We are finally out from under Comcast Cable and have just hooked up Verizon's new Fiber-Optic based FIOS TV. There's a long waiting list in my state, so I signed up in October and had it installed just this last week. We already had FIOS internet, with 15 megabits downstream and upstream (a premium service that costs an extra $10 a month) and have been very happy with it.
There is an ONT (Optical Network Terminal) (here's a network diagram) that is a installed on the outside of your house. This device is the bridge between the fiber optic cable that comes right up to your house but not inside and whatever wiring you have in your house.
If you have basic needs, often Verizon will just put a wireless router in your garage and call it done, giving you wireless Internet access as far as that router reaches. In the last six months, however, Verizon has started using routers that include a Coax connector such that the FIOS signal(s) can run over 75OHM Coax cable, switching from Fiber to Coax at the ONT - using the cable you likely already have running through your house into each room. The installer should do a signal test to check for loss over long runs and through splitters. My installer was very happy with the professional splitter I'd preinstalled in my wiring closet, saying that he wasn't able to measure that any signal was lost at all. He said that this speaks to good wiring and a good splitter. He had a certain level that we couldn't certify below, so make sure you ask your installer if the signal is sufficient for a glitch-free installation.
Since I had Verizon FIOS Internet already, hooking up the TV was easy for the installer. He used my existing Coax spliter and split the wire before the router. So, the coax comes in from the outside then splits and heads into all the rooms in the house, with one of the downstream cables going into the Verizon Internet Router's Coax connector. From there the router speaks TCP/IP over RJ-45 and supplies the house, but it also can hand out IP addresses over Coax to the DVR (Digital Video Recorders) that you'll receive with the FIOS TV Package.
There is an optional Media DVR option that will let you watch pictures and share video between the DVRs using the router and TCP/IP for transport, but I decided against that option since my XBoxen already do that fine.
Verizon uses the Motorola QIP6416 set-top box, that looks exactly like the craptastic Comcast DCT6412, but runs a TOTALLY different UI.
Just to make myself totally understood here, there is no way I could assemble a sentence, much less a paragraph, using the English Language to express the utter magical poopiness of the Comcast DVR Software. I hate it with the heat of a thousand suns. Rest assured it's garbage. it is slow, buggy, and has a dozen subtle and horrible bugs that are well documented around the net.
Fortunately the software included with the Verizon box is completly different, written from scratch and it's a joy. It's really beautiful. It's got high-color (24bit?) graphics, very polished and curvy, a distinct contrast to the low-color blocky Comcast software.
The interface is very intuitive, but also includes a number of advanced shortcuts that you'll stumble on in the using. For example, when watching TV, selecting up, down, left, or right on the direction button will take you (as a shortcut) to different modes instantly. For example, up takes you to a TV Guide split-screen with TV on the left, down takes you to a half-screen floating guide. Hitting Guide once takes you to a full-screen guide, pressing twice goes to split-screen. Hitting info once gives you a small popup, hitting it again takes you to a full-screen info page.
The DVR will hold about 17 hours of HD or 60 hours of SD TV (Standard Defintion) or whatever mix of both you can manage. As with most DVRs you can set each recording to be "protected" (not automatically deleted) or to stick around in a queue with the last x recordings. You can select new shows only, or all shows including repeats.
There's also a few "in progress" features like Widgets, that run on the DVR. Currently the software includes Traffic and Weather, and Notes is coming soon so you'll be able to leave notes for family members. It'd be nice if they did a calendar as well. I suppose it comes down to how far Verizon wants to push the envelope. I hope they are more progressive than Comcast has been. I'll be watching the version numbers closely to see when upgrades happen.
As of this writing my Comcast 6416-P2 is on Verizon's Release 1.0.4 Build 05.68. If yours is different, post it in the comments! The set-top DVR software has been very stable so far, easy to use and my Harmony 880 remote required no reprogramming as the IR codes are the same for all Motorola DVRs.
When watching Recorded programs they are sorted by Date Descending. This is the one place the aesthetic of the fancy interface kind of gets in the way. You can only see about 12 shows at a time because of the generous whitespace of the interface design. Additionally (this is my #1 and really only major gripe) the interface doesn't automatically take up the complete width of a 16:9 widescreen television. I wonder (and wondered before with Comcast) if this is a limitation of the hardware that overlays the graphics. It'd be nice if these interfaces scaled wider, particularly the TV Guide.
Each show that is High-Definition has a little "HD" icon by them, and if you press left while in the Full Screen Guide you can filter all channels to show just High-Def channels. On Verizon TV all the channels (currently) between 800 and 899 are Hi-Def.
In my neighborhood that makes for 26 high-def channels, including all the major US networks. I have no way to measure the sharpness or compression of the channels, but I've personally got an eye for these things (and I'm really irritated by motion artifacts) so you can take that for what it's worth.
I feel like the High-Def Channels on Verizon are re-compressed less than they are on Comcast. Most (every?) provider has to re-encode channels to get them to fit within their bandwidth. I don't know if Verizon has more bandwidth than Comcast, but I can say that I had Comcast Cable for 10 years, the last 4 with High-Def and that Verizon's FIOs High-Def streams seem to have fewer artifacts when viewed on the same TV. This might also be as a result of newer software or hardware in the Motorola Set-Top box.
Certainly the software interface is much nicer to look at as I mentioned before, above. The fonts anti-alias nicer, and the whole interface seems to be designed for high-def more than the Comcast DVR.
The box will push out 480p, 720p or 1080i. There's no 1080p option, but there's also no 1080p source media, so that's fine. I'm running over HDMI and it works great, even through an HDMI switching receiver like my Onkyo.
One thing I noticed was that Standard Definition television, like Jon Stewart on Comedy Central looks MUCH clearer than Cable. Like, I literally said, "wow." There is NO ghosting. This is the first TV experience I've ever had in a my adult life without ghosting on some channel somewhere. That said, the feeds for Standard Definition channels seems slightly more "digital" or "blocky" than Cable. It's subtle, but it's there. You know you're at 640x480, especially on a larger TV. Phrased another way, if there was a "smoothing" setting, it's set to sharp on standard definition on Verizon FIOS, while it seemed "smooth" on Comcast Cable. Your mileage may vary.
FIOS TV has only been available for a month or so in my state, and the On-Demand selection is meager at best, and doesn't yet include HD movies. I had HD movies on Comcast and was happy with both the quality and selection, so I imagine that FIOS will step up in the coming months.
I am heartened, however, by the "AppleTV-like" interface of Movie Posters. It's very friendly and easily navigated. The WAF (Wife Acceptance Factor) will be high on this feature.
There are also a number of International Premium Channels available, including:
There's also almost 100 Spanish Language channels available if you like, and over 45 movie channels. Now, before you tease me about having too many channels, these are just available ones. You can set your favorites, and we've picked <10 and filter the list to show those.
FIOS also includes almost 100 Music-only Channels from Urge and Music Choice. The wife likes this over the radio because it shows the name of the artist and album.
The Core Package is currently only $43 a month, and you can get a number of different DVR options, picking between standard, HD, standard DVR and HD DVR. We were paying upwards of $60 with Comcast and we just don't watch THAT much TV to feel good about that much money. The Premium Channels like HBO and Showtime cost the same as they do on Cable, likely because those channels set their cost, not a TV provider like Verizon.
All in all, we've been VERY happy. The picture quality is great, the set-top box just works, and I have high hopes that Verizon will keep updating the boxes with new software and more On-Demand Movies. This is just the first month Verizon FIOS TV has been available in my state, and I feel they are off to a good start. Recommended over local cable if you can get it.
Scott Hanselman is a former professor, former Chief Architect in finance, now speaker, consultant, father, diabetic, and Microsoft employee. I am a failed stand-up comic, a cornrower, and a book author.
Disclaimer: The opinions expressed herein are my own personal opinions and do not represent my employer's view in any way.