Guidelines for buying a used Cable set top box in Canada

When an analog cable subscriber in Canada decides to move to digital cable, one of the first questions they ask us at Digital Home is “What equipment do they need to rent or buy to watch digital or high definition television.”

In addition to an high definition (HD) television, every digital cable subscriber in Canada needs at least one digital cable set top box in the home.

Although there are some cable set top boxes which can send a signal to multiple televisions, generally speaking digital cable subscribers need to buy one cable set top box for every television they want to watch digital cable channels on.

Consumers can choose to either rent or buy the necessary digital cable set top box (STB) or boxes from their local Canadian cable providers. Most cable providers will provide one free or deeply discounted standard definition (SD) set top box if you commit to a long term contract. Digital Home owners wanting more than one digital cable set top box, or a high definition (HD) set top box will have to rent or buy the set top boxes.

Cost of Buying New

Prices vary by cable provider but you can expect to pay about $100 for a standard definition set top box, $200 to $300 for a high definition cable box and between $400 and $700 for an HD PVR.

Motorola HD PVR used by many cable systems in Canada

If you have multiple high definition televisions in your home, the cost to outfit them with cable set top boxes can become a very expensive proposition! For this reason, many visitors to the Digital Home website inquire about whether they can buy a used cable set top box from eBay or Craigslist and use it with their existing cable provider.

The answer to that question is not simple. In some instances it may be possible but in most cases it is not.

Buy / Sell Example

For example, suppose you are a Rogers Cable customers who wishes to buy a used HD PVR. Rogers uses Scientific Atlanta equipment and currently sells two models of HD PVR, the SA 8300 HD and the Cisco 8642 HD PVR. Cisco purchased Scientific Atlanta a few years ago so for the purpose of this article we will refer to both set top boxes as Cisco boxes.

Scientific Atlanta Explorer 8300HD used by Rogers, Videotron and many U.S. Cable Companies

If you were to buy a Cisco 8300 or 8642 HD PVR on eBay or Craigslist, it is unlikely that you will be able to activate it with Rogers.

Rogers would likely only activate the receiver if the device has been previously used on the Rogers cable system and the seller of the device was not in arrears with Rogers. If the used set top box was previously used on another cable system such as Videotron or a U.S. cable systems then Rogers would not activate the device. In addition, if the seller of the device has not paid his last Rogers bill then Rogers would not allow the device to be activated until the previous owner has paid all of his or her bills.

Cable providers policy regarding used receivers

The policy of not activating set top boxes from another cable company is not unique to Rogers. Most major Canadian cable companies such as Cogeco, Eastlink, Shaw Cable, and Videotron will not authorize used receivers unless they have been previously registered on their system.

The primary reason is that many cable boxes sold in the classifieds are stolen. In the United States, many U.S. cable systems only rent digital cable boxes therefore many of the boxes being sold on classified websites have been stolen from home owners. By refusing to activate unknown receivers, cable companies have dramatically reduced the criminal proceeds from stolen receivers.

The second reason cable companies don’t want to activate unknown receivers is they don’t want to inherit problematic receivers. Faulty receivers are a costly problem for cable and satellite companies. Often people sell a used receiver because it’s not working properly. For this reason, most cable providers want you to buy a new receiver or at the very least, a used receiver for which they have history.

Guidelines for Buying a Used Cable Set top box

Buying a used cable set top box can save you a lot of money. If you are buying a used set top box there are two things you should do before handing over your money.

First, confirm with the seller that the set top box works on the same cable system that you will be using it on. Ideally, ask to see the unit in operation. If it’s a PVR, ask to see a program recorded and played back.

Second, get the Serial number and the name of the seller. Contact your cable company and inform them that you will be buying a used set top box. Provide the cable company with the serial number and the name of the seller. They will then let you know whether they will activate the set top box or not. If the seller refuses to provide you with the serial number and their name, then the set top box is probably rented or stolen.

For more information about buying a used cable set top box, check out Digital Home’s Canadian cable forums in the Digital Forum.


9 Responses to “Guidelines for buying a used Cable set top box in Canada”
  1. Matthew Ewanchuk says:

    Cogeco (Ont) will allow you to use an outside STB so long as it is supported on their network. Cogeco (Que) will only allow you to use a unit already authorized in their system.
    Eastlink will allow you to use an outside STB so long as it is supported on their network. Eastlink does share common databases with several other major US providers, and will not activate a unit if it appears in one of those databases.

  2. Danno says:

    The fact that Canada does not mandate (which means cableco’s will not support) a more open system (like cablecard) is a scam. When will the CRTC wake up and mandate cableco’s to give us a choice like they have in the US. One cable box per TV is such an inconvenience and old-fashioned. I yearn for the day when I pick up my remote control for the TV and use it without any other remote. OTA is looking better and better all the time. The other option is Internet TV and skip cable signals altogether.

  3. Ryan says:

    The real question is why do you need a set top box. My TV has a digital and HD tuner in it. Requiring a extra box is silly and wasteful. I continue to refuse to get cable service as long as I need a set top tuner. I’ll watch my TV via alternative ways.

    • Travis says:

      Cable companies do not want to allow you to use your ATSC tuner because digital boxes are a way to combat theft, increase VOD/PPV/subscription revenues, and control what channels you can watch without having to do a truck roll to your house to add/remove traps to your line when you change your subscription. The more paranoid will rant about the sales/rentals being a huge profit centre for the cablecos, but they aren’t. Typically they are sold at a loss, and the rentals are a long payback at best, and a repair/maintenance nightmare at worst.

    • BingoRingo says:

      It’s actually a very simple but technical question. The HD tuner in your TV is for ATSC signal, the HD signal that is freely available over the air, like CBC and Radio-Canada, or like all TV channels in the USA.

      The signal that is sent to your satellite dish or cable box is encrypted so that you cannot steal the signal, and I’m sure for other reasons as well. Each company will use its own encryption, of course, so you need a key to decrypt the signal and transform it into an image your TV can display. If all the companies were using the same key and same technology to encrypt, then it could be easily added to every TV, DVD-R, PVR, etc. but it’s of course not the case, so we’re stuck with a cable box until the CRTC forces the cable companies to offer cable cards, that would go in a compatible TV and be used as the decrypting tool.

  4. Rich says:

    Forgot the third reason cable companies will not support 3rd party top set boxes. They enjoy getting the high rental fees without any competition. Like the phone companies did renting their phones prior to 1983.

  5. scotta says:

    In addition to an high definition (HD) television,[…]

    Your television doesn’t have to be HD capable. Even an SD TV will work with a STB or PVR. You could also use a PC with an SD or HD tuner or capture card installed.

  6. Mike says:

    Some people (Travis) seem to think that cable companies loose money when supplying digital boxes to receive their signal. I for one do not believe that companies that declare surpluses of bilions of dollars every year are loosing any money what so ever. It would be high time that the CRTC start giving the consumer a break and force these companies to adapt a certain format and stick with it.

  7. Yak says:

    I refuse to purchase a box to enable me to pay for a monthly subscription to watch TV. I won’t pay for a Costco membership either for the same reasons. When the boxes are free I’ll get one. I don’t have a problem paying extra for a PVR but not until they are the price of a VCR, which is about $60. Let’s face it, it’s a tuner with a hard drive and a decryption chip. $700? Not in this lifetime.

    I’m down to basic cable now anyway, just for the local news. I used to be an avid TV watcher but I’ve lost all interest. I download what I want to see from the internet – which isn’t much.