Back in the 1950s, a person in need of an Uncle Miltie or “I Love Lucy” fix didn’t need much equipment to get it. During that early era, the transmission of all televised shows was done through analog broadcasting, and a TV set with rabbit ears or roof-top antenna could usually pick up the signal. North American viewers in those days received a maximum of 13 channels, and they were glad to get them.
The rise of digital technology changed all that, and 2009’s government-mandated switch from analog to digital forced U.S. consumers to make a decision: purchase a converter box or switch to a paid provider.
Many chose to go with cable. Today, most of these subscribers receive their digital cable transmissions through a set-top box that they lease from their cable provider. Others, however, choose an alternative: They purchase a cable-ready television set.
What is Digital Cable Ready TV?
Sometimes referred to as a “plug-and-play” set, any television that carries the cable-ready designation comes equipped with a built-in digital tuner. This gives it the capability of receiving cable television without the addition of a set-top box.
However, the key word here is “capability.” No cable-ready TV set can do the job alone. While all can receive a cable signal, none possesses the ability to decrypt it. That requires the assistance of a CableCARD, and to get one and have it activated, the owner of a cable-ready TV will have to set up an account with his local cable provider.
Who Installs the CableCARD?
In the beginning, the cable industry insisted that CableCARDs be installed out in the field by their own technicians. Since the government mandate of November 1, 2011, however, all consumers have had the option of installing these cards themselves. Some providers make this easy by offering a self-install kit that includes not only the card itself but also instructions for its installation.
Differences Between the CableCARD and Standard Set-Top Box
With its CableCARD in place, any digital cable ready TV will be able to receive and decrypt digital cable signals. However, due to an agreement between the industry and TV manufacturers, the functionality will be strictly one-directional. In contrast to the ability of a standard set-top box, CableCARDs will not send signals back to the provider, and card users will be unable to request access to such extras as pay-per-view and video-on-demand.
In other ways, CableCARDs do behave in a similar fashion to set-top boxes. Each is especially configured to the set on which it is installed. Neither will port from one TV to another. The purchase of a new TV will call for a fresh configuration, and the same is true of a TV whose owner moves it out of the provider’s coverage area.
It’s important to realize that the CableCARD technology is available only for cable subscribers. It is not valid for customers of any satellite service.
What’s Good About Digital Cable Ready TV
A cable-ready television is simple to install and coordinate with any external accessories. Its consistent user interface makes it easy to operate, and many consumers appreciate being cut loose from the set-top box.
In addition, the use of a digital cable ready TV relieves its owner from having to contend with a separate remote. The one that came with his set will already work.
Leasing costs are also attractive. In most parts of the country, the typical charge for a CableCARD ranges between $2 and $4 a month.
Since a cable-ready TV can’t do much without the assistance of a CableCARD, the cable-ready designation does not relieve the consumer of the need to deal with a cable company.
Furthermore, those who wish the ability to access such features as parental controls and on-demand video access might have a problem with the CableCARD’s current inability to provide two-way communication.
Adding Digital Functionality to a Current TV
Some people who would otherwise appreciate the functionality of a digital cable ready TV may be happy with their current set and disinclined to purchase a new one. For cases like these, many retailers now offer CableCARD-ready set-top boxes.
Before purchasing one, however, the consumer must verify that the device will actually behave as intended. Authentic equipment will carry a label stating that the device is either digital cable- or CableCARD-ready. These designations indicate that the equipment has been tested and verified to comply with technical standards, but a potential purchaser should check with a store employee to be sure.
The Bottom Line
Since a digital cable ready TV will most likely cost more up front, is its purchase really worth it? If the buyer values two-way communication, maybe not. However, for many consumers, freedom from the clutter of a set-top box and its associated cables will combine with the convenience of a single remote and potential savings on the cable bill to make that capability seem somewhat less important.