Look thorough the specifications list of many of the current crop of HDTVs and you will see the term CableCard listed on many of them, but what is HDTV CableCard?
Quite simply, it's a very elegant method of receiving HDTV from a cable provider. Instead of supplying you with a set-top box to receive and decode its HDTV transmission, the cable supplier gives you an HDTV CableCard which simply slots into your TV. The card decodes the channels that your subscription allows your receiver or integrated HDTV does the rest.
The advantage is that an HDTV CableCard takes up much less room than a set-top box, doesn't need its own power supply, and reduces the number of cables you need for cable HDTV. Another advantage is that if you move house and have to switch providers, you don't need to learn how to use a brand new set-top box. You just relinquish your existing card and get a new one from your new provider, everything else stays the same.
Perhaps the biggest advantage of HDTV CableCard is in the picture quality. Cable companies are not known for the high quality of the components they put into set- top boxes. Most consumers can't tell the difference between a decent picture and a very good one. So cable companies tend to go for features rather than quality. With CableCard your equipment - the HDTV tuner or integrated HDTV does the scaling and display, so you choose how good the image quality is. If it matters to you, you can buy a good tuner or integrated TV and benefit from better scaling and display.
The disadvantage of HDTv CableCard is that it is currently one-way, so cable services which require interaction, such as pay-per-view, on-demand services, sports season tickets and program guides don't work. For those you'll still need a set-top box.
A two-way version of CableCard is currently in development.
Kenny Hemphill is the editor and publisher of The HDTV Tuner - a guide to the kit, the technology and the programming on HDTV.