Houston TX Cable TV
Comcast Xfinity or AT&T Uverse
a 2018-2019 Comparison

 

Both companies are aggressively rolling out faster fiber optic lines across the Houston area. In my neighborhood I have the best of both companies wired to my home.

One TV addicts review: I have had some version of Comcast Xfinity since the days when they were Houston Cable back in the 1980's. 3 years ago they stopped negotiating lower prices, so I switched to AT&T Uverse for a year contract. 2 years ago, Comcast had the better price, so I switched back. Just like your electricity billing, you must shop each year for the best deals. It can be a pain in the neck, but service companies profit most from people who do not shop around for the best deals.

The results
Dollar for dollar, Comcast offers much better features and service than AT&T Uverse. Everyone has their reasons for liking the homes, cars, products and services they pay for. Everyone's needs are different. Here I will explain what is important to me and what to consider that is not obvious when shopping for TV service.

Television is changing
The landscape of TV viewing options is changing more rapidly now from the days of an old black and white box in the living room and 3 networks to choose from. During hurricane Harvey for example, some people were watching live televised storm coverage on their cell phones while being rescued by boat! I say this because I am writing this review in Houston, Texas in December of 2018 and in a year or two things will undoubtably change.

Remember"Rabbit Ears"?
The best television picture I get is actually from the antenna I have nestled in my attic. I have Ultra (4K Smart) TV's and the off-air signal is by far visibly better than Comcast Xfinity cable or AT&T Uverse fiber. Internet TV such as Hulu, Netflix, and Amazon Prime providers is also very sharp. In Houston, broadcast TV signals come from an antenna farm located in Missouri City in SW Houston. If you are near there you can actually use "rabbit ears" antennas atop or behind the tv set to get excellent HD (High Definition) TV and sound, "Off Air".

What is DVR?
If OA (Off the Air / Antenna) signals are the best, why not "cut the cable cord"? Three simple letters. DVR. (Digital Video Recording) I am retired now; my income is more limited and my time for enjoying TV is abundant. But I am active, I prefer to enjoy watching my favorite shows... when I want to watch them. For me, DVR is a must. DVR allows me to zip through commercials watching an hour long show in about 46 minutes. I have friends who are unavailable most of Monday night because a single person is handing out roses or someone is dancing with stars. I have family members children and grandchildren I prefer to spend time with and community involvement that should not take a back seat to TV. My DVR gets me news and entertainment I want, when I have time for it. If I have insomnia, I can catch up on my viewing.

Besides, I still have to get Internet even if I "cut the cord". Honestly, the world is waiting for a simple high-quality computer based channel guide/DVR recording system (APP) that works with both internet and your TV antenna. Now THAT would be a better mousetrap. That is when I would cut the TV cable.

A word about cable bills and charges Companies that provide "wired" television to homes and businesses do add some dubious charges to your bill. They charge for "HD" service. High Definition service is the television standard in 2018. It is what you get with an antenna. But cable companies offer non-HD and HD channels as if you are getting something extra. Snake oil. They also have arranged to charge you extra for "Local" TV service. Again, the same thing you can get off the air for free with a simple antenna, costs more to come through the cable! Worse, you cannot refuse the service or charges and it is treated as a fee above your monthly rate. Anywhere from $10-$20 a month! For people who are in a fringe area of reception, this might make sense. But every cable home inside the viewing area pays it. Write your government representatives. Getting off my soap box about it.

So how do the two local services compare? Here are some features based on my personal experience.

Satisfaction Guarantee Both providers offer satisfaction guarantees; With AT&T Uverse/Internet I was able to get out of my 1-year commitment when I was not happy in the first 30 days. Comcast offers the same term on their TV, internet, home security and home phone products. After that you may face early cancellation fees.

AT&T Uverse Positives

Faster Internet Not a noticeable issue for most TV watching at this stage.

Fewer service calls Comcast "copper" cable does tend to require more frequent service calls for connection corrosion or adjustments in the attic or outside the home. On average, about twice a year. More noticeably this affects Internet more than television. As noted: Comcast is rolling out fiber optic to neighborhoods that will reduce this going forward. Their older DVR boxes also tended to need replacement more often. With the new boxes this has not been a problem.

Comcast Xfinity Positives

Hot Spots for mobile service Xfinity offers you access to free "Xfinity Hot-Spots" on your mobile phone (any phone) as part of the package. (Download Xfinity Hotspots from your Play store or App store) No extra charge. AT&T "Smart Wi-Fi" is no longer easily available. It may only be for AT&T cell customers. The Xfinity Hot Spot App would easily be worth an extra $10- $15 a month for anyone who travels with a cell phone outside their home. My experience is that Wi-Fi hotspots assure faster cell phone browsing and less cell time usage. The Xfinity coverage is outstanding in Houston and the App automatically hooks up as you travel. Note: If you wanted to buy Xfinity "HotSpots" without an account or free standing it is only available as a pre-paid for about a dollar a day.

Talk to Remote All my grandkids can pick up an Xfinity Remote and say "Kid Zone" and the TV becomes a safer wonderland of kid only programming. I want to watch the news I simply say "CBS-HD" and I get channel 11. If I am watching a show or commercial that has a song I like I say to the remote "What song is this?" And it will research the music. (It does this on DVR'd programs too). There are tons of other "talking" features that work well. AT&T... nope. The Xfinity "Talk to" feature also allows you to call up and see your billing, internet information etc.

Premium On Demand Library If you have Showtime and watch Ray Donovan, Shameless or other Showtime programs you can get all 5 or 9 seasons on demand for free. With Uverse/ AT&T you only can access the most recent season or two. I have no data about HBO or other "Premium" channels But it may be safe to assume the same limits are in place. (Note: All seasons of Shameless are available to Netflix subscribers. You must have Hulu to get all seasons of Ray Donovan.)

Closed Captions Most people find them annoying. Those of us with hearing impairment or watching late night TV quietly may depend on them. Apps: such as Netflix, Amazon or Hulu allow you varying options for the size, font, placement and or background of the words on the screen. Comcast places them at the bottom of the screen. AT&T Uverse insists on placing large block closed captioning smack dab about two thirds down the screen. The worst of all possible places! AT&T Uverse places text in the old "square-ish" 1990's 3:4 ratio size area of the screen. Does AT&T not know television adopted the wide 16:9 ratio standard back in 1996?

Music The Comcast provided Music Choice channels are real channels of uninterrupted music. AT&T "StingRay" music channels are "Apps" that require internet and must be loaded (5-10 seconds to get to a channel) and have voice over interruptions that regularly remind you where you are getting your music. I use soft music to sleep for my tinnitus. With Xfinity when my DVR program ends, (and I have fallen asleep) Xfinity switches over automatically to Music Choice SoundScapes. No can do with AT&T.

Customer Service Comcast was notorious for poor service for decades. After some embarrassing public demonstrations of their rudeness and after being taken over by NBC as a parent company, things have changed. Dramatically. Here in 2018 -19 they are much improved and considerably better than AT&T. Service tech offers reasonable service windows and the tech calls to check before they arrive, Lots of text alerts too. They now advertise: "two-hour appointment windows with a guaranteed, automatic $20 credit if we're late." With AT&T you get a lot of automated phone prompts. They will not escalate a service issue. In a recent outage they did not offer any information and while they promised a text when service would be restored, it never came. Nor did requested / promised call backs from senior customer service staff. Comcast is polite, on time and works harder these days to keep people happy. One note: To get the best prices go to a local Comcast service center rather than an online or phone representative.

Router/ Wi Fi Control AT&T Uverse offers the "Smart Home Manager" that allows you to see your internet among other things. Comcast Xfinity offers Xfi as an APP that allows you to control your internet router and wi-fi system.

Room for improvement for both providers

Streaming content to your mobile, tablet computer Both products do this. They allow you access to everything on your DVR if you have DVR service. However, if you are visiting grandma on and wish to "Cast" a stream onto her old not smart TV using Chromecast or such, you are out of luck. Both AT&T Uverse and Comcast Xfinity block casting their content off your mobile stream. AT&T may have an Amazon Fire Stick option. Comcast Xfinity does not. Come on guys how much revenue are you actually going to lose by allowing streaming to older technology?

APPs: Want to get Spotify or Hulu through your television service? You are out of luck. Your Smart TV, or DVD player will have to do the heavy lifting here. Neither service offers comprehensive Apps. AT&T Uverse offers none. Comcast Xfinity does actually offer You Tube, Netflix, Pandora music and a handful of others.

About the Author
Jay Garcia is a freelance writer who resides in Spring Branch, Houston Texas. Mr. Garcia worked for 29 years in radio and television broadcasting journalism. 19 years at KTRK TV in Houston as the video coordinator for the news department. Jay subsequently worked helping the hearing impaired for over a decade. He also has a hearing impairment.