AT&T U-verse, HTPC Audio, Sound Color

Unhappy U-verse
I've had AT&T U-verse service since 12/08, and I have an issue with audio dropouts on HD channels. I have the set-top box connected to my A/V receiver via optical digital cable. On HD channels with 5.1 audio, I get sporadic dropouts every five minutes or so. I called AT&T and was told it's a firmware issue to be resolved later. I've seen many others mention this problem online.

As a test, I connected rabbit ears to the TV and tuned in a digital channel with 5.1 audio. I got no dropouts at all, which proves it's not the TV.

Cornelius Curry

I've heard many complaints about AT&T's U-verse system, so this does not surprise me. On the other hand, a fellow CE journalist recently told me he has nothing but praise for the service. Your test was an excellent troubleshooting step that clearly indicates the fault is AT&T's. I'm afraid I have no solution other than to wait for the firmware update or drop the service and go with cable, satellite, or Verizon FiOS (if available in your area), which I've heard nothing but good things about.

Audio Computation
I'm looking for speakers for my HTPC, which has onboard 7.1 HD audio. Can you suggest a surround-sound system with 5.1 audio that is compatible with my system? My budget is $300.


Your HTPC has 7.1 analog outputs as well as optical and coax S/PDIF, so you need a speaker system plus something to power them, i.e., an A/V receiver. I'm afraid that $300 won't get you very far. My best recommendation is the Onkyo HT-SR800, which lists for $600, but I've seen it online for as little as $350. This package includes an A/V receiver and 7.1 speaker system, but no DVD or Blu-ray player, which I assume you don't need, and it performs very well for the money.

Color My World
My question is about "color" in sound. I hear audiophiles talk about this all the time. What is "color" in sound? How do you measure it? How do you remedy it? I'm kinda lost with the jargon. Please help me to understand how to tell if there's too much "color" in my system.

Stacey Queens

When talking about sound, "color" refers to the timbre or harmonic spectrum of an audio signal as it passes through one or more devices. For example, if a speaker or other audio device boosts or emphasizes the high frequencies, the sound is said to be "bright." If the high frequencies are de-emphasized, the sound is said to be "dull." If the upper bass and low midrange are emphasized, it is often called "warm." An audio device that does nothing to the timbre of the sound is said to be "uncolored."

The sonic coloration you end up with can arise from the combined effect of several different elements, including the audio gear, room acoustics, and source material—for example, many movie soundtracks are inherently bright. Professional audio equipment is designed to be as uncolored as possible, but many consumer products are designed to be somewhat warm because many people tend to like that sound.

Objectively measuring how a system colors the sound requires fairly expensive equipment and training, so it's not something most folks can do themselves. But most audio enthusiasts learn to identify what warm, bright, dull, etc. sound like, especially after listening to many different systems using recordings they are familiar with.

As for "fixing" a colored system, the most common approach is to use an equalizer (EQ), which is found in virtually all A/V receivers and preamp/processors a well as standalone devices. An equalizer lets you boost or cut different frequency ranges to compensate for coloration introduced by the system, but it's not a cure-all—most consumer EQs are not precise enough to make more than very broad changes to the frequency spectrum. Many A/V receivers and pre/pros include an auto-calibration function that automatically sets the EQ for the particular speakers and room, which often helps to reduce the "color" of the system.

If a room's acoustics are coloring the sound, you can install acoustic treatments, but that's a whole other can of worms best left to a professional acoustician.

If you have a home-theater question, please send it to

Dave H's picture

Yes, the U-Verse system I have here in Michigan is like that, where audio drops just for a split second every 5 minutes or so. I thought something was wrong also, as I am using a Lexicon MC12HD processor with long HDMI cables (30ft). When the audio drops out, the Lexicon throws up the graphics on the screen what mode it's in, and it was driving me nuts until I just turned off the display on the Lexicon. I have and HD-DVD and a Blu-ray player patched in as sources, and they are flawless in audio and video.

Mark Twitchell's picture

Re: HTPC speakers, what about the Logitech Z-5500?It's 5.1, not 7.1, but it has multiple connections (analog & Digital) & good power & sound. They list for $399, but can be purchased for around $300 (try Newegg). It even has a remote.Mark T.

Scott Wilkinson's picture

I don't know the Logitech Z-5500; thanks for the suggestion!

David Vaughn's picture

Scott,My Mom has AT&T U-Verse and I think it's crap. On her 52" TV, it's very easy to see compression errors on their HD offering. In fact, it makes Comcast "HD-Lite" channels look great by comparison. Nothing beats OTA as far as I'm concerned. In fact, this past week my wonderful local Comcast franchise turned off the network feed 19 minutes into the season finale of Lost. Unfortunately, I wasn't watching "live" and when I went to watch it the next day, I didn't get a full recording! Thank God of Hulu!!!! In the future, I have to remind myself to record on the OTA channel.Best,David

David Celestin's picture

I'm a U-Verse customer, and while watching HD channels, the sound is almost akin to someone speaking through the blades of a turning fan--in, out, in, out... But that's through HDMI directly connected to the TV, but when I listen through my stereo connected by optical, no dropouts. I really hope they fix this issue soon, it's really starting to get on my nerves. Love the column btw.

Julie Kosovo's picture

I've never had a problem with my U-verse audio. Its connected with a 5 meter toslink cable, and the sound is excellent.While the picture quality is definitely not as good as OTA, OTA audio is what gives me problems. On Law & Order, for example, you know where they start each segment by striking some wooden sounding gong? My AVR loses sync there with OTA, but never has a problem with the same on U-verse.The U-verse tech told me I'm near the maximum distance from the Dslam and my signal strength is close to the minimum acceptable.

David Celestin's picture

I'm guessing that it's more to do with HDMI then. With toslink (25ft), I have no problems, but with HDMI--dropout central. Have you ever watched your U-Verse through HDMI? I wouldn't be surprised that if you did, you'd run into the same problems.

Scott Wilkinson's picture

Interesting...I watch Law & Order OTA on a TiVo Series3 with optical to the AVR, and I've never had that problem.

David Celestin's picture

Do you use a physical antenna for your OTA or is it through coax? When I had Comcast, the HD channels were beautiful. Now with U-Verse, they're just ok. I want those channels back. Can I just connect the coax directly to the TV to get the OTA or do I need an antenna?

Julie Kosovo's picture

"By David Celestin: I'm guessing that it's more to do with HDMI then. With toslink (25ft), I have no problems, but with HDMI--dropout central. Have you ever watched your U-Verse through HDMI?". >>>>>>>Yes, when I use the TV problem there either.I have a Denon AVR and Panasonic plasma. The AVR also loses sync momentarily when the program transtitions to or from a commercial. Could be my local broadcast, haven't checked if it's a problem with all stations. I have a rooftop antenna, and the PQ is excellent. OTA can only be received with an antenna.

David Celestin's picture

That might have sounded like a stupid question. LOL The only reason I asked was becuase when I had Comcast, I would connect the coax directly to the TV (by-passing STB) and I would get all these digital HD stations. I assumed they were somehow OTA by using the coax as an antenna. Was I way off? I don't have much experience with OTA.

Matt's picture

Huh. You guys are lucky you get a choice. All we have here (other than satellite option) is Comcast, and it sucks. PQ is heavily compressed, and new as of about a month ago are random audio dropouts. I haven't had a chance to test it yet, but I'm guessing it's probably the SA 8300HD DVR we have, our 4th in 1 year. Signal quality into our house is so bad they've added a signal booster in the house here. Way to solve the problem Comcast, and not band-aid it. All this good stuff and an extra $3.50 or so per month as of the 1st of the year.

Hector Torres's picture

I've had ATT U-verse since 12/2009 and I'm also experiencing Audio dropouts. They have switched out my box twice and replaced the modem once,since I live in an apartment they have to run the signal via the phone line. Initially, I had a Denon AVR3300 and ran the audio via digitals, now I have a ONKYO TXNR-807 and audio is via HDMI from box to receiver, and I'm still having the problem. Firstly, do you know when this new firmware upgrade will be available and secondly,should I connect an toslink from the box to the receiver for audio but still have the HDMI still connected? Any good suggestions would be greatly appreciated.Thanks.

Barry's picture

I have the u verse dropout problem when connected by hdmi or optical. I have an excellent signal and a Motorola set top box. I have had techs swap it out twice and all have the same problem. It happens when connected to either my Onkyo receiver or my tv directly by HDMI or optical to my receiver. I have the choice of either HDTV in stereo with no dropouts or HDTV in surround(set in the box menu) that is horrible with the dropouts.I am told that the only solution that is known to date is to replace the Motorola box with a Cisco box that AT&T is rolling out in some areas(of course not mine) and they are unwilling to send me one to solve my problem. They have to their credit agreed to take $20 off my bill until it is available in my area.

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anonimous's picture

att sux home theater sound system doesnt work with uverse box & customer service sux im swithing tv service carrier