The U-verse Boys

Two more lads from AT&T dropped by today. Nice lads, dressed like grunge Mormons: black slacks; pressed long-sleeve shirts with AT&T badges; white athletic shoes (they were walking the neighborhood); no ties.

A new sales pitch. They were unaware the premises was already running U-verse. The lady of the house had answered the door and required rescue.

Sorry, we have U-verse. We love the Internet but we're not interested in TV.

Blue-shirt sales guy: Have you heard about the new shows and channel line-up, U420 it's got ...

Not interested. Just converted to watching shows purely over the Internet. Line-up is duplicative. AT&T charges more for U200 Latino, but it's clear why. There's a blog about this; you should read it.

Yellow-shirt sales guy: Have you heard about the fiber service to your house ...

No, U-verse is fiber to the node, not the the home, like Verizon. (Blue shirt sales guy agrees.) Look, just last week brought a new HD-capable micro PC in order to watch TV. Read all about it at [this] blog.

Yellow-shirt: Really? What's the address. Blue-shirt writes it down.

Discussion about bit rates and how easy it was to upgrade speeds. Discussion of Verizon's astounding high-speed bit rates.

Blue shirt: We have a higher speed than , we can get you 25 Mb/s ...

Nope. Residential Gateway says the max rate here is about 20 Mb/s. House is at the end of the run from the node. It took the installers all day to get the rate up to that. When it's working faster it will get looked at.


More chit-chat, good-byes, and they move on the next house.

Good luck guys.


New Hardware

Video fidelity on the ancient (Anno Domini 2003) Dell 2400 has been somewhat ... janky. A little hardware upgrade is in order.

First, the replacement device must be a full computer. Roku boxen or other purpose-built devices have limited lifespans and lead no afterlives as re-purposed devices (the Dell 2400's fate: add disks, become file server). Forget a TV with the logic built in; that's just a really expensive laptop.

Second, the box must be cheap. Apple Mac Mini for $700? Seriously? No. Apple TV for $99, tethered to the iTunes mothership and $3/video? No. Hell no.

After spec'ing costs for fully silent, i.e. fanless, hardware, it turns out the low cost and quiet operation of micro-formfactor machines wins. Separate PC components cannot compete with prices of these all-in-one, bare-bones units, and slightly back-level-but-still-capable is always cheaper. Best part of commodity parts: they're easy to replace and they get cheaper over time.

Device of choice: a Zotac ZBOX HD. The naked processor+graphics unit requires memory, disk, keyboard, mouse, and OS, but these commodities are cheap or free. A recycled copy of Microsoft Windows 7 Home Premium 64-bit helps lower costs, too. Microsoft Windows™ is alas necessary as CBS refuses to stream to Linux platforms and watching The Big Bang Theory is really, really important.

The box is clean and opinion on the 'Net is happy. The device appears to have tidy engineering. Most of the case is empty space awaiting the customer's hard disk and memory stick. The unit has ports a-plenty: 6 USB, one HDMI, one DVI/VGA (with adapter), one external SATA, one wired ethernet, one 802.11 b/g/n wireless net, a card slot, microphone, audio, and an SPDIF plug (who uses this anymore?).

Box set-up was annoying because loading the OS required copying it to a USB stick. For absolutely no good reason, the Windows 7 64-bit tool to build bootable USB sticks, bootsect, won't run under Windows 7 32-bit. After loading the OS, the usual four- to six-hour cycle of applying Windows updates, installing drivers, anti-virus software, Microsoft Office 2007, and updating everything again ensued. The Zotac folks have some recent BIOS updates, too.

Once installed, the unit nestles into very little space in the entertainment cabinet. The supplied stand lets heat escape its top. The box comes with a mount to fit it on the back of the television but then the on/off button would be out of reach.

Video streaming from CBS (for aforementioned reason), FOX ("Glee!") and especially from ESPN (fooootballl - the computer's final parts arrived Saturday late; getting it running Sunday for Oregon/Auburn's BCS championship game Monday was important), while better than the poor, overmatched Dell 2400, remains merely "adequate". Tests show the image jitter is a function of watching streaming video in HD.  Internet jankiness, while ignorable when watching on small screens,stil appears on big displays. For $60/month and the freedom from Time Warner, it's worth suffering.

Movies, however, look fine. The streaming engine and most of the transfers for Netflix are good enough to watch just about anything. Even junk. Joe Queenan's point about the Bullock Algorithm is well taken: at $2 or less, we'll watch it. At $3 ... meh, not so much.


New U-verse TV Prices

AT&T is raising some U-verse TV prices 1 February.
From: A message from AT&T
Received: 01/04/2011 2:16 PM

Thank you for choosing AT&T U-verse. We hope you're enjoying the tremendous value of your services. We've worked hard in 2010 to provide you with the best entertainment experience. We've added more TV programming and innovative features, including U-verse Mobile, U-verse Online and My Multiview, which lets you watch four channels at the same time. And U-verse will just keep getting better in 2011.

Effective February 1, 2011, the monthly price for some U-verse TV packages will be increasing. U-family will continue to be $54, U100 will be $59, U200 be $69, U200 Latino will be $79, U300 will be $84, and U450 will be $117. If you are paying a monthly high-speed Internet equipment fee for the Residential Gateway, the monthly price will be $4. If you are on a current U-verse TV pricing promotion, the promotional benefit will continue until the applicable promotion ends or expires.

Interesting that the Spanish-language channels have a $10/month surcharge, probably paid directly to Telmundo, Univision, etc. "¡Aye! ¡Mis telenovellas!" Since they are available over-the-air in this market, they ought to be freely carried. Their regular programming is nearly the same as English-language popular TV, with such keen news exposés as "¿El Rey del Pop homicidio o suicidio?"

Wait. Nevermind; please take ten bucks.


Time-Warner Cable OFF, Game ON

TWC turned off cable television service today. It had been working over the weekend.

Its dearth became apparent when firing up Stanford/VT Orange Bowl game at 5pm. No signal.

ESPN.com, however, is cheerfully streaming the game. In high-definition.

Game ON.