Digital cable converters are devices that are capable of decoding digital cable signals. Since most cable companies offer either full or partial digital channel lineups, most people need some type of converter to watch cable television. In situations where a cable company offers both analog and digital content, local channels are often available without a converter. However, analog content is only available in standard definition. In order to watch high definition channels, access programming guides, and use on-demand services, it is necessary to use a digital cable box.
Digital Cable Boxes
When a cable company switches over to a digital signal, there are a few things that can happen. Since bandwidth for digital channels has to come from somewhere, the cable company will typically remove a number of analog channels. At that point, the entire analog channel lineup may consist of local stations and home shopping networks. In other cases, the cable company may choose to provide no analog content at all.
In order to access digital cable content, some type of cable box is typically needed. There are a few exceptions, but cable boxes represent the primary method of watching digital cable and accessing on-demand content. These set-top boxes contain cable converters that are capable of decoding digital signals. They are also capable of two-way communication, which is how they are able to order on-demand content.
Some digital cable converters include additional features. If a digital cable box features a built-in DVR, it can be used to record and play digital content. Since these devices are capable of two-way communication, some of them can also be programmed remotely. That allows some cable customers to record television shows from a smartphone or web browser.
A digital adapter is a type of digital cable converter that is somewhat less complex than a traditional set-top box. While digital cable boxes can be used with both digital and analog TVs, digital adapters are specifically designed for use with analog television sets. In areas where the local cable company doesn’t offer any analog content, older televisions sets don’t work without digital adapters. The adapter receives the digital content, decodes it, and then provides an analog signal that the television is capable of displaying.
Digital cable adapters are similar to digital television adapters, but the underlying technology is different. Digital television adapters are designed to convert over-the-air broadcast signals that use a different type of modulation. In order to work with cable television, a digital adapter has to include a QAM tuner.
Some digital television sets come with built-in QAM tuners. While a QAM tuner isn’t a direct replacement for a digital cable converter, it can be a viable alternative in some situations. Television sets that include built-in QAM tuners are often capable of receiving some digital cable content without a cable box or adapter. That content is typically limited to local channels, but the available lineup differs from one cable company to another.
QAM tuners are also available in other devices, and there are even computer peripherals that include the functionality. These devices allow some cable customers to view television programming on their computers. With the right combination of hardware and software, this type of QAM tuner can also be used to record television programming.
CableCARD technology is an alternative to the traditional digital cable box. While a digital cable box is typically the only way to access on-demand content, programming guides, and other features, a CableCARD can replicate most of that functionality. This technology isn’t supported by every cable company, and it can only be used with compatible television sets, DVRs, and other devices.
While CableCARD technology isn’t universally supported, it does provide a way forward for cable-ready television sets. Compatible televisions come with PCMCIA slots where CableCARDs can be installed. That essentially allows a compatible television to communicate with the cable company without needing a set-top box. This is also the only way to use devices like TiVo without a set-top box from the cable company.