Comcast

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How Does Comcast (Cable TV) Compare to AT&T U-verse?

Feb 10, 2009 (Updated Jul 24, 2011)
Review by  
Rated a Very Helpful Review

Pros:Dependable, high-quality video/audio. Nice (albeit_strictly_text) on-screen "guide." Occasional/temporary price reductions amount to a good deal.

Cons:No free ("Total-Home"/higher-capacity/Web-accessible) DVR. No "picture-in-picture" while channel surfing. Limited “channel_guide.” Less bang per buck.

The Bottom Line:

I like Comcast TV. However, I wish it included all of U-verse's available channels and advanced features, especially: a free ("Total Home," Web-programmable, higher capacity) DVR; and "picture-in-picture" channel surfing.


Prefatory note #1: Also see: A Consumer's Guide to AT&T U-verse.

Prefatory note #2: Also see: How Does Time Warner Cable Compare to Comcast and AT&T U-verse?.

Prefatory note #3: My assessment of Comcast cable TV is based solely on how it generally works here in one neighborhood of Olathe, Kansas (a Kansas City suburb). I do realize that some other Comcast users--in various localities--haven't always found it equally satisfactory.


I like Comcast cable TV in many respects. Until several years ago, I'd long been a Comcast subscriber with few frustrations other than its gradually increasing cost. Eventually the latter caused me to forgo pay-TV and to make do with a Philips indoor, amplified antenna--until, that is, I became an AT&T U-verse subscriber in late December 2007.

But my nearby, eldest brother continues to subscribe to Comcast, and, for the most part, he's satisfied. Since my brother's house is only about four blocks from mine, I've had many opportunities during the past several years to experience Comcast's general features and to hear his ongoing remarks. Moreover, for this review I recently spent an entire evening in his living room operating his Comcast remote and making notes regarding how the Comcast-TV-viewing experience differed from that of AT&T U-verse.

Since my brother doesn't subscribe to Comcast broadband Internet or Comcast phone service, this discussion won't deal with those.

Although my below discussion will compare and contrast Comcast to one of its chief competitors (AT&T U-verse, whose "Internet Protocol" version of pay-TV isn't yet available in all U.S. locations), you may feel free to disregard my comparisons and instead focus on my Comcast-specific information.

1. Video/audio quality. I had no complaints about the video or audio quality of Comcast TV. Video resolution was sharp; there was no snowiness or unsteadiness; and colors were vivid and realistic. The audio was dynamic and undistorted; and the signal never wavered or dropped out. Mind, my evaluation is based on experiencing both the sound and the video through the fairly recently purchased digital TV sets that my brother uses, but those aren't high-definition-video ("HD") units, and he doesn't subscribe to Comcast's HD service. [For information regarding HD service cost and available channels, see section #12 below.]

U-verse TV service likewise provides superlative video and audio. In those regards, I couldn't visually or aurally detect any significant differences between the two services when analog or standard digital TV sets were connected. [I myself haven't yet used either TV service with a high-definition TV; however, from all that I've read and heard, both Comcast's and U-verse's optional HD channels should provide exceptional video and audio.]

2. Reliability. As a long-time (multi-year) Comcast subscriber, my nearby brother has essentially never experienced any noteworthy disruptions in service. And I can report the same about my AT&T U-verse service (to which I've been subscribing for well over a year).

3. DVR. Comcast doesn't provide any DVR whatsoever unless you're willing to pay extra each month. In our neighborhood Comcast currently charges $13.95 per month for a DVR. [Note: While I was on the phone with a local Comcast representative, she mentioned a limited-time offer where I could receive a DVR for one year for only $6.00 per month (instead of the usual $13.95). For all I know, that special offer might only pertain to my geographical location.]

By contrast, AT&T U-verse provides a (much more powerful and multifaceted) DVR at no extra cost for all but one of their channel packages. [See section #12 below.]

4. How many channels can the DVR simultaneously record? Comcast's website states that with their DVR's dual tuner, you can watch one channel while recording another. [Alternatively, you can record two channels at the same time (and you may watch one of those two channels as it's being recorded).]

By contrast, U-Verse's DVR allows you to record up to four channels at once (and watch one of them while it's being recorded). Alternatively, you could watch one previously recorded program (or a "live" show on a different channel) while simultaneously recording up to three different channels.

5. "Total Home" DVR? Even supposing a Comcast subscriber were willing to shell out the extra money to rent an optional DVR, the latter wouldn't include the ability to "communicate" with all TV's throughout the home so that shows recorded on the single DVR could be viewed on "any" TV. That "Total Home" DVR-viewing capability is now freely included with AT&T U-verse--but not Comcast. [Note: Compatible U-verse set-top boxes for up to three TV's are free; but each additional set-top box (beyond three) would cost $7.50 extra per month.]

6. DVR capacity. Comcast's optional (extra-cost) DVR only allows up to 60 hours of "standard digital" or 15 hours of "HD" shows. [Note: Those numbers are correct--at least for my geographical location--according to a local Comcast representative with whom I spoke yesterday. The Comcast website's DVR description, however, may claim otherwise.]

By contrast, U-verse's free (included) DVR provides more than twice as much storage capacity: up to 133 hours of "standard digital" or 37 hours of "HD" shows. 

7. "Web access" to your DVR? Unlike AT&T U-verse, Comcast doesn't allow you to log onto the Web (via PC or phone) to program your DVR to record either single episodes or all episodes of your favorite TV programs. The latter capability can be downright convenient and empowering (e.g., while you're at work), for your home's DVR can remain under your control regardless of where you travel.

8. "Web access" to your TV "Guide"? Even if you don't want to program a recording, it's sometimes nice to be able to access AT&T U-verse's comprehensive, searchable TV "Guide" via the Web (e.g., while you're at work) to peruse text descriptions of scheduled programming--up to at least a week and a half into the future.

By contrast, Comcast provides no analogous web-accessible TV "Guide." In other words, the only way to read Comcast's TV "Guide" is to view your TV screen, remote in hand. (Of course, you could do likewise with U-verse's remote.) Furthermore, Comcast's on-screen "Guide" only lets you peruse scheduled programming about one week into the future.)

9. Channel surfing: no "picture-in-picture" views. With Comcast, you can only view text descriptions of other channels' current shows, not "picture-in-picture" views of them. By contrast, with U-verse (while continuing to watch the currently activated channel) you can view a full-motion, "picture-in-picture" view of a different channel that you might choose to switch to. (It's easy to jump back-and-forth between channels instantly). Whenever you want to channel surf via U-verse, a fairly small but easily discernible "picture-in-picture" view (full-motion, miniaturized screen or inset) will appear in the lower-left quadrant of the TV screen. [Adjacent to U-verse's "picture-in-picture" inset, there's likewise an expandable text description equivalent to what Comcast provides.]

10. "Contractual commitments." Generally, with U-verse you don't have to worry about any contractual commitments; in other words, you can cancel the service at any time without incurring additional charges. That isn't always the case with competing pay-TV services, such as satellite TV, Verizon FiOS, and, sometimes, Comcast. Especially with any "special discount" that Comcast might offer, always double-check the fine print regarding "terms of service."

11. Installation. Frankly, I was surprised to see that Comcast still charges an installation fee (according to its web site). Perhaps you could haggle and obtain free installation, or perhaps it's already free with certain "limited-time" offers. In any case, with AT&T U-verse standard installation is, to my knowledge, always entirely free. Mind, U-verse installation generally takes from two to eight hours; and even Comcast's typical cable-TV installation time (which, unlike the typical installation of U-Verse service, doesn't involve upgrading your home's landline telephone box) can range from one to several hours.

12. Channel packages and costs.

Comcast, like most pay-TV providers, is compelled to keep its prices at least reasonably close to those of its competition. Of course, in any given region, that competition varies. For example, in my city, Comcast's competition (other than satellite TV) currently consists of AT&T U-Verse, period. (Time-Warner cable TV is available in adjacent suburbs, but not mine). The advertized prices for comparable channel packages are as indicated below. Keep in mind, though, that only AT&T U-Verse includes a DVR at no extra charge. Also, prices below include only TV service, not Internet or phone service.

Comcast channel packages [add $13.95 to each of the below prices for one "ordinary" DVR (viewable via just one TV)]:


$30.94/month: "Basic" plus "Family Tier" (total of around 40 channels)
$56.98/month "Digital Starter" (up to 83 channels)
$73.97/month: "Digital Preferred" (up to 148 channels)
$92.99/month: "Digital Preferred Plus" (up to 162 channels)
$111.99/month: "Digital Premier" (up to 179 channels)

AT&T U-Verse channel packages; all (except U100) include a "Total Home," higher capacity, Web-accessible DVR:

$49/month: "U-family" (up to 70 channels)
$49/month: "U100" (up to 120 channels) [With U100 service only one TV can be connected; moreover, no DVR is included.] 
$64/month: "U200" (up to 220 channels)
$79/month: "U300" (up to 290 channels)
$99/month: "U400" (up to 350 channels)

Regarding high-definition (HD) channels, Comcast's HD service costs $7.00 extra per month. (By contrast, AT&T U-Verse normally would charge $10.00 extra per month for their more inclusive HD service, albeit a “three months for five dollars” discount is available as of this writing.) Despite Comcast touting that it now has "more than 1,000 high-definition (HD) viewing choices," in my city (and presumably most other localities), the truth is far less impressive. Hereabouts Comcast offers "about 50" HD channels, whereas AT&T U-Verse offers "over 85." (Those numbers are according to Comcast and AT&T customer service reps that I spoke with today.) 

Altogether (including non-HD channels), you can see above that U-Verse offers many more channels than does Comcast; nonetheless, Comcast's lineup does include essentially all of the most popular channels.

Note that Comcast's "Basic plus Family Tier" bundle is virtually comparable to U-Verse's bottom-end "U-family" channel package (which, however, still includes the free "Total Home," Web-accessible DVR that Comcast lacks). In either case, along with "The Disney Channel" and "Nickelodeon" there are "The Science Channel" and "National Geographic," not to mention others.

Comcast's and U-Verse's respective higher level channel packages aren't quite so analogously constituted and therefore don't make for tidy "apples to apples" comparisons; moreover, available channels and prices could somewhat differ regionally. Accordingly, your best bet would be to go to comcast.com (and/or uverse.att.com) and submit your street address and zip code to view the respective packages' channels and get a precise idea of which bundle (and/or service provider) provides the biggest bang for your buck. [Also note that Comcast's toll-free phone number is: 1-877-870-4310; and AT&T's is: 1-800-288-2020.]

For whatever it's worth, at this time I myself wouldn't want to settle for less than Comcast's "Digital Starter" channel package (or U-Verse's "U200"). [On the other hand, when I previously made do with U-Verse's lowly "U-family" package, I virtually always was able to find, at least, something worth watching. The same could almost be said for Comcast's roughly analogous--but still more limited--"Basic plus Family Tier" bundle.]

But the bottom line here is that the widely advertised, "official" costs are meaningless if you yourself are able to take advantage of an unadvertised "limited-time offer" (steep, and fairly long-term, discount) that might be currently available. Thus I think it's essential (especially for established subscribers) to speak with a customer service representative (via phone) to ascertain "today's" bottom-line cost for this or that channel package. As any such price discount is bound to be strictly temporary (e.g., up to six months), be sure to mark the discount's "expiration date" on your calendar, and prepare to try renegotiating (via yet another phone call to customer service, etc.) a comparably cheap deal when the time comes.

Moreover, it's imperative to factor any available "cash-back" incentives for new (or, sometimes, established) subscribers. Such "gift cards" (or whatever) can effectively reduce your overall cost by a substantial margin.

Of course, with any of these pay-TV companies, there are those inescapable "taxes, surcharges, and/or fees" that irritatingly increase the actual monthly cost of your service. Thus I again suggest that you speak with one of the customer service (or billing department) representatives to ascertain a reliable estimate of what all such additional charges will amount to.


The upshot:

Certainly I could've discussed still more features of Comcast, not to mention its chief rival in my city, AT&T U-Verse. But the bottom line is that both are generally excellent pay-TV providers. [Obviously, there could always be a tiny minority of unhappy exceptions in particular geographical locations or with particular homes' signal connections or installations.] Well, actually, the real "bottom line" for me (and presumably the majority of consumers) is cost or "bang for the buck." And, given that competition is so fierce and the respective "limited-time offers" are continually changing, there's simply no way that any review of this sort can really tell you whether Comcast (or any competing service) amounts to the best deal where you reside.

As an early retiree who's no millionaire, I'm perforce frugal. And, to my ongoing delight, I've repeatedly discovered that one can obtain pay-TV service for much less than the generally advertized price for this or that channel package. This has been true not only with my own (U-Verse) service but also with my nearby brother's Comcast. Although you might not be able to obtain the very lowest price as a brand-new subscriber to Comcast (or its competitors), chances are that after you've been a subscriber for any reasonable length of time, if you phone customer service and calmly explain that you're on the verge of canceling your service because a competing service costs less, you'll be offered some sort of substantial incentive not to take your business elsewhere.

My nearby brother has thus been enjoying a satisfying selection of channels for an unusually reduced rate. He says that he does, however, have to phone customer service (and/or a manager) and "renegotiate" such "temporary" price reductions every several months, or else his monthly cost would dramatically increase. He reports that he likes his Comcast service well enough that he won't cancel it until (what he considers to be) a comparable channel package from a competing service becomes available at an even lower monthly price. Till then, even the glaring lack of a free, deluxe DVR atop his TV set (not to mention U-Verse's other indisputable advantages) hasn't persuaded him to abandon his long-familiar Comcast.

***

You may also wish to read the following reviews:

A Consumer's Guide to AT&T U-verse

How Does Time Warner Cable Compare to Comcast and AT&T U-verse?


Recommend this product? Yes


Amount Paid (US$): (variable)

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