Digital TV vs. Cable in Texas

by Darrin Meyer
Texas has more than 4 million cable TV subscribers.

Texas has more than 4 million cable TV subscribers.

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Texas is a large state, encompassing both large cities like Houston and Dallas and wide expanses of rural lands. When it comes to receiving TV programming, more options are now available to Texans than in years past, including cable TV. These options are greater in larger cities than in small towns and other low-population areas.

Digital TV

Digital TV is the transmission of television signals as a stream of digital data, rather than by analog means. Digital TV signals come from a variety of different sources, including over the air (OTA) stations, cable and satellite TV providers and other sources such as Verizon's FiOS and AT&T;'s U-verse. Digital TV delivers a sharper picture than analog broadcasts and the format allows for a greater amount of data to be transmitted within the same bandwidth. This creates room for a great number of digital channels, including those broadcast in HD.

OTA in Texas

Full-power TV stations in Texas, and the rest of the U.S., have been broadcasting digitally since 2009. OTA stations are generally local affiliates for the major national networks, independent stations, PBS affiliates and other local and government channels. The ability to receive OTA channels is based mainly on proximity to the broadcast towers, giving residents of the larger cities in Texas access to a larger number of digital OTA channels than are available in smaller towns and rural areas. This makes cable TV (or other providers) a better option for TV fans who reside in those areas, as well as for those who want more than just local channels.

Cable TV

Texas cities and towns offer one or more cable TV providers. Cable programming packages range from limited basic to full digital cable, which includes local channels, hundreds of cable-based networks and premium channels and access to on-demand and pay-per-view content. Many of these channels are offered in high definition (HD), giving cable subscribers access to many more HD channels than are available over the air.

Satellite TV

Another source of digital TV available to residents in all parts of Texas, including those too remote for cable service, is satellite TV. Service primarily comes from national providers DirecTV and Dish Network. Satellite TV offers a variety of programming packages and prices that compare to those offered by cable companies. Because of a legislative loophole, satellite subscribers are not charged local sales tax and franchise fees, meaning cable subscribers in Texas pay more than double in taxes and fees than those with satellite. Satellite TV can also offer more digital channels overall than cable, as satellite transmissions are not hindered by the finite bandwidth that exists with cable.

Picture Quality

The video quality and resolution of a digital TV signal is more dependent on its broadcast source than its carrier, so there is no significant difference in the picture between OTA, cable and satellite, though the uncompressed signal of satellite TV gives it a slight edge. A digital OTA signal differs from an analog signal in that the signal is either picked up fully or not at all, so the picture quality will be optimal when received, with no snow, static or other diminishing effects.

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