OK, I admit it. When I am asked to test questionable software, I usually install it first on my wife’s computer. And my kids are crash-test dummies ramming head-first into all sorts of dubious products. But they don’t care since they only use their computers to play World of Warcraft and to do an occasional school assignment. So it came as no surprise to my family when I announced we would be giving up our current TV service for something new.
Used to be we had only one choice when it came to television reception over the air by using an antenna. While analog TV is destined to fade away on June 12, you will still be able to get TV signals over the air with new digital TV sets equipped with digital receivers. Older TV sets will still work using a digital receiver box. Typically the selection of stations over the air is small and limited to the local area. When you want access to literally hundreds of stations that offer just about everything you could ever want, you can choose your local cable company if there is one in your area, or choose a satellite service such as DirecTV or DISH. However, there is a new player in town (or coming to your town) that offers yet another alternative to these services, it’s from AT&T and it’s called U-verse.
U-verse delivers television programming via AT&T’s growing network of fiber optic cable. The bandwidth of fiber optic cable is enormous and U-verse takes full advantage of that capability. In addition to television services, U-verse offers high-speed Internet access of up to 18 megabits per second download and 1.5 upload. VoIP telephone services are also available. For now, however, I am going to focus on the TV offering. I have had U-verse installed in my home for about two months now and it has some unique abilities. For starters, U-verse TV comes with a DVR. Like any other DVR, it can record shows and lets you time-shift live programming. But what makes the U-verse Total Home DVR different is that it lets you network up to eight other TV sets in your home to it. The high capacity DVR will record up to 233 hours of standard definition or 65 hours of High Definition (HD).
Each TV set in your home requires a U-verse receiver to be on the network. Once connected, you can watch anything recorded on the DVR on any of the TV sets. In fact, you can watch a recorded show on one set, pause it, walk into another room and continue to watch that paused show on another TV. You can also watch the same recorded show on up to four different TVs independently of each other. I don’t know of anything out there that can do something like that. And there’s a lot more.
The fiber optic bandwidth currently brings four TV streams into your home. You can watch up to four different shows at the same time and up to three of these can be in HD. U-verse also offers Video On Demand that includes a large library of recent and older films. VOD lets you watch shows immediately so you’re not a slave to a channel’s schedule. Charges vary depending on what you want to see. Many are free while others begin at $2 and up. You also have access to some network programming such as NBC through VOD in case you missed a favorite show. And while network VOD offerings are small, it is my understanding that more networks with their shows are on the way. If you subscribe to some of the premium channels such as HBO and Showtime, much of their content is available as VOD and at no extra charge. You can also see and control the DVR via any Internet browser. So if you want to record something remotely, you can program the DVR to do so.
U-verse is still in its infancy and there’s room for lots of improvement. For example, currently you create and delete a recoding, and pause live programming only from the TV connected to the DVR. However, I am told that the next release of the U-verse software will allow you to do all of that from any of the TVs remotely connected. There are some additional user navigation issues that are still somewhat clumsy but this is the first iteration of the U-verse software and I’m sure that these will be corrected as newer versions are released.
The bottom line is that my wife, the crash dummies and I like U-verse. Changing stations is instantaneous and the overall feel is a good one. And if it’s this good right out of the gate, I can only see it getting better over time. If you can’t get cable in your area or you are unhappy with satellite service for whatever reason, check to see if U-verse is available in your area or coming soon. It’s another alternative worthy of your consideration. Check out the U-verse website for plans and pricing information.
Craig Crossman is a national newspaper columnist writing about computers and technology. He also hosts the No. 1 daily national computer radio talk show, Computer America, heard on the Business TalkRadio Network and the Lifestyle TalkRadio Network — Monday through Friday, 10 p.m.-midnight ET. For more information, visit his web site at www.computeramerica.com.
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