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.