Why Are Broadcast Set Top Boxes So Primitive?


So simple, so…functional.

While redesigning the new controls for my media room I encountered a technical nuisance that I felt deserved its own sidebar, separate from the larger article I’ve been working on about my new control system.

Drunk with the power that comes from the potential realized by an IP-enabled control system that works over my home’s network my gaze turned to my cable box.

Which, despite having an Ethernet port on the back, is not IP-enabled.

“Fine,” I thought. My HD-PVR from my cable provider is an older model. I’ll look up the specs on their newer unit, and upgrade if I have to.

Well, the new HD-PVR from Shaw also has an Ethernet port, but digging deeper, it’s not enabled either.


“Oh we’ll give you a Network port, it’s just not going to work.” – Marketing Genius

“Is this normal?” I asked Keith Pribyl, Vice President of Sales for automation vendor Simple Control.

He assured me that this was the case. That while streaming set top boxes like Apple, Amazon, Roku, and so on are fully IP-enabled for control, the vast majority of broadcast boxes for cable and satellite aren’t.

The Ethernet port is there, for *cough* future functionality, but it’s inert.

If you have time and want to google, there are some amusing blog posts by techies who’ve tried to hack the Network port on their cable boxes, with varying degrees of failure, but that’s not important right now.

Just to twist the knife, the 3.5mm mono-jack for IR control on the back of my cable box is inert too.

At this point, in the last half of the second decade of the 21st Century I feel like gluing IR emitters to the front panel of electronics is about as cutting edge as using stone circles to tell time.

Much is made in the tech media about cord-cutting, and how many subscribers each quarter are jumping ship from the big broadcasters.

I have to wonder what proportion of those cord-cutters abandon broadcast, not just because of the costs, but because of the lack of functionality?

If broadcasters want to create “functionality” to better serve their subscribers there’s no time like the present!