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Cable Box

History of the Cable Box

Since the beginning of cable television, cable companies have sought to protect premium programming. It was not long before they developed cable boxes to ensure only paying customers received the correct signal to the television. In this post, discover more about:

  • How Cable Boxes Work
  • Different Types of Modern Boxes
  • The Difference between Set-Top Boxes and DVRs
  • Can HDTVs Eliminate the Box Entirely?
  • Environmental Impact and Energy Star Ratings
  • The Future of Cable Boxes and Internet

What is a Cable Box?

The purpose of a cable box is to provide the viewer with television programming for which they’ve paid. Many cable television providers offer different packages of channels. Cable companies normally block premium channels, such as HBO and Pay-Per-View, unless the viewer has purchased them in addition to basic packages. The cable box unblocks those channels once the viewer subscribes.

Cable Box Types

There are different cable box types, depending on your local provider and the channels offered. Here is a short list:

  • Descrambler
  • Addressable
  • Digital
  • HD – High Definition

Originally, cable boxes were mere descramblers. The incoming signal through the coaxial cable was automatically scrambled. Once a viewer subscribed to basic cable, the box unscrambled the signal. However, communication was one way. The cable company could only send information to the box, but the box would not relay information back to the company. Addressable boxes updated the ability for 2-way communication, and they allow the company to update programming from the central office. This eliminates the need to send technicians for physical on-site work. Digital boxes work the same way for modern digital signals that provide better picture quality and more channels. Likewise, high definition (HD) boxes are able to handle picture quality up to 720p and 1080p, the most detailed picture resolutions for modern TV sets.

The Difference Between Set-top Boxes and DVRs – Digital Video Recorders

DVRs use a computer component called a hard drive to record and store television programs. Prior to the development of DVRs, many VCRs used cassettes to record the programming onto magnetic tape. With the explosion of cheap computer parts, DVRs quickly took over the function of VCRs. Later, manufacturers of cable boxes combined DVRs into newer models. By including DVRs inside of most cable boxes, consumers gained the benefit of recording favorite programs without purchasing additional equipment.

Cable-Ready TVs (No Boxes Needed)

In theory, the idea was simple. Purchase a television with all the necessary components inside, and eliminate the set-top box entirely. In practice, however, it rarely works this way. Many television manufacturers make claims to be able to handle digital or high-definition cable programming directly. However, most cable companies still scramble signals in one form or another. The purpose is to guard premium content, such as newer HD channels. Television sets advertising QAM, or quadrature amplitude modulation, will be able to pick up only those channels that the cable provider has not scrambled. To get full access, a cable box is still necessary.

Environmental Impact and Energy Star Ratings

When people think of their impact on the environment, most immediately jump to cars, gas and oil. However, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) highlights that two cable boxes consume more power than a refrigerator. The EPA estimates the energy cost of the more than 160 million cable boxes in the United States at more than $3 billion a year. That’s only the cost to power the boxes with electricity. In response, the EPA has issued suggestions for manufacturers to follow the Energy Star guidelines for using less power. By using boxes that meet the guidelines, the United States alone would reduce emissions equivalent to 3 million cars. As more consumers become aware of the higher electricity costs of constantly running boxes, they’re beginning to turn to those with the Energy Star approval logo.

The Future of Cable Boxes

The basic idea of combining technologies into one box is popular among consumers because it keeps expenses lower. Likewise, many cable TV providers also offer high-speed internet. Therefore, many developers of boxes propose technologies that combine television and internet. Already, some models have been developed that combine wireless internet (Wi-Fi) into cable TV boxes. Other prototypes allow notebook and tablet PCs to connect to cable boxes and display video directly. Likewise, integrated boxes are already attempting to incorporate social media like Facebook. Viewers would be able to rate shows and share social opinions the same as with internet video. These ideas are not set in stone however. The landscape of social media, computers, internet and cable TV continues to evolve.