Why don’t DIRECTV Genie Clients have access cards?

You might have noticed that the Mini Genie boxes you use to watch DIRECTV don’t have slots for an access card. Your older receivers did. That’s the difference between a client and a receiver. They may look really similar to you, and they act exactly the same. That’s just how DIRECTV likes it. However, the Genie Mini Client is not a DIRECTV receiver. It’s a much simpler piece of equipment that’s designed to give you the full experience of having a DIRECTV DVR without the noise, size, or power consumption of a DVR in every room.

Here’s the difference

A receiver actually takes signals that come from the satellite dish and decodes them. That’s why a receiver is sometimes referred to as an “IRD” – the term means “integrated receiver and decoder.” It takes a fairly raw satellite signal (more on what “fairly raw” means in a minute) and turns it into a video signal you can watch on your TV.

On the other hand, a Genie Mini Client isn’t a receiver. It doesn’t receive or decode any signal other than what’s send to it by the DVR. The Genie DVR does all the hard work, receiving and decoding up to 5 signals at once. The decoded and processed signal is combined with graphics like menus and on-screen messages and sent in a much simpler form to the client. The client takes this information and once everyone’s satisfied that the information is secure, passes it along to the TV. It also responds to your button pushes. That’s really all the client does.

So what does “fairly raw” mean?

The signal as it comes into the satellite dish is broadcast at a very, very high frequency that isn’t really suitable for travel over a cable. So it’s amplified and “downconverted” meaning the entire signal is shifted to a frequency range that’s better for traveling over the cable. If you ever wondered what “LNB” meant, it means “Low Noise (amplifier and) Block-downconverter.”

If you use a SWM system, the actual content you want to watch is isolated at that point. The SWM multiswitch sends it over one of the SWM system’s dedicated channels. So you’re still getting basically the same signal that came down from the satellite, but just the stuff you actually need.

Getting back to discussing about access cards

You see, the access card is a really important part of the DIRECTV system because it provides a nearly unhackable way for DIRECTV to keep content secure. The card itself has a key tied to your DIRECTV account, so it’s only going to let you watch things you’ve agreed to pay for. In a Genie system, the one access card in the DVR does this job for the DVR and all of the clients, so there doesn’t need to be a separate card in each client. That’s one less thing to worry about, which keeps costs down as well as making everything simpler.

By the way, those access cards use a similar technology to “chip” based credit cards. This technology is much less hackable than the old magnetic stripe technology. The access cards are actually DIRECTV property so you can’t try to disassemble them or anything. In fact it’s better to forget that they’re there. Taking them out and putting them back in could damage the card or the reader mechanism. You don’t want to deal with all of that, right?

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About the Author

Stuart Sweet
Stuart Sweet is the editor-in-chief of The Solid Signal Blog and a "master plumber" at Signal Group, LLC. He is the author of over 8,000 articles and longform tutorials including many posted here. Reach him by clicking on "Contact the Editor" at the bottom of this page.