So we are over halfway through our month long U-Verse trial, and we are finally at the point where we have a decent amount of real-world experience with the services to start thinking about whether we want to go all U-Verse, all Sunflower, or a mix of the two.
Here are some brief updates...
As I mentioned earlier the internet has been rock solid since our service call two weeks ago. In over two weeks of ping testing, I have had a single test cycle (out of several thousand) with any lost packets. Additionally, there has been no actual downtime so far. This is better then I have ever gotten with Sunflower, even after their network improvements at our node last Spring.
Internet speed has stayed pretty consistent at about 17 mbit down and about 1.45 mbit up. We tested dozens of times the first few days after we got our line serviced two weeks ago, and only occasionally since then, and have not seen any speed dips (other then when expected, such as during a big download). For comparison, our Sunflower Gold has been bouncing around between 10-18 mbit during recent evening tests.
We did discover, to our annoyance, that AT&T blocks outbound traffic through port 25 on their network, making it impossible to send email using the standard SMTP protocol. This doesn't affect things if you use web-based email (like GMail) or AT&T's own email servers, but if you use a third party server, you will be dead in the water. Luckily, you can call AT&T and they will unblock it if you request. We did this via a brief online chat with an AT&T rep and port 25 was opened up with no problems.
Score after 2 weeks: lean towards U-Verse. The service costs $15 more per month over Sunflower, but in return we get more reliable speed, faster upload, and no bandwidth limit.
I've spent a lot of time examining U-Verse's and Sunflower's HD signals. I've watched a variety of shows, a lot of football, some fast-action nature shows and the usual prime-time dramas and comedies, and HD quality is quite similar. I give Sunflower a slight edge in overall HD quality. It seems a bit "tighter" especially handling faster motion (such as sports). The picture on Sunflower is also a bit brighter. U-Verse seems to be darker, which is especially noticeable in images with high contrast, such as the shadows and sun that mark outdoor scenes in "Lost." U-Verse seems a bit better handling very slow scenes, and sometimes human actors appear sharper with U-Verse. Overall, it is very close, and I suspect that the compression each provider uses probably explains the differences.
Honestly, I could be comfortable watching HD with either service. Neither one is remotely unwatchable, and neither one is a lot better then the other in quality.
U-Verse offers a lot more channels then Sunflower in the same service level, but of all these channels, only a few are ones we would ever want to watch. The ability to seamlessly watch recorded shows in multiple rooms is a huge win for U-Verse, but even after two weeks, I still do not like their remote control or UI, although I have gotten more used to it.
Score after two weeks: Leaning towards Sunflower. It's not just that I love my TiVo (although that is part of it). U-Verse is more expensive for television, and the added value so far doesn't appear to justify it. Slightly better HD quality doesn't hurt Sunflower's case either.
The phone service has been perfectly fine, with one glaring exception. U-Verse phone service has some major problems when you use it to access automated systems that require you to make menu selections via touch tones (i.e. "Press 2 to be transferred to sales")
These tones are called DTMF tones and the U-Verse system has issue "translating" them to VOIP and back again. This issue doesn't happen all the time to all people. Based on some forum research, it looks like it depends on the local phone, the system at the other end, and the fickleness of AT&T's systems in the middle.
Score after two weeks: mild lean towards U-Verse. Better value for the money then Sunflower, but not being able to do something as basic as hit touch tones definitely harshes my mellow
So, how does it look overall? If I had to guess, I would say we will probably end up keeping U-Verse for phone and internet, and Sunflower for television. However, things could still change. It's not over til it's over!