NICE AND EASY: What is an “STB?”

The other day, one of my coworkers asked me what an “STB” is. I was actually a little surprised until I realized that the term hasn’t really been used much in the last couple of years. Let me explain a little more about this:

An “STB” is a satellite receiver. Actually it’s any box that connects to your television, but it’s generally used to describe a satellite or cable box. Simple as that.

The term stands for “set-top box” and goes back 30 years to the days when cable TV first started requiring separate tuners. The first cablesystems were really simple and just used your TV’s off-air tuner. Then, they started using clear QAM for their signals, but most TV’s of the day weren’t cable-ready. So they needed some sort of adapter to make it all work. That was referred to as a “set-top box” because, well, people put it on top of the television set. (Yes, we called them television sets back then and sometimes I still do. Shoot me.)

Remember that at the time, televisions looked like this:

and they had plenty of space on the top to put stuff. Today the most you could probably put on top of a TV is a pencil.

The term “STB” was used by the industry for so long that it actually stopped even having a real meaning. After all, people started mounting their boxes on the back of the TV (prompting some people to start calling them “set-back boxes,” which never caught on) or putting them in entertainment centers.

Today, technically you could call a streaming box an STB, but I bet no one does. Really the only time I see the term still used is on diagrams where they are trying to save space. Using “STB” is a lot smaller than using “satellite receiver” and the two things mean the same.

It makes me wonder what other little obsolete phrases and abbreviations I still use that no one else uses. I’m sure my much younger coworkers will tell me.

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 9,000 articles and longform tutorials including many posted here. Reach him by clicking on "Contact the Editor" at the bottom of this page.