Both digital cable and IPTV are television services which are supplied over a ‘fixed-line connection’ using either a cable or telephone line. But if you just want to watch the free channels - and don’t need the fixed-line connection for your broadband or phone line - you should also consider digital satellite and Freeview, as they won’t charge a monthly subscription fee.
Digital cable and IPTV are both supplied to your home using a fixed-line connection. Digital cable is supplied via the same coaxial cable or optical fibre that previously delivered analogue cable, whereas IPTV (Internet Protocol television) is supplied via telephone lines that are also used to deliver broadband (such as ADSL).
Receiving digital cable or IPTV
To be able to watch digital cable or IPTV, you will need:
- a cable connection that links your property to the cable network
- a set-top box that can receive and decode the cable signal
- a television to display the signal from your set-top box
- a subscription to the cable/IPTV service
Digital cable and IPTV are not available in all locations, so your first move is to check what your options are using one of the comparison tools with Ofcom accreditation. Cable TV across the UK is dominated by Virgin Media, while IPTV is usually provided by either TalkTalk or BT Vision.
Both digital cable and IPTV require a subscription to the service. But once you've arranged the subscription, the service provider will install it - usually only charging a modest set-up fee.
You will probably be required to sign a contract for 12 months or longer. Before doing so, you should ensure that you’re not already tied into an existing contract for previous television services. You do not want to end up paying twice for the same thing.
Choices can prove tricky
The most difficult part of getting digital cable is understanding the pricing structure.
Firstly, providers typically require you to subscribe to more than just the television channels – you will probably be forced to buy at least the telephone service and be offered mobile phone and/or broadband services as well.
Secondly, providers offer the television channels in groups, or ’packs’. These packs usually vary from provider to provider. So when you compare what's on offer, you should also consider getting digital satellite instead of digital cable.
Start by making a list of the television channels you feel you must have, and then make sure that any packages you compare include those channels. Unfortunately, comparison websites are not generally organised in this way, so this may be a time-consuming task.
All cable services will include - as part of their basic service - the full set of BBC and ITV channels, as well as a selection of other news, entertainment and sports channels.
You will find that the vast majority of channels are available via all forms of distribution (digital cable, digital satellite and digital terrestrial) - so once you know what choices you have, the decision comes down to what you want to watch and how much you're going to pay for it.
If all the channels you want to watch are free channels and you do not need cable for broadband or your telephone line, you are better off with either digital terrestrial (Freeview) or digital satellite (Freesat) - since once the system is installed you will pay nothing further.