Introduction to CableCARD Technology

A handy option for wall-mounted flat-panel TVs

Woman watching large flat screen TV in modern living room
Astro-O / Getty Images

The purpose of a CableCARD is to eliminate clutter around the TV — mainly the set-top box and cables coming to and from it. The CableCARD makes it possible to watch cable TV programming without the aid of an external set-top box. This is a tremendous advantage for owners of wall-mounted, flat panel televisions.

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 slot. It resembles the slot on an ATM for a credit card.

The actual card looks like a thick, metallic credit card. They are not sold over the counter and are only available through cable service providers that are equipped with the technology. Service providers may or may not 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 service subscribers.

Benefits of a CableCARD

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

  • The overall cost of programming usually costs less than with a set-top box
  • You no longer need a set-top box to watch TV
  • Television has a built-in tuner, which is an indirect benefit (in the absence of cable, the TV can receive over-the-air signals)
  • Delivers high-quality sound and a clear picture
  • Can access premium channels such as HBO and Showtime

Limitations of a CableCARD

  • No access to video-on-demand functions, interactive program guide, sports packages or interactive or enhanced TV services
  • Prevents users from ordering pay-per-view programming, such as movies, wrestling, and boxing through remote control
  • Might prevent the use of parental controls (differs by provider)

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.