Austin Cable Comparison

Disclamer

This site is all my opinion. I am not affiliated with either Time-Warner or AT&T. All information was gathered by me - not from the vendor web sites or literature.  Please advise me of any corrections. 

Diary

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The Diary section was getting too long - I moved it to a separate page.


Internet Phone Comparison


Comparison Summary

Feature

AT&T (U400 Pkg)

TW

Website

AT&T U-verse

TW-CenTx

Package

U400 w/Internet Elite

Digipic 2000

# cable boxes

3

2

HD DVR

About 40hr HD

About 20 hr HD

Whole house DVR
Added Sep 24, 2008 in Austin

Not available

 Premium Movies

HBO,Max,Sho,TMC,Starz,Encore

HBO,Max,Sho,Starz

Cost per month

$164

$200

Install Date

12/1/07

1997

Available channels

378
Not including 1 PPV placeholder channel

372
Not including 94 PPV placeholder channels

# HD channels

77 (added 30 more HD channels in Nov 3, 2008)

35  (added 3 channels in June)

Music channels

48

48

Local news channel

No

Yes

Max simultaneous DVR recordings

4 but only 2 can be HD (max per household)

2 and both can be HD (max per DVR, multiple DVRs allowed)

Video on Demand

Limited HD but easy to use - all on one channel
A few are HD and more are widescreen - 11/08.

Some HD and more selection but hard to find.

Quality of picture

Good

Good (some programs slightly better than AT&T)

Guide

More info and easier to use

Faster scrolling

DVR

Easier to schedule

buggy

Remote Web DVR scheduling

Yes

No

Internet (average tested speeds)

9.6 Mbps download and 1.4 Mbps upload when watching 1 HD channel. [Nov 9, 2008 - 18 Mbps download sppeds now available for extra cost.  I have not yet tested this.]

(I previously measured slightly lower Internet speeds when watching 1 HD channel + 3 SD channels but new test are inconclusive.)

6.7 Mbps download and 0.49 Mbps upload.

No impact from watching TV.

Wireless Included

802.11-G included (the TV converter box will not work with wireless - its just for your PC)

Extra cost

Wi-Fi hot spots

Access to 10,000 wireless LAN hot spots in US including most McDonald's, Barnes & Noble, major airports, and many hotels.  Click here for list of sites.

not available

U-verse Wish List 

1. Must have capability to receive at least 2 HD feeds in one household!!!!!!

     As of June 24, I have 2 HD streams to my house so my number one complaint is fixed!

2. Make the HDCP copy protection used with HDMI/DVI HD connections more compatible with TVs.

3. Add a FAVORITES button the the remote control to go directly to the guide that only shows favorites.  It is now 3 button pushes to get to the favorites display.  Maybe one of the unused A,B,C buttons could be fixed to display favorites or the user could optionally program the GUIDE button to show favorites instead of the whole guide.


Time-Warner wish list would be much larger but since most Austin users already have TW I will not list everything here.  But of course everyone's number one wish is to fix the bugs in the DVR!

Commentary

Executive Overview

AT&T U-verse is an attractive alternative to Time-Warner (TW) cable TV and internet service. if HDTV is not a critical requirement. Maybe I should explain that. U-verse has a major limitation in that a household is only allowed a maximum of four simultaneous channels on their data line at one time and only two of those can be HD. Note that you can have more than 4 TVs in use at once but you can only watch a total of four different channels on those TVs at any time. Remember that a Cable DVR recording counts the same as a TV.  So if you are watching an HD movie and a scheduled HD recording starts, the movie stops and you get an error message about all HD services being in use.However you can watch an HD program while it is being recorded and you can watch a previously recorded HD program while recording another one off the air.Any HD channel counts as an HD signal even if an SD program is being broadcast at the time.  For a family this means everyone has to agree on which HD channel to watch even though they can all watch that channel on their on TV. For recording you must be careful to not schedule three HD channels at the same time or at a time when you want to watch a different HD channel. Note that TW does not have any imposed limits on the number of feeds/channels per household just a maximum number of simultaneous recordings per DVR box but you can have multiple boxes.

Background

Both TW and AT&T have a wire running to everyone's house but many more people are spending a few hundred dollars a month with TW to deliver services to their house while AT&T only gets a few tens of dollars for phone service. The phone companies have been slow to innovate and take advantage of that wire they own - they are now waking up.

I have been a TW customer in south Austin for over 10 years and an HD customer for over 5 years.My house was wired with coax and Cat 5 Ethernet jacks in every room when built.I have a Sharp Aquos LCD TV with both TW and AT&T HD DVRs connected via HDMI cables to allow me to quickly switch between the two for comparisons.

Installation (AT&T wins)

Signup online was painless (I didn't have to call anyone) and I got to pick the date and time for the install (Mon - Sat).The installer arrived at the designated time.After spending about an hour at the node down the street the installation for my three TVs took about3 hr.The installer was concerned about the quality of older crimped connections on my coax cables (TW techs installed many of these and recent TW techs have never mentioned this as a potential problem even when troubleshooting signal strength issues at my house). This is an example of how the AT&T installation is more professional than TW's. The technician replaced cable ends on all coax used and even removed wall cover plates to replace cable ends behind the plates.I ended up using existing Cat-5 Ethernet cable to two cable boxes and coax to one box that was not near an Ethernet drop. The installer came from San Antonio where they have been doing this for a year.  AT&T provided heavy, decent quality component video and HDMI cables to go with their box - much better than the thin component cables TW gave me.  [added 12/3] The installer used his PC for the initial setup and testing of the internet - he did not require me to install and software on my PC.

Outside connections

No changes were made to my existing voice phone lines by AT&T.They added a small box within their demarc box that converted a pair of copper wires from the street to coax and connected that to an existing coax wire that ran to their modem within the house.This is not fiber to the house - the fiber stops at a node about two blocks from my house.

Note on wiring from the street: When my house was built ten years ago AT&T dug a trench and laid their wire about a foot below the surface.TW came after I moved in and rolled the grass sod back to lay their cable under it.This is just one example of how AT&T provides a more professional installation.

Cable Box

AT&T has no display on the front to show time or channel, but their box is smaller than the TW box.They have similar connections in the back but the AT&T box can be fed via coax or Ethernet (no wireless) while TWonly works with coax.The TW box (Scientific Atlanta) has many more configuration options than the AT&T box (Motorola VIP1216/297).There is no switched outlet on the AT&T box.

The AT&T box has a sticker on the front telling you how to reboot it.With TW you have to call for them to tell you how.Time will tell if the AT&T box requires less rebooting than the TW box which has had many little software problems since the beginning.The AT&T box is running the Windows CE operating system.

TIP:  hold down OK and down-arrow on the front of the box while pressing the power button to do a reset to factory defaults

Every TV must have a cable box for AT&T.Basic service (analog) is available to TVs without a box with TW.

Remote Control

AT&T allows you to program the power button to turn on/off up to four things at the same time.AT&T uses the same remote for DVR and regular cable boxes. There are no slow-motion capability, picture-in-picture or page up/down buttons on the ATT remote, but it does have a jump back 7 seconds, a jump forward 30 seconds button (to skip a commercial), a zoom button, an interactive button and a video on demand button.

Digital Rights Management (DRM)  (TW wins)

HDCP is a method for prevention of unauthorized distribution or reproduction of HD TV signals.  If your TV is not HDCP compliant the source device (i.e. cable box or HD-DVD player) will revert to a lower resolution SD output.  Both the TW and U-verse HD cable boxes use HDCP.   I used the TW cable box for several years with no HDCP related problems but I get an HDCP error almost every day with my AT&T U-verse box and my Sharp Aquos TV.  The AT&T support line did not know about these errors - they said the problem was probably caused by my Ethernet network within my house. I am still working on this issue - see my installation log page for more information.

TIP:  avoid HDCP errors by using component video cables to connect to your HD TV. 


Modem/Router

For TW I used a router/firewall that I purchased and attached to the TW modem.AT&T provided a single 2-wire box that included the modem, router, firewall, and wireless (G) access point.The input to the AT&T box is coax.

The box has a user-friendly web configuration capability (no software installation required) with numerous firewall and network options.The wireless can be turned off if desired.


Viewing Experience

Changing channels takes about 3 seconds on TW with a black screen appearing during most of that time.AT&T changes are faster and there is no black screen during the change.AT&T apparently buffers the channels on each side of the one you are watching so the channel changing is faster.

Picture Quality (TW wins by a hair)

I did a freeze frame on the same picture for the TW feed and the AT&T feed so I could A-B the pictures on the same TV set.I did this for four different quality feeds:a Discovery HD travelog, a Showtime series (Dexter), a Starz movie (Pirates of the Caribbean) and a live NFL game on NBC.I could not tell any differences in sharpness or color among any of these samples.However on the Dexter show and the movie the TW signal showed a little more dynamic range (more detail in the blacks) than the AT&T signal.This was a small difference that most people would probably not notice.

However I have had consistent quality problems with TW signal dropping out briefly and pixilating frequently.I reboot my cable box at least weekly to fix these problems.I can live with the minor degradation of the video better than I can live with no video.

Photo of TV screen with AT&T  feed: 

 Photo of TV screen with TW feed:


HD
(AT&T wins)

HD content is still disappointing on both systems.This is not completely a service provider issue - it's also a content provider issue.Many of the advertised HD channels are not really HD - they are broadcasting SD size pictures most of the time or some channels just stretch an SD picture to fill the screen (the everyone-is-fat view).  

AT&T has more channels including the west coast feeds for all premium movie channels,the local CW channel, National Geographic, NFL, and The History Channel, The Learning Channel, Animal Planet, Science, and the Versus/Golf channel.  Disclaimer - this comparison is ignoring the fact that AT&T only allows you to receive one HD feed and TW has no specific limit.  I am just comparing the quality and quantity of HD stations here. Still no NASA TV with either service. NASA TV added Nov 3, 2008.

On-Demand and Pay-per-View(TW wins)

AT&T shows 40 old movies costing from $2 to $4 and about 45 additional free concerts and self-help videos.AT&T has free replays from premium movie channels - for example there were 21 HBO movies and 9 HBO series available for free.TW makes it harder to find all their video on demand and you typically have to wait a couple of minutes for it to display a list of 17 old movies for $1.95 each and they listed 28 HBO movies and 8 HBO series available as well as similar lists for the other premium movie channels.

AT&T has all PPV on channel one and TW has them spread across over 90 different channels so I may be missing some of their offerings.

TW showed 37 HD movies for $4.95 each. AT&T did not show any movies as HD - apparently all video on demand is SD. As of Oct, 2008 some PPV movies are available in widescreen but not HD.

Interesting Channels(ATT wins)

AT&T has some interactive web site channels (Yellow Pages channel, interactive games channel (Sudoku, solitaire, Chess, Bricks, Mah Jongg). AT&T also can show customizable local weather, stock ticker, traffic and sports scores on the bottom of the screen.The traffic info appears to be for San Antonio currently.

Guide (AT&T wins)

If you enter a non-existing channel TW gives an error but AT&T takes you to the nearest existing channel in the guide!

AT&T lets you view the full guide or just your favorites in the guide.But it is three push buttons to get to the favorites display.  As of a February update it is now easy to set you favorites with AT&T. TW lets you flag whatever channel you are watching as a favorite.

AT&T Guide has more complete program descriptions and displays more info on the screen - using the full HD width.The guide is displayed transparently over the channel you are watching and shows a live thumbnail view of the channel highlighted in the guide.You can easily switch between showing 6 channels with 2-1/2 hr programming per channel to showing all programs for a single channel.You can also set the default view. You can search for a program or series to record.The on-line web guide is the easiest way to setup recordings.

AT&T does not allow you to set a reminder for a program in the guide like TW does.

TW shows the channel you are watching as a thumbnail in one corner of the SD size screen and the TW guide scrolls much faster than AT&T.TW shows 5 channels with 2 hours programming per channel.You cannot browse by channel but you can select to browse by Theme or Program name which I find to not be too useful because the list is so long and there are so many duplicates. There is noway to adjust recording start times.

[added 12/11] Both AT&T and TW are grouping similar types of channels together and starting new groups typically on an even hundred number.  AT&T did make most HD channels exactly 1000 higher than the SD equivalent (i.e. National Geographic SD is 265 and HD is 1265.

TIP:use the fast forward/rewind keys to skip ahead and back a day in the guide.


[added 12/3] While watching a program on AT&T you can press the up/down arrow on the remote to cause a popup live thumbnail view of another channel.  Within the popup is a thermometer bar to show how much of the other program you have missed.  This is really nice but is is not true Pic-In-Pic because the thumbnail goes away if you don't keep pressing one of the arrows.


DVR (AT&T wins)

AT&T allows you to select a program from the guide and then chose to record the program or record the series.You can use arrows to easily add time to the recording end time. You can also do this on a web site - the process is the same. You can schedule programs 9 days out.Simpler than TW 's multi step process but it remains to be seen how smart it is.AT&T only supports one DVR per household.

[added 12/3] With the AT&T box if you schedule too many programs at the same time (i.e. the 8:00 program overlaps the 9:00 program by a minute) it prompts you to resolve the conflict and allows you to delete one of the scheduled programs.   This will happen frequently until they allow more than one HD feed.  TW has a similar capability but they do allow 2 HD recordings at the same time so this is a much less frequent occurrence.   [added 11/3/08] In October AT&T add full home DVR to Austin Customers.  Recordings can only be setup on the DVR but they can be played back on any box in the house with the same functionality as if you were sitting at the DVR.

TIP:Online guide athttp://u-versetv.sbc.yahoo.com/

Internet(AT&T wins [as of 2/4, previously rated a toss-up])

I normally get 6.7 Mbps download and 0.49 Mbps uploads with TW.[added 2/4] AT&T averages 9.6 Mbps download and 1.45 Mbps uploads. [deleted 2/4: AT&T averages 5.7 Mbps download and 0.95 Mbps uploads.]Internet browsing may be slightly impacted by TV with the shared AT&T bandwidth.Twice the download speeds dropped from about 5.7 to about 4.7 Mbps when recording an HD channel and watching three other SD channels and continuously changing channels on one HD feed (worst case scenario).However I was not able to regularly duplicate this - all other test averaged 5.5Mbps downloads during the worst case tests.  [added 12/3] Email (web and POP3) and web hosting is provided by Yahoo but you must use your special AT&T user id.  You can have a master account and 10 sub-accounts.  Everyone will have an email address in the format of yourname@att.net. There is a capability to store photos on the web at Yahoo (not Flickr?) and view them on your TV, but I have not figured that out yet.

Phone

AT&T did not offer phone service integrated with U-verse at the time of my installation but the router/modem has an output jack for future voice use. I did not evaluate either company's voice offering.

[added 4/20/03] AT&T offers voice service with U-verse in Austin as of April 2.  See my Voice Comparison page for more information.

Web Site (TW wins)

TW's site is easy to navigate and has a reasonable knowledge base.AT&T partnered with Yahoo but they have not integrated it well.There are a number of different sites you need to access and they are not properly linked.You sometimes have to login again when you are handed off to a different area.If you leave theatt.my.yahoo.com site to say setup your sports scores to show on the TV there is no button to get you back to this home page portal - the links take you back to my.yahoo.com which does not have the special AT&T content.

On the special AT&T Yahoo portal home page you can display a TV Listing but you cannot specify AT&T U-Verse as the content provider so none of the channel numbers matches your TV!

Support  (a sad tie)

I have always found TW customer service responsive and polite if unhelpful. I have not had to call AT&T yet so I will have to update this later.I have now had one service call with AT&T.  The phone support was prompt and friendly. They ran remote tests on my DVR but could not find any problems.  They sent out a tech to replace the box.  However they did not fix the problem or even have a hint at what the problem might be (it turned out to be an incompatibility between my TV and their HDCP copy protection). AT&T has been careful to call me, send me email, and leave me booklets with instructions for calling for help.

TW has a compact channel listing available for viewing, downloading or printing on their web site.