Set-top box

A set-top box (STB) or set-top unit (STU) (one type also colloquially known as a cable box) is an information appliance device that generally contains a TV-tuner input and displays output to a television set and an external source of signal, turning the source signal into content in a form that can then be displayed on the television screen or other display device. They are used in cable television, satellite television, and over-the-air television systems, as well as other uses.

According to the Los Angeles Times, the cost to a cable provider for a set-top box is between $150 for a basic box to $250 for a more sophisticated box in the United States. In 2016, the average pay-TV subscriber paid $231 per year to lease their set-top box from a cable service provider.[1]

Set-top Box, 2013
An Inview Neelix set-top box manufactured in 2012. It allows simultaneous access to television broadcast and internet applications

TV signal sources

Sat-Receiver Palcom DSL-350
A consumer Palcom DSL-350 satellite-receiver; the IF demodulation tuner is on the bottom left, and a Fujitsu MPEG decoder CPU is in the center of the board. The power supply is on the right.

The signal source might be an Ethernet cable, a satellite dish, a coaxial cable (see cable television), a telephone line (including DSL connections), broadband over power lines (BPL), or even an ordinary VHF or UHF antenna. Content, in this context, could mean any or all of video, audio, Internet web pages, interactive video games, or other possibilities. Satellite and microwave-based services also require specific external receiver hardware, so the use of set-top boxes of various formats has never completely disappeared. Set-top boxes can also enhance source signal quality.

UHF converter

Before the All-Channel Receiver Act of 1962 required US television receivers to be able to tune the entire VHF and UHF range (which in North America was NTSC-M channels 2 through 83 on 54 to 890 MHz), a set-top box known as a UHF converter would be installed at the receiver to shift a portion of the UHF-TV spectrum onto low-VHF channels for viewing. As some 1960s-era 12-channel TV sets remained in use for many years, and Canada and Mexico were slower than the US to require UHF tuners to be factory-installed in new TVs, a market for these converters continued to exist for much of the 1970s.

Cable converter

Cable television represented a possible alternative to deployment of UHF converters as broadcasts could be frequency-shifted to VHF channels at the cable head-end instead of the final viewing location. However, most cable systems could not accommodate the full 54-890 MHz VHF/UHF frequency range and the twelve channels of VHF space were quickly exhausted on most systems. Adding any additional channels therefore needed to be done by inserting the extra signals into cable systems on nonstandard frequencies, typically either below VHF channel 7 (midband) or directly above VHF channel 13 (superband).

These frequencies corresponded to non-television services (such as two-way radio) over-the-air and were therefore not on standard TV receivers. Before cable-ready TV sets became common in the late 1980s, an electronic tuning device called a cable converter box was needed to receive the additional analog cable TV channels and transpose or convert the selected channel to analog radio frequency (RF) for viewing on a regular TV set on a single channel, usually VHF channel 3 or 4. The box allowed an analog non-cable-ready television set to receive analog encrypted cable channels and was a prototype topology for later date digital encryption devices. Newer televisions were then converted to be analog cypher cable-ready, with the standard converter built-in for selling premium television (aka pay per view). Several years later and slowly marketed, the advent of digital cable continued and increased the need for various forms of these devices. Block conversion of the entire affected frequency band onto UHF, while less common, was used by some models to provide full VCR compatibility and the ability to drive multiple TV sets, albeit with a somewhat nonstandard channel numbering scheme.

Newer television receivers greatly reduced the need for external set-top boxes, although cable converter boxes continue to be used to descramble premium cable channels according to carrier-controlled access restrictions, and to receive digital cable channels, along with using interactive services like video on demand, pay per view, and home shopping through television.

Closed captioning box

Set-top boxes were also made to enable closed captioning on older sets in North America, before this became a mandated inclusion in new TV sets. Some have also been produced to mute the audio (or replace it with noise) when profanity is detected in the captioning, where the offensive word is also blocked. Some also include a V-chip that allows only programs of some television content ratings. A function that limits children's time watching TV or playing video games may also be built in, though some of these work on main electricity rather than the video signal.

Digital television adapter

The transition to digital terrestrial television after the turn of the millennium left many existing television receivers unable to tune and display the new signal directly. In the United States, where analog shutdown was completed in 2009 for full-service broadcasters, a federal subsidy was offered for coupon-eligible converter boxes with deliberately limited capability which would restore signals lost to digital transition.

Professional set-top box

Professional set-top boxes are referred to as IRDs or integrated receiver/decoders in the professional broadcast audio/video industry. They are designed for more robust field handling and rack mounting environments. IRDs are capable of outputting uncompressed serial digital interface signals, unlike consumer STBs which usually don't, mostly because of copyright reasons.

Hybrid box

Lenovo A30 Internet TV Set Top Box - Front with Remote (6639767915)
Lenovo A30 set-top box

Hybrid set-top boxes, such as those used for Smart TV programming, enable viewers to access multiple TV delivery methods (including terrestrial, cable, internet, and satellite); like IPTV boxes, they include video on demand, time-shifting TV, Internet applications, video telephony, surveillance, gaming, shopping, TV-centric electronic program guides, and e-government. By integrating varying delivery streams, hybrids (sometimes known as "TV-centric"[2]) enable pay-TV operators more flexible application deployment, which decreases the cost of launching new services, increases speed to market, and limits disruption for consumers.[3]

As examples, Hybrid Broadcast Broadband TV (HbbTV) set-top boxes allow traditional TV broadcasts, whether from terrestrial (DTT), satellite, or cable providers, to be brought together with video delivered over the Internet and personal multimedia content. Advanced Digital Broadcast (ADB) launched its first hybrid DTT/IPTV set-top box in 2005,[4] which provided Telefónica with the digital TV platform for its Movistar TV service by the end of that year.[5] In 2009, ADB provided Europe's first three-way hybrid digital TV platform to Polish digital satellite operator n, which enables subscribers to view integrated content whether delivered via satellite, terrestrial, or internet.[6]

UK based Inview Technology has over 8M STBs deployed in the UK for Teletext and an original push VOD service for Top Up TV.

IPTV receiver

In IPTV networks, the set-top box is a small computer providing two-way communications on an IP network and decoding the video streaming media. IP set-top boxes have a built-in home network interface that can be Ethernet, Wireless (802.11 g,n,ac), or one of the existing wire home networking technologies such as HomePNA or the ITU-T standard, which provides a way to create a high-speed (up to 1Gbit/s) local area network using existing home wiring (power lines, phone lines, and coaxial cables).[7]

In the US and Europe, telephone companies use IPTV (often on ADSL or optical fiber networks) as a means to compete with traditional local cable television monopolies.

This type of service is distinct from Internet television, which involves third-party content over the public Internet not controlled by the local system operator.


Programming features

Electronic program guide

Electronic program guides and interactive program guides provide users of television, radio, and other media applications with continuously updated menus displaying broadcast programming or scheduling information for current and upcoming programming. Some guides, such as ITV, also feature backward scrolling to promote their catch-up content.[8]


This feature allows the user to choose preferred channels, making them easier and quicker to access; this is handy with the wide range of digital channels on offer. The concept of favourite channels is superficially similar to that of the "bookmark" function offered in many Web browsers.


The timer allows the user to program and enable the box to switch between channels at certain times: this is handy to record from more than one channel while the user is out. The user still needs to program the VCR or DVD recorder.

Convenience features

Controls on the box

Some models have controls on the box, as well as on the remote control. This is useful should the user lose the remote or if the batteries age.

Remote controls that work with other TVs

Some remote controls can also control some basic functions of various brands of TVs. This allows the user to use just one remote to turn the TV on and off, adjust volume, or switch between digital and analog TV channels or between terrestrial and internet channels.

Parental locks

The parental lock or content filters allow users over 18 years old to block access to channels that are not appropriate for children, using a personal identification number. Some boxes simply block all channels, while others allow the user to restrict access to chosen channels not suitable for children below certain ages.

Software alternatives

As complexity and potential programming faults of the set-top box increase,[9] software such as MythTV, Select-TV and Microsoft's Media Center have developed features comparable to those of set-top boxes, ranging from basic DVR-like functionality to DVD copying, home automation, and housewide music or video playback.

Firmware update features

Set-top box firmware being updated
Set-top box firmware being updated

Almost all modern set-top boxes feature automatic firmware update processes. The firmware update is typically provided by the service provider.

Ambiguities in the definition

With the advent of flat-panel televisions, set-top boxes are now deeper in profile than the tops of most modern TV sets. Because of this, set-top boxes are often placed beneath televisions, and the term set-top box has become something of a misnomer, possibly helping the adoption of the term digibox. Additionally, newer set-top boxes that sit at the edge of IP-based distribution networks are often called net-top boxes or NTBs, to differentiate between IP and RF inputs. The Roku LT is around the size of a pack of cards and delivers Smart TV to conventional sets.[10]

The distinction between external tuner or demodulator boxes (traditionally considered to be "set-top boxes") and storage devices (such as VCR, DVD, or disc-based PVR units) is also blurred by the increasing deployment of satellite and cable tuner boxes with hard disk, network or USB interfaces built-in.

Devices with the capabilities of computer terminals, such as the WebTV thin client, also fall into the grey area that could invite the term "NTB".


In Europe, a set-top box does not necessarily contain a tuner of its own. A box connected to a television (or VCR) SCART connector is fed with the baseband television signal from the set's tuner, and can have the television display the returned processed signal instead.

Pace DC757X cable box mod
Pace Micro Technology DC757X Set top box

This SCART feature had been used for connection to analogue decoding equipment by pay TV operators in Europe, and in the past was used for connection to teletext equipment before the decoders became built-in. The outgoing signal could be of the same nature as the incoming signal, or RGB component video, or even an "insert" over the original signal, due to the "fast switching" feature of SCART.

In case of analogue pay-TV, this approach avoided the need for a second remote control. The use of digital television signals in more modern pay-TV schemes requires that decoding take place before the digital-to-analogue conversion step, rendering the video outputs of an analogue SCART connector no longer suitable for interconnection to decryption hardware. Standards such as DVB's Common Interface and ATSC's CableCARD therefore use a PCMCIA-like card inserted as part of the digital signal path as their alternative to a tuner-equipped set-top box.

Energy use

In June 2011 a report from the American National Resources Defense Council brought attention to the energy efficiency of set-top boxes,[11] and the US Department of Energy announced plans to consider the adoption of energy efficiency standards for set-top boxes.[12] In November 2011, the National Cable & Telecommunications Association announced a new energy efficiency initiative that commits the largest American cable operators to the purchase of set-top boxes that meet Energy Star standards and the development of sleep modes that will use less energy when the set-top box is not being used to watch or record video.[13]

See also


  1. ^ Lazarus, David (2018-10-30). "How much does a cable box really cost? The industry would prefer you don't ask". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 2018-11-01.
  2. ^ "Welcome to Inview". Inview Technology. 2013-07-26. Archived from the original on 2013-08-01.
  3. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2010-04-05. Retrieved 2010-06-02.CS1 maint: Archived copy as title (link)
  4. ^ "About - DVB". Archived from the original on 6 June 2013. Retrieved 28 April 2018.
  5. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2012-02-27. Retrieved 2013-06-15.CS1 maint: Archived copy as title (link)
  6. ^ "ADB takes 'n' hybrid". 12 September 2009. Archived from the original on 4 July 2017. Retrieved 28 April 2018.
  7. ^ New global standard for fully networked home Archived 2009-02-21 at the Wayback Machine, ITU-T Press Release
  8. ^ "Today - TV Guide". Archived from the original on 1 December 2017. Retrieved 28 April 2018.
  9. ^ "The Chimera of Software Quality". Archived from the original on 2018-04-28. 080322
  10. ^ Which? Consumer's Guide; October 2012; page 41
  11. ^ "Archived copy" (PDF). Archived (PDF) from the original on 2012-02-25. Retrieved 2012-02-25.CS1 maint: Archived copy as title (link) Natural Resources Defense Council.
  12. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2012-01-29. Retrieved 2012-02-25.CS1 maint: Archived copy as title (link) Environmental and Energy Study Institute
  13. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2012-05-12. Retrieved 2012-04-20.CS1 maint: Archived copy as title (link)
ATSC tuner

An ATSC (Advanced Television Systems Committee) tuner, often called an ATSC receiver or HDTV tuner is a type of television tuner that allows reception of digital television (DTV) television channels transmitted by television stations in North America, parts of Central America and South Korea that use ATSC standards. Such tuners may be integrated into a television set, VCR, digital video recorder (DVR), or set-top box that provides audio/video output connectors of various types.

Another type of television tuner is a digital television adapter (DTA) with an analog passthrough.


AllVid was a proposal to develop technology enabling smart broadband-connected video devices to access the content on the managed networks of cable operators, telcos, and satellite-TV operators. It was initially proposed in the U.S. Federal Communications Commission's (FCC) National Broadband Plan in 2010. The AllVid hardware would act as a universal adapter for all types of pay TV content such as video-on-demand and pay-per-view, as well as interactive programming guides, delivered through a wide variety of means, including cable TV, satellite TV, VDSL, IPTV, and Internet TV.AllVid was intended to replace CableCARD. Unlike CableCARD rules which only applied to cable operators, AllVid would apply to all Multichannel Video Programming Distributor’s (MVPDs) including satellite and telco companies.

As of January 2017, AllVid was never adopted or developed.

Apple Interactive Television Box

The Apple Interactive Television Box (AITB) is a television set-top box developed by Apple Computer (now Apple Inc.) in partnership with a number of global telecommunications firms, including British Telecom and Belgacom. It was used for Prototypes of the unit were deployed at large test markets in parts of the United States and Europe in 1994 and 1995, but the product was canceled shortly thereafter, and was never mass-produced or marketed.


CableCARD is a special-use PC Card device that allows consumers in the United States to view and record digital cable television channels on digital video recorders, personal computers and television sets on equipment such as a set-top box not provided by a cable television company. The card is usually provided by the local cable operator, typically for a nominal monthly fee.

In a broader context, CableCARD refers to a set of technologies created by the United States cable television industry to allow devices from non-cable companies to access content on the cable networks. Some technologies not only refer to the physical card, but also to a device ("Host") that uses the card. Some CableCARD technologies can be used with devices that have no physical CableCARD.

The CableCARD was the outcome of a U.S. federal government objective, directed in the Telecommunications Act of 1996, to provide a robust competitive retail market for set-top boxes so consumers did not have to use proprietary equipment from the cable operators. It was believed that this would provide consumers with more choices and lower costs. Up to 2016, less than 2% of set-top boxes were purchased by consumers in the retail market since CableCARD was rolled out, indicating that CableCARD failed in its objective. Telecom lobbyists argued that the CableCARD initiative actually cost Americans billions of dollars in additional fees, increased energy consumption, and stifled innovation.


CytaVision is a digital television service introduced by CYTA (Cyprus Telecommunications Authority) in 2004. The service was formerly called MiVision. It is based on a Broadband IPTV infrastructure, where digital sound and vision is carried through a telephone line to a Set-Top Box and the customer’s TV.

The service provides several thematic channels, video on demand, games on demand, access to a TV portal with useful local information, the capability to send and receive e-mails from the TV set, the use of an Electronic Program Guide (EPG), all through personalized menus, enhanced with parental control access criteria. Consumers can access a catalogue of TV and Video content, which has a precise search facility. Enhanced interactive TV applications and voice over IP are two further avenues that cytavision expects to explore and implement in the future.

DD Free Dish

DD Free Dish (previously known as DD Direct Plus) is an Indian Free-To-Air digital direct-broadcast satellite television service. It is owned and operated by Public Service Broadcaster Doordarshan (Prasar Bharati). It has a reach of approximately 30 million households which is 15 % of the total TV Households in the country.It is the only free-to-air satellite television service in India. After upgrade, INSAT-4B satellite at 93.5° was used to broadcast 64 FTA MPEG-2 Channels and 29 radio channels.

With the latest upgrade, to GSAT-15 at 93.5° on 1 February 2016, the present capacity is likely to be enhanced to 104 SDTV channels and 40 Radio channels in near future with the introduction of new MPEG-4, DVB-S2 stream. DD Free Dish DTH viewers can watch 80 SD MPEG-2 TV channels and 18 SD MPEG-4 channels apart from 40 radio channels. New logo for DD Free Dish was added on its transponders on 29 October 2014. DD Free Dish also offers its slots to private channels.At this time DD Free Dish TV channels can be received by using simple free to air set-top boxes with DVB-S and DVB-S2 technology. Now a days many free to air set-top box are available. Recently Prasar Bharati selected few Indian manufacturers to produce iCAS enabled set-top box with MPEG-4 technology. Free to air set-top box can be bought online as well as in offline markets.

There is no monthly charges to access DD Free Dish DTH service. This is India's only free DTH (direct-to-home) service.

Digital television adapter

A digital television adapter (DTA), commonly known as a converter box, is a television tuner that receives a digital television (DTV) transmission, and converts the digital signal into an analog signal that can be received and displayed on an analog television set. The input digital signal may be over-the-air terrestrial television signals received by a television antenna, or signals from a digital cable system. It normally does not refer to satellite TV, which has always required a set-top box either to operate the big satellite dish, or to be the integrated receiver/decoder (IRD) in the case of direct-broadcast satellites (DBS).

In North America, these ATSC tuner boxes convert from ATSC to NTSC, while in most of Europe and other places such as Australia, they convert from Digital Video Broadcasting (DVB) to PAL. Because the DTV transition did nothing to reduce the number of broadcast television system standards (and in fact further complicated them), and due to varying frequency allocations and bandplans, there are many other combinations specific to other countries.

Digital video recorder

A digital video recorder (DVR) is an electronic device that records video in a digital format to a disk drive, USB flash drive, SD memory card, SSD or other local or networked mass storage device. The term includes set-top boxes with direct to disk recording, portable media players and TV gateways with recording capability, and digital camcorders. Personal computers are often connected to video capture devices and used as DVRs; in such cases the application software used to record video is an integral part of the DVR. Many DVRs are classified as consumer electronic devices; such devices may alternatively be referred to as personal video recorders (PVRs), particularly in Canada.


GMM Z is a Thai set-top box distributor and former satellite television operator owned by GMM Grammy.

Launched on 1 November 2011 as 1-Sky, It was operating as a KU band and C band set-top box distributor and Pay TV operator. It changed its name to GMM Z after receiving a notification from British Pay TV operator, BSkyB for the trademark conflict.

GMM Z is a subsidiary of GMM Grammy, a media-giant in Thailand. It was also has GMM B Company Limited, a subsidiary who operated Z PAY TV, a pay TV platform for GMM Z set-top boxes before sold it to CTH.

Hybrid Broadcast Broadband TV

Hybrid Broadcast Broadband TV (HbbTV) is both an industry standard (ETSI TS 102 796) and promotional initiative for hybrid digital TV to harmonise the broadcast, IPTV, and broadband delivery of entertainment to the end consumer through connected TVs (smart TVs) and set-top boxes. The HbbTV Association, comprising digital broadcasting and Internet industry companies, has established a standard for the delivery of broadcast TV and broadband TV to the home, through a single user interface, creating an open platform as an alternative to proprietary technologies. Products and services using the HbbTV standard can operate over different broadcasting technologies, such as satellite, cable, or terrestrial networks.

HbbTV can show digital television content from a number of different sources including traditional broadcast TV, Internet, and connected devices in the home. To watch hybrid digital TV, consumers will need a hybrid IPTV set-top box with a range of input connectors, including Ethernet as well as at least one tuner for receiving broadcast TV signals. The tuner in a hybrid set-top box can be digital terrestrial television (DVB-T, DVB-T2), digital cable (DVB-C, DVB-C2) and digital satellite (DVB-S, DVB-S2).


MSN TV (formerly WebTV) was the name of both a thin client which used a television for display (instead of using a computer monitor), and the online service that supported it.

The product and service was developed by WebTV Networks, Inc., a company purchased by Microsoft Corporation and absorbed into MSN (the Microsoft Network). While most thin clients developed in the mid-1990s were positioned as diskless workstations for corporate intranets, WebTV was positioned as a consumer device for web access.

The WebTV product was an adapter that allowed a television set to be connected to the Internet, mainly for web browsing and e-mail. The setup included a web browser, a corded or wireless (for example, Bluetooth or IRDA) keyboard and a connection, using a modem, ADSL, cable Internet access, or power line communication.

Although WebTV allowed less functionality than a standard computer-based web browser, it was a low-cost alternative to a traditional computer connection to the Internet.

On July 1, 2013, an email was sent out to customers that the service would be shutting down on September 30, 2013, and customer service would be available until January 15, 2014.

Melita (telecommunications company)

Melita Limited, formerly Melita Cable, is a Maltese telecommunications company established in 1992. It is a quadruple play provider that provides cable television, mobile telephone, broadband Internet, and fixed-line telephone services.Melita was the first company to offer high-definition television in Malta through its Melita NetBox digital set-top box, introduced in 2010.

Nvidia Shield (set-top box)

The Nvidia Shield (stylized SHIELD), also known as the Shield Android TV or Shield Console, is an Android TV-based digital media player produced by Nvidia as part of its Shield brand of Android devices. First released in May 2015, the Shield is marketed by Nvidia as a microconsole, emphasizing its ability to play downloaded games and stream games from a compatible PC on a local network, or via the GeForce Now subscription service. As with all other Android TV devices, it can also stream content from various sources using apps, and also supports 4K resolution video. It has been distributed in models with either 16 GB of flash storage, or a 500 GB hard drive, the latter branded as Shield Pro.

In 2017, Nvidia released a refreshed version of the 16 GB Shield, which has a smaller form factor that drops MicroSD and infrared support, comes with an updated controller, and is otherwise identical in hardware to the original model.

Over-the-top media services

Over the top (OTT) is a term used to refer to content providers that distribute streaming media as a standalone product directly to viewers over the Internet, bypassing telecommunications, multichannel television, and broadcast television platforms that traditionally act as a controller or distributor of such content.The term is most synonymous with subscription-based video on demand services that offer access to film and television content (including existing series acquired from other producers, as well as original content produced specifically for the service), including Amazon Video, fuboTV, Hulu, Netflix, Now TV, Sling TV, MercTV, and Sky Go as well as a wave of "skinny" television services that offer access to live streams of linear specialty channels similar to a traditional satellite or wireline television provider, but streamed over the public Internet, rather than a closed, private network with proprietary equipment such as set-top boxes.

Over the top services are typically accessed via websites on personal computers, as well as via apps on mobile devices (such as smartphones and tablets), digital media players (including video game consoles), or televisions with integrated smart TV platforms.


The Slingbox is a TV streaming media device made by Sling Media that encodes local video for transmission over the Internet to a remote device (sometimes called placeshifting). It allows users to remotely view and control their cable, satellite, or digital video recorder (DVR) system at home from a remote Internet-connected PC, smartphone, or tablet as if he or she were at home.

Customers have also connected their Slingboxes to other video sources, including Blu-ray players and security cameras.


TrueVisions is a cable and satellite television operator in Thailand. TrueVisions is owned by the True Corporation. Until February 2007, it was called the United Broadcasting Corporation (UBC) or UBC-True.


V (named vee ) is the 22nd letter in the modern English alphabet and the ISO basic Latin alphabet.

VBox Home TV Gateway

VBox Home TV gateway is a network TV tuner Live TV and PVR HDTV set-top-box, produced by VBox Communications Ltd.

The VBox Home TV Gateway is also known as:

V@Home TV Gateway PVR

V@Home TV Gateway

VHome TV Gateway

VBox TV Gateway


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