My Directv Experience:
I have been a Directv customer for over 15 years, except for a couple of short periods when I strayed to Dish and U Verse. Each time I came back to Directv because of the superior picture quality and relatively easy and intuitive DVR.
I started with Directv in the mid 90’s when they agreed to make combination boxes with Tivo, the best DVR service to this day. Their relationship since around 2006 has been on again, off again but for the most part, off. For various technological reasons that I won’t get into here, Directv then began producing their own version of an HD DVR receiver, which I’ve also had, that was not as intuitive as Tivo but did exhibit some of Tivo’s features. For you geeks who love technology history, check out Tivopedia where you can soak up everything you ever wanted to know about the Directv-Tivo relationship. It’s truly some fascinating reading.
At any rate, because satellite providers do not have to compress their signal to fit fiber optic or cable wiring, the picture is truly stunning compared to non-satellite providers. Because of this, I have been willing in the past to pay a little extra for the superb picture quality.
Enter the recession. Like many other Americans, in the face of rising grocery, gas and other commodities costs, I am looking more closely at what I’m spending on “non-essentials” such as tv. Many are either cutting back or cutting the cord completely. I looked at my directv and cable internet bill and was astonished that I was paying an eye-popping $220.00/month!
One of the benefits of the wired providers is that they can bundle internet and tv which is a huge cost savings to paying separately for each of those services. I started looking into that.
Along Comes U-Verse:
I don’t know about you but I have been bombarded with ads for U-Verse for months. Everywhere I turn, there is a U Verse ad promising 100’s of channels, high speed internet, housecleaning and yard work for a mere $54.95/month (I’m kidding about the housekeeping and yard work but one wonders with how competitive these providers are if they wouldn’t throw that in as well). After reviewing my finances, I thought I would give them a call.
They offered a package which included all of the channels I record, including HBO and Showtime and 18 mbs high speed internet (mine was only 10) for $129.00/month, almost $100.00 cheaper than my current setup, including taxes and fees. Why not? Within days, the professional installer (an actual AT&T employee, unlike other providers who use third party vendors) showed up at my door and within 2 hours, I had tv and internet.
What struck me right away was the degradation in picture quality compared to satellite, as exhibited by the fairly obvious pixilation, especially in fast motion video. Again, this is due to the compression of the signal through the wire. I was aware of this possibility because two years ago, I tried U Verse when it was first rolled out in my area and experienced the same phenomenon, albeit to a much greater extent. My installer this time replaced my coax cables with dedicated cat 5 lines which I believe improved my experience this time. Still, the quality is not as good as satellite but it is not bad. Those who are not used to the uncompressed satellite signal will not notice and will likely find it very appealing. Although I am accustomed to the superior quality from satellite, it’s very watchable, especially for the savings.
My system is set up using HMDI cables exclusively, running all of the components through my surround sound Sony DA3600ES receiver. I have noticed no difference in sound quality from the satellite receiver.
Prior to this installation, I had no problems with my setup. Within two days, I noticed the sound cutting out and the Sony receiver going into “protection mode” then shutting down. I researched the issue and discovered there is a problem with the handshake in the HDMI cables between the AT&T receiver and Sony televisions. I have a Samsung tv (PN51E550 for you geeks, a very nice set for the money) so I thought, no problem.
Still, my curiosity was piqued. so I went ahead and read through the myriads of posts on the various forums that have been dedicated to this topic for several years. Apparently, this conflict has not been resolved which is absolutely ridiculous. You should be able to get the service without any conflict with your existing equipment. If AT&T cannot resolve it, they should advise their prospective customers of this issue prior to installation. I am amazed at the number of AT&T customers who accept having to shut everything down, switch cables, restart their devices in a specified order, or whatever other technological gymnastics they do just to watch tv. Google this stuff, it’s amazing. This is shades of getting up to turn the antenna to tune in to one of the three over the air channels that were available before cable. Those of you over 45 know what I’m talking about. But I digress.
My problem apparently didn’t have anything to do with that. I checked my speaker wires to make sure they were not loose or exposed and tightened up my wire in the banana plug system that I use. I have not had a problem for the past several days. Problem solved.
The HDMI Problem:
I thought I dodged the bullet and could keep the service, until the next morning. I was watching the tv when the picture froze and nothing worked with the remote control. Could this be the Sony/AT&T HDMI problem I read about? I rebooted the receiver and it came back on. I then called tech support.
Tech support said they would send a technician to look at the problem. I told her that I was aware of the handshake HDMI problem and asked her if there was a fix for it anytime soon. She said the technician could look at it and let me know. She warned that if the technician came out and had to resolve an issue other than the AT&T equipment, there would be a $99.00 charge. Apparently, AT&T’s position is that if their equipment is not compatible with yours, then you would be responsible for that service call. Thankfully, the technician called me to discuss the problem prior to his arrival.
I told him what I found online and what happened in my instance. He admitted that there are problems with Sony Bravia products (I don’t have this) and there doesn’t appear to be a fix in the near future. He provided a work around (connect the video via composite cable from receiver to tv and an optical cable from receiver to Sony receiver for sound) that he uses in his setup. He did not come out, saving me the service call. I tried his fix and found a very noticeable degradation in video quality between the HDMI cable and component cable. I cannot use this setup.
So far, over the past several days, there have been no issues. It appears that the HDMI handshake issue is not affected by Sony receivers, or at least the one that I have.
The Bottom Line:
Here is my twist on the various factors that I believe many of you will consider when trying to decide between the two companies:
- Cost – clearly ATT is the winner here. The biggest reason is the fact that Directv doesn’t provide internet service (they do provide satellite internet but it is inferior to any cable or DSL and very expensive. This is offered primarily for those who live in rural areas and don’t have access to wired internet service) and AT&T can bundle their internet service with the tv service. Overall, I was able to save nearly $100.00/month over the Directv and Brighthouse cable internet. Winner – AT&T
- Video and Sound Quality – The cheaper service does come at a cost in video quality. As I stated earlier, because satellite providers do not have to compress their video signal and fiber optics do, satellite is the winner here. Concerning the sound quality, I did not notice any measurable difference between the two services. Winner – DIRECTV
- Setup – I had whole home DVR with Directv which required another box that took another port from my router and an additional outlet which with all of my equipment, is in rare supply. This made my already mangled wires and various outlets worse than ever. AT&T doesn’t require the extra equipment because they provide their own box which also doubles as a router, eliminating my own router. So with AT&T’s setup, I am down 2 devices which took up precious outlets and resulting in much less wire clutter. That said, once you are setup with Directv, this is not noticeable unless you have to get behind that tv and futz with things. This happens only occasionally. Winner – AT&T
- DVR – So, the real issue from a day to day standpoint is, which DVR works better? First, because Directv utilized the extra wireless box connected to the additional DVR’s requiring communication with yet another devcie, there was a very noticeable lag when trying to use the DVR features (FF, rewind, accessing your recordings, etc.). I immediately noticed how much more responsive AT&T’s DVR was which is very refreshing. I also found AT&T’s dropdown menu more intuitive making the settings for live tv, recordings, on demand video, etc. much easier to find. Winner – AT&T
- On Demand – one of the biggest disappointments with AT&T was the fact that their On Demand programming is not in HD. This could be a huge drawback for those who rely heavily on this service. The upside to this is it is available instantly. With Directv, you have to download the programs to your DVR before you can watch them but once they are available, they are in high definition. Winner – DIRECTV
- Additional Features – I have to admit, I’m not a huge fan of the additional features these service providers are cramming into their systems. It seems everyone (“smart” tv’s, DVD players, receivers) is trying to be all things to all people. I’m referring to the apps that link you to your facebook and twitter accounts, the weather app, news apps, etc. I find them very slow cumbersome and once you get them set up, just not worth it. Seriously, how many devices do you need to get on facebook? I can hear it now, if my TV could talk (that’s coming, I’m sure) “I’m a television, not a computer, Jim.” Talk about multitasking. However, one app that I LOVED and am going to miss is Pandora. It was very nice to sign into my account and have all of my stations right there on my home theater if I ever wanted to listen to music. I’m going to miss that. AT&T appears to be more feature rich but I haven’t really tried any of them and doubt I will. Winner – For me, this is a TIE, you might think differently.
- Personnel – Directv has contracts with local vendors who do their installations. I’ve had them come to my house several times over the years and it’s really hit or miss. Sometimes you have clean-cut true professionals who know their shit, other times you have guys who look like they were pulled from the local work fair that morning. With AT&T, all of the installers are employees of AT&T and have a pretty good handle on how their system works. My last installer was an electrical engineer with 30 years experience. Because of the economy (that’s another discussion), he was looking for a company with upward mobility. He was not only qualified but over qualified. Unfortunately for him, he is going nowhere within his unit. This was a plus for me, an obvious loser for him. Winner – AT&T
- Programming – This is very subjective and every provider has their tiered packages depending on what your viewing habits are. I would recommend checking their websites and seeing what they are. As far as premium channels like HBO and Showtime, they all hook you with special deals for limited times but once you’re time is up, the prices are basically the same. If you are a sports fan, Directv is the winner. They have more overall sports programming and the coveted NFL Sunday Ticket until 2015, as of this writing. This is a huge factor for some, not so much for me although I do love NFL. This is truly personal preference so it’s hard to declare a winner here. Winner – DIRECTV but only if you are a sports fan.
I’m sure there is a lot more I can cover but I’m already going long on this post. As you can see, which service you choose will depend on your priorities. If you want superior picture quality and don’t mind paying for it, Directv is the clear winner for you. If you are looking for a relatively low cost alternative, then AT&T is the way to go. Being more cost conscious as of late, I’m sticking with AT&T, as long as the HDMI debacle doesn’t rear its ugly head.
I would love to hear all of your comments. If you have a different opinion or if there was something I missed in my analysis, please, please let us all know. I want this to be a place to share our ideas and opinions on these things. Thanks for reading.