Big news for OC residents who want more choice in video: AT&T is the latest telephone company to start offering TV. And I’m not talking about obscure Internet TV channels, but the whole gamut of major networks, HBO and two types of Cartoon Networks (woo hoo!)
The main details of U-Verse: Up to 350 channels, prices start at $44 (for 100 channels and TV only) and you can get discounts if you bundle this with Internet service, telephone service or mobile-phone service.
But the print edition of the paper never gives me enough space to say everything I know. The web does. I spoke to Chris Percy, AT&T’s vice president and general manager, earlier today (that’s Monday) for the overview and got a lot of MY questions answered. If you have more, send them to me and I’ll forward them along…
Q: Who can get this?
A: Certain residents in Fullerton, Laguna Niguel, Anaheim, Santa Ana, Garden Grove and Tustin. Check the U-Verse site to see if your home is eligible. Chris wouldn’t tell me how many residents are eligible on day one, unlike Verizon, so even if you live in one of these cities, you may not be able to get U-Verse yet.
Lots more questions and answers…
Q: How much?
A: As always, a complicated answer since there are multiple packages. I’ve tried to boil it down to the basics. First, all packages include 3 set-top boxes and one digital video recorder, except the basic U100, which has just one set-top box.
So, starting with TV only:
$44 = U100 (100 channels)
$44 = U-family (50 channels)
$59 = U200 (190 channels)
$79 = U300 (240 channels, plus 31 premium channels)
$99 = U400 (300 channels, plus 49 premium channels)
Add Internet and prices go up. Three options available — all with upload speeds of 1 Mbps. Choices are Express (1.5 Mb download), Pro (3 Mb download) or Elite (6 Mb download):
U-family $59/mo $64/mo $74/mo
U100 $59/mo $64/mo $74/mo
U200 $74/mo $79/mo $89/mo
U300 $94/mo $99/mo $109/mo
U400 $114/mo $119/mo $129/mo
Q: What channels can I get?
A: You really want me to list them all? Go to U-Verse’s site for channel lineup.
One quick breakdown: 215 regular cable/local channels, 27 HD channels, 50 premium channels, 25 Spanish channels, 2 adult channels and 34 music channels.
Q: Are there discounts for bundlers?
A: Of course! That’s the whole point of a telephone company getting into TV, Internet and mobile phone service. The best part, at least for some consumers, is one bill. In some cases, there will be joint bill discounts, but I don’t have more details on exact discounts.
TV specials are pretty good right now, depending on what package you order:
* Free HD TV for a year (saving $10/month)
* Two months of free service for U300/U400 subscribers
* $50 gift card if you order TV and Internet online
Q: What’s the technology behind all this?
A: This is a truer Internet-based TV than Verizon’s FiOS, which is more like a cable company since it supplies fiber-optic cable to the house. AT&T runs fiber-optic cables to local neighborhood nodes (remember this with DSL?). So, you do have to be within a certain proximity to your local node. For the route to the house, U-Verse relies on good old copper wiring. Good or bad, this is up for debate. Read my story for more on this topic.
Once service is running to your home, it uses a “gateway” from 2Wire, which also serves as a wireless router. The DVR is from Motorola and the software is from Microsoft.
Q: If U-Verse isn’t in my area, when is it coming?
A: AT&T won’t talk about the future. They only tell me that at the end of 2006, about 2 million people nationwide could get U-Verse. By the end of the year, they estimate the number will jump to 8 million households and then 19 million by 2008.
If you have AT&T phone service, chances are that U-Verse is coming to your home in the future. Maybe not this year but someday… In the meantime, you could subscribe to AT&T’s Homezone service, with TV supplied by Dish Networks.
Q: AT&T doesn’t even offer phone service in my area. Will I be able to get U-Verse?
A: Nope. And while AT&T can technically offer it, it is concentrating on its current base of customers. Same with Verizon. But cross your fingers and give it a few years. Why would either company limit themselves? Both already offer mobile phone service nationwide. When times get tough, they should think about bundling TV and mobile phone service.
Q: If I subscribe to Homezone, will it be a hassle to switch to U-Verse?
A: Possibly. If you took advantage of the buy-one-year-get-one-free special for Homezone, you are out of luck. You’re stuck with Homezone for two years. BUT if you don’t have a contract with Dish, the switch to U-Verse should be simple.
Q: What’s the cool stuff about U-Verse?
A: A few things.
- The Motorola DVR can record four channels at the same time. It’s also a very petite box. Like so:
- Program your DVR using any web browser using Yahoo TV
- For $10 a month, access 30 TV channels on your PC without affecting the channel your home TV is currently playing. Here’s my pic:
- Includes a “Gateway” from 2Wire that serves as AT&T’s connection to the house and a wireless router.
- Picture in picture, even if you’re TV doesn’t offer this.
- Rent movies on demand and the movie is stored on the DVR for 24 hours. In the demo I saw, the movie “Amelie” was selected for download and instantly began playing. No lag, no buffering.
- Search for shows by name or actor (Microsoft Media Center offers the same service, so this shouldn’t be a surprise since U-Verse is using Microsoft software).
Q: Can apartment dwellers and condo owners get U-Verse?
A: Most likely, yes. Since AT&T doesn’t dig up your drive to lay down fiber-optic cables to your door (that’s what Verizon’s FiOS does), your dwelling just needs to be near a U-Verse node (check with AT&T on this) and there must be copper wiring or Cat 5 cable or coaxial cable to your house. Chris said 80 to 90 percent of all apartments are eligible but there are cases when the wiring is too old and AT&T will need permission from the landlord.
Q: Can I see a demo of this?
A: Not yet in OC. At the former Cingular stores (now called AT&T), the stores will show video demos. But each site needs to be retrofitted to provide U-Verse service and a proper demo.
Q: So, FiOS or U-Verse?
A: Considering that I’ve only seen demos and have yet to test either option, I shouldn’t say. But I live in a FiOS city (that’s Huntington Beach, Fountain Valley, Garden Grove, Westminster and Stanton) and FiOS offers 30 megabit downloads!!! Sure, it’ll cost $180 a month, but 30 megs!