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Set-top box

This term describes a specialised computer which translates incoming digital signals into a form suitable for viewing on a standard television set. The source of the signals could be a digital satellite or terrestrial broadcast, a cable television channel or a video-on-demand programme sent down a telephone line. Other projected uses for the set-top box include control of interactive viewing, for example with a home-shopping channel or WebTV; it may also decrypt signals on subscription or pay-per-view channels. The term is an obvious compound, helped towards acceptance by its form and rhythm, even though, as one commentator remarked, it is normally found under the set rather than on top of it. The set-top box is posing a particular problem in Britain, where Rupert Murdoch’s BSkyB will start digital broadcasting from satellite shortly before the terrestrial channels introduce their own digital service using a different encoding system. This would require viewers to buy two boxes, something that everyone in the business agrees is unlikely. So the first to go live may scoop the pool unless some muscular regulator forces everyone to use the same system.

Page created 23 Nov. 1996

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World Wide Words is copyright © Michael Quinion, 1996–2014. All rights reserved.
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Last modified: 23 November 1996.