Whole new U-niverse

Staff Writer
Columbus Alive

When it comes to choosing a TV, there's a good argument to be had about which technology - plasma vs. LCD flat panels, tube or DLP projection - is best. However, when it comes to choosing the source of your TV signal, the answer might be a bit more clear-cut.

Receiving a digital TV signal by antenna directly from a local station is as pure as it gets. It's uncompressed and unrestricted - digital and high-def TV as it was meant to be watched. However, only a minority of TV viewers use over-the-air antennas. Besides, how the heck do you watch ESPN (or other cable or satellite channels) if you use one?

With cable TV, the signal you get is compressed all to heck as your cable company stuffs more and more channels and services into the wire they run into your house. As for satellite TV, a signal that travels from a satellite in space is going to have its own set of issues.

AT&T's U-Verse TV (programming packages vary from $69 a month to $154 a month, depending on the number of channels and the speed of your modem), on the other hand, uses newer technology that is completely Internet Protocol-based (IPTV). In essence, AT&T provides a modem that can deliver both internet access and television.

In that scenario, when you change the channel, your TV connection is fully dedicated to that one program, allowing AT&T to provide far more functionality, less compression and, potentially, almost unlimited content.

At the moment, AT&T offers up to 320 channels, including more than 40 in high-definition with 5.1 channel audio. Customers who get an integrated DVR can record up to four shows at once (you can't do that with cable, satellite or TiVo). And U-Verse lets you program that DVR from anywhere you have internet access.

Other U-Verse features include AT&T's U-Bar, which gives you access to personalized stock, weather, traffic and sports information on your TV and built-in picture-in-picture channel surfing. Over the internet, your TV also has access to your Flickr photo library, games from AT&T Yahoo and an on-screen local Yellow Pages.

For an additional $10 fee, you can purchase U-Verse OnTheGo, giving you nearly 30 channels of TV on a PC connected to the internet. More useful services are likely in the future.

If you're like most people and watch TV through a wire, AT&T's U-Verse is a compelling option.

Got a gadget question or a high-tech toy to recommend? E-mail gspot@columbusalive.com

Got a gadget question or a high-tech toy to recommend?