AT&T Lying about Dish Network HD DVRs?

Like all decent Americans, I loath Time Warner and decided to cancel my cable and get satellite service through AT&T, who are a Dish Network reseller.

I called AT&T to get basic information, specifically: Can I lease two HD DVRs, one for each TV? The AT&T rep said they had a new HD DVR that would output to two HDTVs, and it could be leased. We added up the service costs and it came to about $30 per month less than Time Warner. I said I’d think about it. After one final, futile attempt to contact Time Warner tech support (I gave up after 30 minutes of holding), I bit the bullet. The next day, I called AT&T again and re-verified the costs and technical information. This rep also assured me the HD DVR would provide HD content and DVR service to two TVs. I ordered.

Today the installer showed up – he worked for Dish Network directly. I ask him how the whole-house HD business works, and he tells me it doesn’t. It’s HD to one TV, and standard-def to the second TV. I say, well, AT&T told me otherwise on two occasions. He shakes his head and says, “AT&T tells all their customers that. It’s not true. I’ve told them this a million times.” So with the installer there, I call AT&T back, and after holding 10 minutes (funny how there’s ALWAYS an unusually high call volume), an AT&T rep answers. I put him on speaker and ask him whether the Dish Network HD DVR outputs HD content and DVR service to two HDTVs. He says yes, absolutely. And I respond, “Well, the Dish Network is here on my couch and he says otherwise.” They argue for a few minutes, and the AT&T guy puts us on hold and calls Dish Network himself. They get back on the line, the AT&T rep and the Dish Network rep. The Dish Network rep explains that the HD DVR does NOT output HD to both TVs, only one. To get HD DVR on both TVs, I will have to purchase a second HD DVR for $598. They will not lease a second HD DVR under any circumstances, even if I pay the lease charge. I say no thanks, and I say to the AT&T rep on the line, “It would be helpful if AT&T understood the products it sells better,” and he says, “Yes, sir, that’s true.”

The installer leaves after telling me that “about 50%” of AT&T referrals for two HDTVs go down this way – AT&T routinely tells its customers that the HD DVRs it leases send HD content to both TVs. He said it happens all the time, both over the telephone and via door-to-door AT&T salesmen.

I call AT&T back and punch through to the complaints line. Yet another rep picks up, and I ask whether their HD DVR will send HD content to 2 TVs. She assures me they absolutely will. And I say, “Well, that’s why I’m calling.” I explain the whole story to her, she puts me on hold for 5 minutes and comes back and says, geez, you know, you’re right about that. Our internal documents are all wrong. I’ll make sure they get updated.” I should add that she was very friendly and responsive and seemed sincere in her apology and vow to get the problem fixed.

Now, the thing is, I had 2 Dish Network representatives tell me that AT&T has been telling this lie routinely for months on end, and they have been told over and over it’s not true, and they keep saying it. And in my one little sampling of 4 reps, all 4 got it wrong, for a glittering failure rate of 100%. And it wasn’t miscommunication, because I always phrased my question crystal-clear, and they always gave an unambiguous (but completely false) answer. Every time. In fact, the complaints rep didn’t even believe me when I told her the HD DVR outputs standard def to 1 TV until I told her I had pulled up the accurate DVR PDF from their website and was staring at it while I spoke.

Both Dish Network reps told me the same thing: AT&T reps deliberately lie about Dish Network’s HD DVR capability to get commissions, and don’t care whether the service visits are cancelled. My guess is that a fair portion of these cases end up with the lied-to customer going with Dish Network anyway, either by buying a second DVR or settling for standard def on one TV. It’s a bait and switch, and I believe it’s deliberate, and I bet it’s illegal. It’s possible they’re merely incompetent, but I have a hard time believing, after all these months, that they truly do not understand the most basic fact about how their premier DVR operates.

Just to put this in perspective, I believed Time Warner had the worst customer service in the history of the galaxy, and AT&T turned out actually to be even worse. Way to go, AT&T! You must be proud. You’re even worse than Time Warner. And everybody said it couldn’t be done.


How very interesting. Has anyone else had this experience? Tell us about it in the comments or email us at tips [at] consumerist [dot] com.



Edit Your Comment

  1. homerjay says:

    And WHY didn’t you just call Dish instead of going through the death star??
    You haven’t been reading this blog long enough if you think AT&T is better than any cable company.

    And I’m NOT blaming the victim here….

  2. headon says:

    AT&T is the Sears of the communication industry

  3. Pylon83 says:

    Why didn’t this person escalate to a supervisor? I imagine that if pressed, and pressed, and pressed, and pressed, they would cave and lease you a 2nd DVR.

  4. tripnman says:

    Our Comcast service was down for six weeks (EECB finally got that one resolved!), but in my first call to AT+T I had not one but three sales people tell me that I did not need a modem to get dial-up service – “You just plug the phone into the computer!” I chose to stay with Comcast – that says it all!

  5. legotech says:

    Nope, I tried to lease a second DVR for our AT&T Dish system…they kept trying to explain that one DVR outputs to two tvs…problem is, I have THREE that I want DVRs on….They insisted I had to buy theirs…I bought a Tivo instead…much better user interface too.

  6. ColoradoShark says:

    Paraphrased joke:
    Q:What’s the difference between a used car salesman and an AT&T rep selling you a DISH system?
    A:The used car salesman knows when he is lying.

  7. tadowguy says:

    I suspect you’re going to get a visit from the NSA now for being mean to their favorite company.

  8. socritic says:

    I didn’t get an iphone because of the AT&T horror stories; thats a long time to stick to my fantastic Blackberry… It’s amazing how they just can’t seem to fade away from being associated with bad something, week after week i find myself thanking the gods of electronics that i’ve skipped on AT&T services in any way shape and form. Long live voting with your feet!
    Why don’t you guys make a vote system to see which one of these big bad corps suck most in the eyes of readers here?

  9. sig570 says:

    I have had Dish Network before and I would tell you to not walk but RUN back to the cable company. Early in 2006 I had Dish Network through my Sprint carrier and ordered 1 HD DVR box and two other standard boxes. Needless to say the Sprint rep said the same thing about it being able to run two HD TVs but I had the owners manually openned on the internet and it clearly said it didn’t, but I was not buying it for that. My problem came to the HD DVR box, this thing would over heat in driving blizzard in Alaska. You could only watch TV on it for 40 minutes before it would shut down because it got to hot. First I had the box in a cabinet, then I moved out and placed in on a table, and then I had set a fan to blow directly on it. Every time it would over heat without fail. I eventually went through 3 HD DVR boxes all with the same problem, and the real fun part was that they CHARGED ME for all 3 boxes. My TV bill for one month was just shy of $1500. At this point I was done and wanted refund on a product they never worked more than 40 minutes. They corrected they charge for the 2 HD DVR boxes but refused to refund the last box but I had to return it since it was in my contract or they would charge me the full $850 for the HD DVR box. I eventually returned the box but before I did filed a Better Business Bureau complaint. They eventually refunded me all my money but a few weeks after that I received letter from them saying they will send me to collections if I do not pay the $1500 from my earlier bill. I called the lady who refunded my money back to me and said take care of this or I will file another complaint.

    In short DO NOT USE DISH NETWORK, they make they cable companies look like saints.

  10. evarga says:

    That’s one of the things I like about Time Warner, no weird licensing and restrictions on HD DVRs. You can have multiple units, and you just pay the monthly fee (~$6). If you want a new one, or if one of them breaks, you can just drive to their offices and pick one up. And no

    Don’t get me wrong, Time Warner customer service is horrible, but their pricing and policies are at least straight-forward.

  11. I will point out that they continue to advertise it as such and that Dish Network does make it somewhat confusing when browsing their product line up.

  12. mopoke2 says:

    We’ve had an AT&T sales rep come to our door, tell us all kinds of lies and misinformation…A couple favorites:

    1. Dish Network and Cable are really the same thing (after talking about AT&T “cable” for 10 minutes)

    2. Vonage is going out of business, so we might as well switch

    3. Wow Cable is going to raise our rates to $160/month

    4. Tivo doesn’t work with Comcast, but it works perfectly with Dish (we have Tivo)

    And after all this misinformation, he won’t give me his phone number or any documentation on what he’s selling, but wants my social security number and drivers license to get started.

    No thanks AT&T – how about some less-shady sales people?

  13. HaloZero says:

    Doesn’t DISH Network offer their own service through themselves? Why go through a third party like AT&T? I think my parents get DISH straight from DISH (at least the bills state they’re from DISH). Of course, I haven’t seen a bill since I was living with my parents 2 years back.

  14. socalrob of the 24 and a half century says:

    If you do not do research then this is what happens. I thought it was common knowledge that High Def does not go over co-ax cable to other TV’s. You need at least component input.

    My brother goes with the ATT dish bundle for dsl/phone/tv. He has the HD tv in front and a co-ax run to the back for the other TV which isn’t HD. He understood how it all worked and can barely use his PC.

    Remember Google is your friend.

  15. rmeehan17 says:

    The RSCs you spoke to are either idiots or slimeballs. If you had walked into my store wanting two or three TVs hooked up with HD I would have sold you 1 HD DVR and 1 or 2 single-tuner HD units, which is the right way of doing it.

    I just don’t get the whole deal about them not caring if their customers get pissed off and cancel the install and get it elsewhere. that shows up on their check as a chargeback. they take that money away from us if you cancel, so even if they are slimeballs, they’re also kinda stupid too, because they aren’t really getting anywhere with it.

    I honestly see no earthly reason why they would want to lie to you, maybe they didn’t want to tell you that you would have to spend the extra $99.99, but frankly if you have three HDTVs, I don’t think an extra hundred bucks would be much of a hassle.

  16. iotashan says:

    I’m an AT&T customer with DISH. It’s always been clear to me by reading online that you cannot under any circumstances lease two HD DVR’s, and that the dual-tv system only outputs SDTV to the secondary set. Guess the online materials are all correct, and only sales reps have/give the wrong information.

    To everyone asking why you’d go through AT&T instead of Dish directly, it’s because of the package price. When you combine services, you get discounts.

    I’m no AT&T fanboy, though. In fact, now is probably a good time to write the Consumerist about my ongoing AT&T troubles and how the executive customer service reps aren’t helping.

  17. endless says:


    I disagree, time warners pricing, while straight forward, I have never seen it well layed out.

    Package X is $$$, Package Y is $$$$$ amount.

  18. endless says:

    And I would LOVE to talk to a sales rep about this… I am a mean bastard when it comes to misinformed sales chumps……

  19. Odwalla says:

    So you went with cable or standard def, then? Except for the older, rapidly being obsoleted, MPEG2 based DirecTivos there aren’t any Tivo units that can receive and record satelite based HD signals.

  20. warf0x0r says:

    (Time Warner >= AT&T) > Comcast

  21. coffee177 says:

    They all are very bad. I guess I will go just a straight antenna on the roof to pickup OTA HD and whatever.

    Congradulations to Comcast, At&T, Time Warner and the Verizon crew for rolling the entertainment/TV technology back 30 years!

  22. legotech says:

    @Odwalla: Oh, nope, sorry, wasn’t clear…we only have standard…no HD yet…the TVs will be replaced with HD flat panels as they die :)


  23. incdeuce says:

    My Dish Network installer didn’t even know this. I had to argue with him all day to get him to correctly install 1 HD DVR and 1 HD receiver for my 2 HDTV’s and 2 SD TV’s. He wanted to run both of my HDTV’s off of the HD DVR and my 2 SDTV’s off of 2 non-HD receivers. It would have been a complete mess if I hadn’t forced him to do it correctly – and he was muttering under his breath the whole time that it was wrong and wouldn’t work. When it did work he said, “Well, this is a new HD DVR and it’s the first I’ve installed of this model. I didn’t know it worked like that.” This is even after I showed him several hours earlier in the manual that it could run only 1 HDTV and 1 SD. Luckily I’ve been very happy with the actual product and programming since then and haven’t had to ever speak with customer service.

  24. lemur says:


    You haven’t been reading this blog long enough if you think AT&T is better than any cable company.

    That statement about AT&T is true but the sentiment expressed could apply to any company discussed on this blog. Most of the time choosing between whether to go with company A or company B is like deciding whether to vote for a Giant Douche or a Turd Sandwich.


    No matter what, in the end they grab your money, screw you and gloat “a loser is you”.

  25. RvLeshrac says:

    I noticed a half-dozen comments on the line of “Why would you buy service through AT&T?!”

    The answer, of course, is that you get a deep discount on the service if you have AT&T (Or Bellsouth, which covers most of the southeastern US) phone service. And another discount if you have a Cingular phone. And another discount if you use AT&T (or Bellsouth, again) DSL.

  26. cerbie says:

    @socalrob: why is there only HD to one set, if they won’t lease extra DVR units, though? There’s clearly not a technical limitation–if they can send non-HD, they can choose to send HD. I can see their being greedy and wanting you to get extra DVRs and pay them for them, but if not, why don’t they send HD over to the other TVs, just not giving you any DVR capability? Or, would that cost too much in the DVR box?

  27. swunder says:

    We have the AT&T bundle package as well. But we have HD DVR on the TV downstairs and just a regular HD tuner on the set in the bedroom. We were going to get two DVRs, but I think we didn’t because the 2nd one would have to have the show on you were recording or something. I’m not 100% sure on that. As it stands now, we can record two shows at once, but in order to do so, you have to be watching one of the shows. Dish and tuners were installed by a 3rd party. The only problem I’ve had with Dish is when we get a huge downpour. The installers also told us to call them if we had a service problem because if we called Dish, they would charge us $100. We had a signal problem with the upstairs tuner and the installers fixed it with no problem.

    We switched from TWC because we’re now paying about the same as we did with TWC AND we get all the movie channels. When we were with TWC our cable modem would go down several times a day…every day.

    We’ve also have had Cingular/the new AT&T cell service for over 2 years and have had no problems whatsoever.


  28. homerjay says:

    @lemur: Good point. You’re always damned if you do, I suppose.

  29. thorzdad says:

    The company that offers house-wide decoding of services *at the wall*, thus eliminating any need for STB tuners altogether, will own the business. It just seems like a no-brainer. Yeah, they’d lose the fees for the STB’s, but I have to imagine they’d gain a metric butt-load of new subscribers, all giddy that they can now use the tuners on their umpteen-channel HD sets…instead of leaving them tuned to channel 3 forever.

  30. siraliii says:

    I went through the same thing, contacted AT&T CEO in texas several times. They finally agreed to eat the cost and put in two HD DVR’s to give me what they originally promised. After the 3rd time back with still the wrong equipment, the DISH installer had his boss come out. After all this, they were going to do a hack install. 3 weeks, multiple calls to the office of the CEO and they still dropped the ball. After all this, AT&T corporate for CT (Mrs. Stares) claimed I would be responsible for a prorated bill for service I never even received. It took another call to the office of the CEO to get that taken care of. AT&T carries too many products that they don’t know how to offer, and horrible customer service & management. More than two weeks after ending all AT&T services I would still get automated calls about activating features. Worst mistake I ever made was almost going to AT&T for everything.

  31. Cary says:

    Dish customer service is a waste… they’ve never given me a correct answer. On the other hand the service has been perfect.

    DirecTV lied during the call when I was trying to order service and I had to go through Mastercard to get my $400 back after I caught her lying and told the rep to forget it… even before we had scheduled installation!

    Adelphia (now Time Warner) couldn’t provide me with a watchable signal… for several years!

    AT&T won’t stop calling my business, several times a week, pushing services, despite threats to sue them for harassment. (and fight that occasional collect phone call from Texas… the number is a pay phone outside their office. They’ve tried that scam 3 times on me over the years for almost $20 a shot… and I don’t know anybody in Texas)

    I’ll stick with Dish’s lousy customer service.

  32. BlueModred says:

    I think the problem comes from the fact that ATT’s new Uverse service CAN send high def to any of the boxes in the house, providing they use the ethernet option to connect them.

  33. kbarrett says:

    They all suck.

    Every one of them.

    Regardless of what service you go with, you have to do the research, know more about it than the retard they send out to do the install, and have your cluebat ready.

    And sign nothing if the idiot doesn’t do it right.

  34. bolthead says:

    I’ve been an independant Dish Network retailer for several years and have listened to customers complaints about ATT’s service since they first started reselling Dish Network. Anyways, heres the real scoop If you want more than 1 HD dvr. Get a vip622 or 722(350hr hd dvr) along with 1 or 2 vip211’s (non dvr hd). Total equip. cost $0. After you have established service upgrade to a 2nd HD DVR. You will have to pay an upgrade fee but nowhere near the amounts mentioned above. It’s a hassle, yes

  35. NotEd says:

    I had the same issue when ordering service through DISH network themselves. Actually the wife used their online configuration interface to setup our service, which includes 2 Standard Def and 2 HD TVs. They had the DISH HD-DVR running both HDs and a similar dual tuner box running out SD ones.

    After being told by someone else that the configuration did not provide independent HD programming to both HD sets (The same HD programming could be watched on both sets with a long run of either Component or HDMI to the other TV) I called their Customer Service.

    The first time I called I tried to clarify why the configuration was wrong, but was told it would work fine. During the course of the discussion I discovered that, even though I had the online print out in front of me with the correct information, they had the installation date a week early in their system, 4 days before we were supposed to move in! I ended up being transferred to another rep to resolve the scheduling issue and was told to ask to be transferred back to work out the original issue.

    Well, I got the scheduling issue resolved, but the transfer back ended up disconnecting me. I ended up calling back and a new tier 1 rep also told me the HD-DVR could provide HD to 2 different sets. As I recall it took me about half an hour of explaining to the tier 1 CSR before I was finally escalated to tier 2, even though she still didn’t believe me.

    The Tier 2 rep was almost immediately helpful. She understood my problem and ended up reconfiguring my order so that the second HDTV had a dedicated HD box (no DVR) with the promise I could upgrade to another HD-DVR after a year (apparently they completely refuse to provide you with more than 4 tuners per order, and adding a second HD-DVR while retaining a single SD Tuner for use with a ReplayTV, put me over that. I was also told they wouldn’t assign 2 HD-DVRs to a single account anyway, as they were in too high a demand).

    The install was successful after all of that, although the installer had a few issues. I have religiously avoided calling DISH’s customer service since then and will probably cancel after our commitment is up, rather than deal with their CSRs again.

  36. cliston17 says:


    AT&T’s Uverse can send and HD signal throughout the house, but the problem with the service is that it only allows for a single HD Stream. You are capped at 4 total streams, 1 HD and 3 SD.

    For anyone thinking of Uverse, run away. The service is basically a giant beta test. There are so many bugs and quirks, it makes me long for the days I had Time Warner.

  37. integratr says:

    Why don’t you people learn that there are hard working local businesses designed not only to assist you in getting the best service in America from Dish Network, but to provide local customer service and support. This is something AT&T could never do. Get Dish, just not from them. If you need a local American, give us a call at (866)824-DISH
    Thanks to all,
    signed local business owner

  38. MichaelJB says:

    I’m probably way late on this post but we have an at&t 622HZ (VIP622 w/ at&t software) that I bought on ebay and went directly through Dish to activate. Although your Dish rep told you that HD isn’t available on both TVs, it actually is. I can turn on and tune to different HD channels on both TVs at one time. The one problem that I do have is that I have put in an HD antenna to recieve the local HD channels and can’t tune to the local HD channels on both TVs at the same time. That can simply be solved by adding a switch rather than having the HD antenna tied directly to the receiver.