Introduction to CableCARD Technology

A handy option for decluttering or wall-mounting your TV rig.

Woman watching large flat screen TV in modern living room
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A CableCARD allows you to watch premium or encrypted digital television channels without need for a set-top box. Provided by your cable service provider, CableCARDs plug directly into the back of your digital television. This is an advantage if you'd like to wall-mount or declutter the space around your TV, as it bypasses the need for cable boxes and additional wiring.

Advantages
  • No need for a cable set-top box.

  • Usually costs less than a set-top box.

Disadvantages
  • No video-on-demand or interactive TV services.

  • Features are inconsistent. Not all have parental controls.

All televisions equipped with a CableCARD slot have a built-in ATSC digital tuner, which means the TV is digital cable-ready. However, not all digital cable-ready televisions include a CableCARD slot. The sales information on the television will state if it has a CableCARD slot. If there is no sales information, look on the back or side of the television for the card slot.

CableCARDs are only available through cable service providers, some of whom charge a monthly fee for the use of the CableCARD. In most cases, the cable company requires a service call to configure the card to the television.

CableCARD technology is only available for cable subscribers. It is not available for DirecTV, DISH Network, or other satellite TV services.

Benefits of a CableCARD

A CableCARD provides many of the same functions as a traditional set-top box.

  • There's no need for a set-top box to watch cable TV: Just plug the coaxial cord directly into the TV and you have cable.
  • No cable box means less clutter and less wiring.
  • Depending on services and options, CableCARDs and associated costs tend to be cheaper than set-top boxes.

Limitations of a CableCARD

There are a few drawbacks worth considering:

  • CableCARDs don't offer access to video-on-demand functions, interactive program guides, sports packages, or interactive or enhanced TV services.
  • You often cannot use a remote control to order pay-per-view programming, such as movies, shows, and sports events.
  • Some CableCARDs don't allow for parental controls.

How to Trade in Set-Top Box for a CableCARD

Call your local cable provider if you decide that CableCARD technology is right for you. Ask about the availability and limitations of the CableCARD from your particular provider. As technology improves, the limits of CableCARD technology will shrink. Already, the CableCARD will work with TiVo and other video recorders in many areas.