Word-A-Week: What Are Set-Top Boxes?

They say that nothing is as powerful as an idea whose time has come. In TV advertising and media research circles, that idea is the use of set-top box data.  STB data is being developed and standardized for use as a research tool and also as the foundation for advanced advertising.  But if an idea cannot be communicated, how can it be accepted and embraced?  

This is why the Coalition for Innovative Media Measurement (CIMM) developed a single-source Set-Top Box Data Lexicon, a reference guide that creates a common language of terms and definitions for participants in the set-top box data space. The lexicon is an important step in expanding the understanding and ultimate adoption of Set-Top Box data as an accepted industry measurement.  

To help in the rollout of a common language, MediaPost has offered CIMM the opportunity to highlight a set-top box term and definition every week.  

What better way to launch this column than to define the term Set-Top Box -- the very basis of Set-Top Box Data? But the definition is not as simple as it sounds. There are many different types of Set-Top Boxes, along with different terms for a range of similar versions of these boxes. Analog boxes only push a content signal out to the box, while Digital boxes offer two-way signals that both push out content and pull back usage information.  



Each type of box is also known by different terms. Analog boxes are also called Thin boxes and Broadcast Set-Top boxes, for example. Digital Set-Top Boxes are also called Thick boxes, Advanced boxes, Smart boxes and All-In-One. But we have to start somewhere -- and what better place to start than with the basic unit of the data source:  

Set-Top Box

See also: Advanced Digital Set-Top Boxes, Advanced Set-Top Box, All-In-One Set-Top Box, Analog Set-Top Box, Broadcast Set-Top Box, Converter Box, Digital Set-Top Box, Enhanced Set-Top Box, Integrated Set-Top Box, Media Center, Smart TV Set-Top Box, Thick Set-Top Box, Thin Set-Top Box, Video Access Device

CIMM DEFINITION: A device that can be an actual box attached to the television externally, or it can reside within the television. The Set-Top Box can be analog or digital, based on the quality, the signal and the technological capabilities of the box software. 


Analog Set-Top Box

See also: Broadcast Set-Top Box, Thin Boxes

CIMM DEFINITION: A Set-Top Box that only delivers data signals to the home and does not have the capability to receive data back from the home (no backchannel or return path), although this box might have some interface ports, memory and processing power.


Digital Set-Top Box

See also: Advanced Digital Set-Top Boxes, Advanced Set-Top Box, All-In-One Set-Top Box, Enhanced Set-Top Box, Integrated Set-Top Box, Media Center, Smart TV Set-Top Box, Thick Set-Top Box 

CIMM DEFINITION: Taking advantage of digital compression, the Digital Set-Top Box offers a higher quality signal, many more viewing choices and networks, a two-way communication (back channel) with the operator or headend, and often a range of other advanced capabilities (depending on the type of digital box) such as voting and polling, T-commerce, DVR and VOD, for example.  

Please refer to the CIMM Lexicon online at for secondary-sourced definitions of these terms.

3 comments about "Word-A-Week: What Are Set-Top Boxes?".
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  1. Jay Levin, January 13, 2011 at 9:02 p.m.

    Great article and column kick off. Agree completely, that a concept can't be fully understood until it can be stated simply. Bravo. Looking forward to next installment.

  2. Michael Glantz from Forrester Research, January 14, 2011 at 10:22 a.m.

    Great post Jane, people need to understand what STB can and cannot do and where TV advertising is ultimately headed.

  3. Douglas Ferguson from College of Charleston, April 14, 2011 at 11:07 a.m.

    I wish there was a different name than "set-top"! It made perfect sense when the box was set on top the TV set, but now the box is merely attached (a set-behind box, or a set-under box). Is there not a better term? The Brits call it a digibox, but that term is awkward. I've heard net-top box, but it's too cute. Maybe someone should have a contest?

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