What is an STB?

The question above seems a simple question with a simple answer but in more recent times it has become somewhat harder to really answer due to the growth in the way that video is consumed by viewers. Even the phrase ‘STB’ is somewhat anachronistic, being the acronym for Set Top Box because when was the last time you saw one of these beasts being placed on top of a TV?

What does it actually do? Well in technospeak it is a device that is connected to a TV to enable the consumer to receive, decode and display video. Of course, the STB does a few other things now, just as in the pictured Sky+ box, by providing the features to provide a graphically rich user experience and the ability to access on demand / recorded content available locally or in the cloud.

For most consumers it is the enabler to consuming free and Pay TV services.

Going back to the technospeak, let’s break out what it does:

  • Receives video
  • Decodes video
  • Displays video
  • Provides the User Experience
  • Stores and accesses video on demand

In reality today, many devices actually match this functional list and are used by consumers to enjoy their video experience, so much so that anachronistic label ‘STB’ can and should be applied to them as well… or an alternative label be used that matches the whole class of devices that provide the consumer video experience today.

The devices that now also can be referred to as STBs are:

  • Roku Stick / Roku Box / Android TV / Apple TV / Amazon Fire Box / Amazon Fire Stick
  • iPhone / Android Smartphone
  • iPad / Android Tablet / Windows Tablet
  • PC / Mac / Chromebook
  • Xbox One / PS4 / Xbox 360 / Steambox

A little controversial perhaps, but in our mind all of these devices are ‘STBs’, despite not looking the same as that hulking great big STB at the top of the page. They match the functionality for a consumer that an STB provides:

  • Receive video – they receive video via their WiFi/Internet connections
  • Decode video – they process/decrypt the digital data to extract video
  • Display video – they take the video and output it to a display either connected via a wired, wireless or a built in display
  • User Experience – they provide a UI / Guide that provides full navigation to the video and to provide a great way of interacting with the video from the one or more platform providers that are connected to these devices
  • Store and access video on demand – they provide access to content that has been pre-downloaded to the device or via the number of Catchup services, provide access to content from recently broadcast linear services as well as premium on demand content either via subscription or via transaction purchases

Just because you can carry the device in your pocket, have it on your desk or even hang it on your wall, it does not mean that it is any less an STB… although the name is definitely hard to apply, just like it really is hard to apply to the Sky+ box as it does not sit on top of the TV any more.

There is a case to use a different name and we do refer to Consumer Device but you cannot get away from the STB reference as for all intents and purposes all of these devices are STBs in what they do – provide the consumer with access to video when they want it, how they want, and where they want it.

Fairmile West is a Consulting company focused on working in the Consumer Device and Video arena. We work with clients on technology strategy and product delivery through key practices in Consumer Devices and Video Services. If you are interested in learning more about what we do, please do get in touch via our website – Contact us. You can also keep track with what interests us in the industry by following our Link blog at TV Tech News, and you can specifically follow news on Ultra HD via the following link – Ultra HD News.