Our Review of AT&T U-verse

A good TV provider gives you access to channels you actually want at a reasonable price. It’s also not too much to ask for the provider to have a solid future in the industry — after all, you want to be able to stick with your service for at least a few years. Unfortunately, AT&T U-verse no longer meets these basic expectations. Though U-verse had a great run in its prime, AT&T has stopped backing it with the same enthusiasm it once did. Now that AT&T owns DIRECTV and DIRECTV NOW, many believe the company is pulling the plug on U-verse in favor of ramping up its more impressive TV services. It also doesn’t help that U-verse’s channel lineup just isn’t cutting it when compared to other providers.

If you want to stick with AT&T as your TV provider, your best bet would be looking into DIRECTV or DIRECTV NOW, since the company has plans to funnel U-verse customers into these services in the future. Both boast better price points and the reassurance that they’ll still be around in the next few years. With so many options available today, you can get a lot more for a lot less than U-verse.

The Claim

AT&T gives customers access to over 234 HD channels and lets them record up to four shows simultaneously with its HD DVR. In addition, it lets customers stream TV from anywhere using its app.

Is It True?

Yes, but the free HD DVR and app are two of U-verse’s only selling points. Even then, these offers come with caveats. The app is the only option for watching shows outside of your TV, as streaming is no longer supported on web browsers. And the 234 HD channels U-verse boasts are only available when you upgrade to U-verse’s most expensive U450 package and add on the HD premium tier — an extra $7 a month on top of the cost of the package.

Other Considerations

The most telling sign that U-verse is lagging behind its competition and will soon be gone is AT&T’s lack of passion for the service. Since its acquisition of DIRECTV back in 2015, AT&T has been quietly phasing out U-verse in favor of the satellite TV giant. It’s nearly impossible to find any information on U-verse — any attempt to access pricing and plan information on AT&T’s website redirects to information about DIRECTV. Another major clue to AT&T’s transition was U-verse losing 1.4 million connections in 2016, with an additional 428,000 lost in the first quarter of 2017. However, as Dallas Business Journal notes, “many of the departing U-verse subscribers stayed on with AT&T via DIRECTV and DIRECTV NOW.”

To add fuel to the fire, AT&T announced that customers would no longer be able to stream U-verse from their web browsers; instead, live TV is only available through its app. This is acceptable if you’re fine watching TV on your smart device or smart TV, but being unable to stream via web browser is a major pain if you prefer snuggling up in bed with a laptop to watch your favorite shows. This announcement further indicates that AT&T is shifting gears. There’s no need for the company to maintain and advance U-verse’s streaming capabilities if it's not interested in the service.

U-verse can also cost as much or more than other providers while offering less value. Its entry-level packages are priced decently the first year — U-Family starts at $35 a month for 200+ channels, while U200 starts at $55 a month for 360+ channels. However, the cost for these packages jumps after the first year to $79 and $98 a month, respectively. The first year discounts are even more disappointing when you consider the extra fees in U-verse’s fine print. Accessing many HD channels is only an option on the most expensive package, and even then it’s an additional $7 a month for HD premium channels like HBO and Encore. U-verse also charges a broadcast fee, which can run up to $5.99 a month. When all is said and done, you could be paying around $13 extra on top of the base price in fees that other providers don’t charge.

For comparison, DIRECTV’s entry-level package includes 150+ channels and starts at $35 a month (increasing to $76 a month in the second year). It doesn’t charge a broadcast fee or make you pay extra for premium HD channels. And even though DIRECTV’s basic package has fewer channels than U-verse, those that are included are of better quality than those offered in the basic U-Family package. U-verse can’t help you if your kids love Powerpuff Girls or you want to unwind with The Daily Show after a long day, because it doesn’t include Comedy Central or Cartoon Network — channels that come standard in many entry-level packages (like that of DIRECTV) because of their popularity with families. With almost 80 of U-verse’s channels being music stations, in addition to a long list of shopping and pay-per-view channels, the advertised 200 and 360 channels feel more like padding than substance.

A Closer Look at Features

Price
Promotional price: $35-$110 per month for the first year; $79-$139 per month after the first year
Bundle Options
Promotional bundle prices (for TV and internet): $65-$140 per month for the first year; $109-$169 per month after the first year
Best For
Because of its subpar channel offerings and decreasing availability, we don't recommend this service to those searching for a lasting TV provider.
Not For
People who want a TV provider with staying power, the ability to stream from all devices, and a variety of channels at a decent price
Standout Features
Free HD DVR that simultaneously records up to four shows. U-verse app that streams on-demand and live programming
States Served
21
Fees
  • Broadcast fee: up to $5.99 per month
  • Early termination fee: $15 per month for each month remaining on agreement
  • Activation fee: $35
  • Additional receivers: $10 per month per receiver
  • Premium HD channels fee: $7 per month
Terms
12-month agreement required. Promotional prices reflect a $5 discount for enrolling in autopay. Must enroll in autopay within the first 30 days of activation, and the credit won't apply for one to three months. This means that if you go with the U-Family package, you'll pay $40 for up to three months before the price drops to the advertised $35 per month. This autopay credit ends after the first year.

Our Deep Dive

  • Free HD DVR: Each household receives a free HD DVR with any package. And, with the ability to record up to four shows at once, you’ll never have fights over whose favorite shows take priority.
  • Fee for premium HD channels: Most HD channels are only available on U-verse’s most expensive U450 package. And if you like watching Game of Thrones in full HD glory, then you’ll have to pay up even further. U-verse charges an extra $7 a month to access HD versions of premium channels like HBO, Showtime, and Starz.
  • $200 Visa reward card: AT&T is giving all customers who sign up for U-verse a $200 Visa reward card for a limited time.
  • U-verse app: Even though you can’t stream shows and movies at uverse.com, you can still download the U-verse app to access live and on-demand programming. It works on iOS, Android, and Amazon devices, giving you complete access to your service while on the go. Need to keep the kids entertained on a long road trip? Stream their favorite shows directly to your tablet via the U-verse app.
  • Availability: U-verse is only available in 21 states and may even be limited to certain cities within these states. Meanwhile, AT&T’s other TV provider — DIRECTV — is available nationwide. This lack of coverage is another reason to question AT&T’s devotion to U-verse.
  • Channel lineup: As far as available channels go, U-verse’s lineup is pretty weak. Though its entry-level U-Family package boasts over 200 channels, many of these aren’t the standard ones you’d expect from a basic TV package. Your kids won’t be able to watch Adventure Time or Teen Titans Go!, for example, because Cartoon Network isn’t included in the U-Family package. You can upgrade beyond U-Family and get access to more channels, but U200 — the second cheapest package — is $20 more per month and jumps up to $98 after the first year. You might as well go with DIRECTV’s entry-level package, which offers better channels than U200 at a lower price point.
  • Bundle options: Bundling U-verse with AT&T Internet and Digital Home Phone saves you some money. U-Verse and AT&T Internet bundles start at $65 a month for the first year ($109 a month after the first year) and include the U-Family package, as well as up to 50Mbps internet speeds with unlimited data. If bought separately, U-Family costs $35 a month for the first year, and AT&T internet costs $40 a month for the first year (internet is not unlimited if bought separately).
  • Price hikes: AT&T recently discounted U-verse packages to make them seem more appealing. However, after the first year, some of these packages almost double in price. If you’re getting the U200 plan, expect it to go from $55 to $98 in the second year.
  • Uncertain future: At this time, it doesn’t look like U-verse will be around much longer. With AT&T’s acquisition of DIRECTV, there’s not much reason for them to stick with the service. Whether this means AT&T plans to reinvent U-verse or to go forward with DIRECTV as its main TV provider is unclear at this time. It appears that AT&T wants to push streaming through DIRECTV NOW by 2020.

What Others Are Saying

  • Bloomberg claims that even though U-verse was once “hailed as a breakthrough product,” AT&T has bigger plans for the future of its entertainment services. Bloomberg asserts that U-verse is no longer a priority for the company and will likely be shelved for good. “AT&T has stopped building U-verse set-top boxes and is nudging prospective customers toward its satellite unit, which has lower hardware and programming costs. The shift is the first stage of a plan to create a ‘home gateway’ within three years that will consolidate all AT&T services and act as a central hub to deliver video to any device.”
  • Dallas Business Journal agrees that U-verse is going extinct, especially now that AT&T has decided to stop letting users stream live and on-demand TV via their web browsers. “As U-Verse’s piece of the pie has dipped to 3.8 million connections, AT&T has found less and less reason to spend money on developing and keeping up streaming applications for the service.” It’s clear that AT&T is losing U-verse connections fast, though many of the customers jumping ship are actually moving over to DIRECTV and DIRECTV NOW. With less incentive to keep U-verse afloat, it makes sense that AT&T is turning its back on the brand in favor of its money makers.
  • Cnet believes that AT&T’s endgame is DIRECTV NOW and a robust “over the top” live streaming experience for users. The numbers backing this don’t lie. “On the video side, the company added 235,000 satellite TV subscribers in the period, although it lost 262,000 U-verse TV subscribers.” They also note that DIRECTV NOW garnered more customers in a month than U-verse did in the first year and half after its launch. Streaming is the future, and AT&T is catching on.

The Competition

  • DIRECTV: Acquired by AT&T in 2015, DIRECTV is one of the largest TV providers in the US, using satellites to transmit your favorite shows and movies to your television. DIRECTV’s nationwide availability extends its reach to far more customers than U-verse. What makes DIRECTV one of the most popular providers is access to NFL Sunday Ticket. By adding NFL Sunday Ticket to your package, you can watch live out-of-market football games from anywhere every Sunday. So, if you’re a die-hard Patriots fan living in California, you can still cheer on your favorite team from across the country. U-verse doesn’t offer the same exclusive programming. An important point to note about DIRECTV is that it locks you into a 24-month contract, as opposed to U-verse’s 12-month contract. But with comparable pricing and more popular channels, DIRECTV definitely gives customers more bang for their buck.
  • U-verse TV DIRECTV
    Price $35-$110 per month for the first 12 months ($79-$139 per month after the first year) $35-$110 per month for the first 12 months ($76-$173 per month after the first year)
    Number of Channels 200-550+ 150-325+
    Number of States Available 21 50
    Population Covered (In Millions) 3.83 20.86
    Contract Length 12 months 24 months
    HD Channels Additional charge Included

  • Charter Spectrum: Even though AT&T plans to acquire Time Warner Inc., Charter Spectrum will still own internet and cable provider Time Warner Cable. It’s available in 23 states and includes free HD with its TV packages. Its cable TV service may be more expensive than U-verse in the first year, but its Silver and Gold packages include premium movie channels and remain the same price into the second year. Plus, Charter Spectrum’s Gold package costs less than U-verse’s top-tier package — even after U-verse’s discounted first year rate. The cable provider’s future is also more stable than U-verse’s. Though all traditional TV service providers are hurting thanks to streaming, it doesn’t appear that Charter Spectrum plans on dumping its TV service anytime soon. It isn’t as clear a winner as competitors like DIRECTV due to its more limited availability, but it’s still worth considering over U-verse, especially if you’re interested in higher tier TV packages that include premium channels. Pricing for Charter Spectrum TV is $64.99 for Spectrum TV Select, $84.99 for Spectrum TV Silver, and $104.99 for Spectrum TV Gold.
  • TV Streaming: The biggest threat to all traditional TV service providers is streaming. Between on-demand and live streaming, customers now have access to several options that can seriously compete with traditional TV providers. Companies like Netflix and Hulu are titans in the industry, but even traditional providers see the value in streaming services and are catching up quickly. DIRECTV NOW is fast becoming one of the biggest streaming services out there. Not only does a DIRECTV NOW subscription include the most popular channels without the padding (everything from The Disney Channel to Starz), it also gives you access to thousands of on-demand titles. As with standard DIRECTV, DIRECTV NOW offers fewer channels than U-verse, but it includes a higher concentration of high-quality networks. Unlike U-verse, there’s no annual contract, and you can stream through TVs, mobile devices, and web browsers. DIRECTV NOW is also inexpensive — coming in at a much lower price than U-verse. If you want to stick with AT&T and your decision comes down to U-verse and DIRECTV NOW, the winner is obvious. Pricing for DIRECTV NOW is $35 a month for 60+ channels, $50 a month for 80+ channels, $60 a month for 100+ channels, and $70 a month for 120+ channels.

Cheaper Alternatives

The best (and cheaper) alternative to U-verse is a streaming service. You can get the same shows and movies you love without breaking the bank. Plus, neither on-demand nor live streaming require contracts. Tons of exclusive programming is at your fingertips, and you and can opt to add on features like DVD rentals (with Netflix) or commercial-free versions (with Hulu). And if you don’t like the service, you can cancel with zero fees.

The Bottom Line

Formerly one of the most innovative TV services, AT&T’s U-verse is now fading into obscurity. Even with its free HD DVR and app, jumping on the U-verse bandwagon this late in the game isn’t a great idea. Its uncertain future, limited availability, and lackluster channel lineup point to U-verse not being worth your money or time. If you’re looking for a new TV provider to fit your needs, go with DIRECTV or a streaming service like DIRECTV NOW or Netflix.