Detailed Overview of AT&T U-Verse Total Home DVR

The sales pitch for AT&T’s U-Verse is enticing, but nearly every product since the advent of TiVo has made similar claims of changing the way that people watch television. So the question quickly becomes one of determining how, or even if, the AT&T U-Verse can live up its claims. It might be best to look at these claims on a situational basis and understand the theory of how the U-Verse is supposed to work. Before discussing these features, one needs to have a good understanding of what AT&T’s U-Verse is.

In theory, AT&T’s U-Verse is a VDSL service and hardware bundle that is designed to serve as a one-stop solution for all of one’s communication needs short of a mobile phone. In practice, what most people think of when they hear the term U-Verses is actually the set-top box that can receive up to 100 high definition (HD) channels. The set-top box itself is only part of the package, but it is the physical component and thus the most obvious portion. The VDSL service and VoIP bundling are also a major part of U-Verse, though the latter is not a hard and fast requirement.

One might do a little math and realize that 100 HD channels would consume a lot of bandwidth. This is why AT&T’s U-Verse solution combines a DVR functionality with H.264 encoding and IP multi-cast technology. H.264 is a video compression algorithm that is very efficient but does require a good deal of computational power to compress/decompress but offers excellent bandwidth utilization. H.264 alone could not allow a (up to) 24 Mbps VDSL connection to stream 100 channels. This is where IP multi-cast technology comes into play. In essence, what IP-multi-cast allows is the user(s) of U-Verse to select which channels are being transmitted to them. This is wildly different from conventional television where the signal for all channels is sent and the receiver picks the correct data to display based on the channel selected. This does bring up a limitation, however:

Any property within the coverage zone can use multiple set-top boxes from AT&T, and this brings us to the first claim: Live shows can be recorded and/or paused on one box, then transferred to another box. AT&T shows a brief clip of children watching cartoons only to be shooed off by their father who has rushed home from work to watch the big game. The children simply pause their programming, go up stairs and resume right where they left off and Dad gets to watch his favorite team. This functionality is certainly possible, but there are some caveats that stem from the bandwidth limitations.

Many consumers in modest size households where there are three TVs (for example: one in the living room, one in the master bedroom, and one in the children’s room or guest room) run into a limitation: only two HD shows can be recorded at a time, or four standard definition shows. This limitation also applies when multiple AT&T U-Verse boxes are watching different channels. This is likely to be an issue in larger households with numerous U-Verse boxes. As network performance increases, this limitation may be less of an issue. In fact, some areas are seeing faster VDSL speeds (32 Mbps), and rumor has it that U-verse will soon allow up to 3 simultaneous HD streams.

If the 2 HD streams/4 SD streams is not a limitation for your family,then the current U-verse DVR is a truly impressive device. Just like the commercials tout: up to 4 shows can be recorded at the same time on one DVR. And the total home DVR is included in most U-verse TV packages, whereas withVerizon FIOS the home media DVR is a $19.99/mo upgrade.

Another feature comes from tying in to AT&T’s U-verse voice services: The ability to look at phone records on a TV 24/7, and on screen caller ID. Of course, this does seem like it would have limited appeal, but would likely prove to be quite a valuable tool in certain situations.

When it comes to recording capacity, the Uverse DVR scores high. The newer version of the DVR, which is now included with most DVR installs, has a 250 GB hard drive. This means you can store up to 65 hours of HD or up to 233 hours of SD shows. This is more than enough for most households, and beats the recording capacity of most other providers.

What’s your experience with the U-verse Total Home DVR? Let us know!