundle my phone & internet with my satellite service.
But now AT&T U-Verse service is available in my building. Hurray! My primary motivation for switching to U-Verse was that I could get bundle pricing for my TV, internet, and phone, which would save me some money.
The first thing to know about U-Verse is that it's not satellite or cable, but digital TV, delivered via fiber optics. So installation involved the installer finding the main phone line source to your house/unit. (I had to figure out where that was.) Then the installer places a modem/router ("residential gateway") in a central location (e.g., your living room) which is directly connected via an ethernet cable to your main TV receiver. The use of this main receiver box is included in your monthly fees. If you have more than one TV, you can get additional remote boxes for $7 a month. The remote boxes are connected to a coaxial cable, and also connected via wireless to the main residential gateway.
Because the residential gateway is placed in our living room, as it would be typically in most homes, the internet connection to both our computers is now wireless. One of our computers didn't have a wireless access point because it used to be directly connected to the previous DSL modem, but the installer helpfully gave me one.
I got the U-200 package, HD service (an additional $10 a month), and HBO.
- Picture Quality
HD channels looked more fluid with my previous Dish Network service, but it's a subtle difference. Also, with the U-verse, the colors look richer.
But the really noticeable improvement is when we watch standard definition (SD) channel. With our old system, the SD quality was more muddy, almost as bad as VHS playback compared to DVD. With the U-Verse, the SD channels look much better.
- Playback Quality
Sometimes when playing back a recording, I notice a few occasional "blips." You know how when you watch streaming video, you occasionally notice a "blip" when the connection is interrupted? That's essentially what happens. I guess there is no such thing as a totally seamless connection. But I can say that I've experienced more signal problems, on average, with my previous Dish Network satellite service than with the U-Verse. And these little rare blips are not too noticeable and don't detract from my overall enjoyment of TV-watching. But I just wanted to note that it's not absolute perfection.
- Sound Quality - I've noticed no noticeable changes in sound quality.
Probably the biggest advantage of the U-Verse service is the ability to record up to 4 programs at once (up to 2 HD programs), and the ability to record a program on one TV and play it back on other TV's. Based on my experience, these features work perfectly. In fact, I'm able to play back the same recording on both TV's, even at different junctures.
Other advantages I've experienced are:
Remote Programming via Internet - My previous system didn't have this feature, so this is pretty cool.
Smaller Receivers - Although this is a superficial advantage, I like that the main receiver is about 1/2 the size and 1/4 the weight of my previous Dish DVR. The remote receivers are even smaller than the main receiver. Less clutter.
Can't Rewind/Forward - Probably the biggest drawback of the U-Verse system is that it doesn't allow rewinding or forwarding of live TV when watching from the remote receivers, only from the main receiver. Basically, only the main receiver can record and store programs, and the remote receivers can play them back. Because the remote receivers can't record anything, they also can't store any "live" TV for you to rewind.
So this is the trade-off for being able to play back a recording from any TV in your house - only one box can record and store programs. (However, if you really want to be able to rewind and forward whatever you're watching, I suppose you can simply record *everything* you're watching. I've tried this, and it works.)
No Recurring Manual Recordings - Another disadvantage I've experienced is that the receiver's interface lets me set up a manual recording (make the DVR record a specific block of time and channel, instead of a particular show), but it doesn't allow me to let the manual recording be recurring, in any way. (e.g., daily, weekly, etc.) This just seems silly.
One Goes Down, All Goes Down - Yet another disadvantage with these all-in-one systems is that if there is a problem, everything goes dead. About a month ago, there was a problem with the external wiring in my building, so I had no internet or TV. (And if I had gotten digital phone service, that would have been out, too.) No computer and no television! What am I supposed to do? Read an actual book made out of paper like a Luddite, I guess.
For the internet, I got the second slowest service (3 Mbps). It's available up to 18 Mbps. I haven't noticed any significant differences in speed or availability from my previous set-up.
I meant to sign up for a digital phone service, but decided not to, for now. I've decided to see if I can live without a landline. ($25 & $30 a month in a bundle.) Maybe I'll try the magicJack.
Price / Billing
My primary reason for switching was the price - but this was the case because I could not take advantage of bundle pricing with my previous provider. If you are currently able to get a good pricing package from another provider, I don't think U-Verse is necessarily cheaper. You can check their website for a price comparison. (The website will also let you know if it's available in your area.)
Also, I like the option of the digital phone service, which offers unlimited local/long distance for $30 a month in a bundle. I didn't sign up for this yet, but it's certainly a better price than what was offered with my previous traditional phone line.
Also, U-Verse doesn't require a contract, or charge other extraneous fees that my previous provider did. With my previous Dish/AT&T service, they didn't require a contract, but there were a bunch of silly fees being thrown in all the time. E.g., I paid $5 just to add HBO to my service, in addition to what HBO already cost ($15.99/month). Ugh, can you believe that? In fact, they told me that if I canceled HBO, I would be charged another $5.
In addition, my previous receiver required me to hook each individual receiver to up a regular phone line, so that it can update its program guide daily. If I didn't, I would be charged an additional $5 for each box for a phone-bypass option.
With U-Verse, I've been able to modify my service using the internet (e.g., add or subtract premium channels). It was easy, and the changes took effect within just a few hours, and I was billed accurately, with no silly fees added.
Is it worth it to switch to U-Verse just for its features? The ability to record 4 programs at once and play it back on your other TV's is actually pretty great. The picture/sound quality or all-around convenience of use hasn't significantly declined in my case - a little bit worse here, a little bit better there ... but overall, I think the advantages outweigh the disadvantages.
Although I switched to U-Verse primarily because I was able to save money, for me, this turned out to be worth the switch even without the savings.