Who sucks less? Comcast plus Tivo, or AT&T plus DishNetwork?

I hate paying monthly fees. In fact, I hate paying monthly fees so much that I’m willing to spend stupid amounts of money upfront to avoid them. How stupid? How does $1200 sound? That’s how much I almost spent when I was considering a MythTV box (specifically, the MonolithMC, a kick-ass Linux-based Media PC) to avoid paying Tivo their $13 a month service fee.

Sure, in six or seven years I would’ve been ahead of the game, but by then the technology would’ve changed and I’d be stuck with an outdated PC.

Biting the bullet, I bought a Tivo DVR for $100 (now they’re free), figuring they would go out of business sooner or later as a result of competition from satellite and cable DVRs and I’d be left with a digital VCR, an acceptable outcome in my opinion—so I passed on Tivo’s $300/life-time fee. Six months later, they won their lawsuit.

Crap.

By that time, I’d grown to appreciate the Tivo user interface. And so had my tech-phobic wife; the interface was clear enough for her to use it without cursing too much. To be frank, the Tivo interface is very well-designed; but the service is simply not worth $13 a month.

Meanwhile, Comcast had been slowly raising the price of “Extended” cable (Basic, plus the channels you actually want) to my breaking point—evidently, $56 smackers a month. With Tivo adding another $13, we were shelling out $69 A MONTH for basic cable and a DVR without one single premium station! I could stand it no more.

Yet AT&T—a company whose management is indisputably out to screw their customers at every turn, and whom I loathe—was promoting their DishNetwork partnership at the time, so I called to see what they were offering. A very nice woman told me I could get America’s Top 120 with a dual-tuner DVR for $49/mo., a savings of $240/yr. Plus, there was a $100 rebate; very tempting.

Not wanting an 18′ satellite eyesore on my Southward-facing porch, I called to give Comcast a chance to counter AT&T’s promotion. If Comcast had met me halfway, I would’ve stayed with them for convenience’s sake. But they didn’t. In fact, they barely countered at all. They offered a ‘reasonable’ rate that then returned to a ‘ridiculous’ rate after 6 months.

Sorry, kids. Too little, too late.

Believe me, I thought long and hard about how I was getting into bed with the devil that is AT&T, and ultimately realized my only other choice was the devil who had been screwing me for over 3 years. So I decided to try the devil I DIDN’T know for a change.

And so far, Dishnetwork hasn’t been bad. The dish IS an eyesore, but we just keep the drapes closed. And they ARE forcing us to connect the DVR to a phone line to avoid an additional $5/mo fee. And the user interface is a train-wreck of chaos and illogical disorder.

But we get lots more channels, and the dual tuner is a revelation after the single tuner of Tivo. It can be operated and viewed from either TV, upstairs or down. Only problem is, when both tuners are recording, we can’t watch Live TV. Luckily, the 100hrs of recording time (vs. 40hrs in our Tivo) means there’s usually something recorded we can watch. And the picture is definitely better than on Tivo.

So far, I’m cautiously optimistic, but I’ve heard horror stories about satellite. We’ve already had one outage, but it was fixed by recycling the power (tech talk for unplugging it, and plugging it back in). If we get crazy or win the lottery, we might give HBO a try, or maybe, just maybe, Hi-Def.

I’ll keep you posted.

UPDATE: Overall, we’ve not had hardly any performance problems with the device or service in over 2 years! Rock solid despite living in an area with crazy wind storms. Suck it, Cable TV! Now, add Boxee to the mix and Tivo is looking like a solution to a problem that will one day soon go away by itself thanks to streaming.