Are Smart TVs Cable-Ready? (Explained)

By Robert Anderson •  6 min read •  Televisions

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  • Smart TVs are not ‘cable-ready’ and require an external set-top box to receive cable TV.
  • Cable TV companies often provide apps that allow you watch their channels on a Smart TV without the need for an external box.
  • Cable TV boxes connect with most, if not all, Smart TVs using a HDMI cable.

If you’re new to the world of Smart TVs you may be wondering if they’re ‘cable-ready’ or if you still need an external cable box.

Here’s the answer:

Smart TVs are not cable-ready and you still require an external cable box to watch cable TV.  However, Smart TVs can work without a cable subscription and many cable TV companies have Smart TV apps that allow you to stream their channels over the Internet.

In the remainder of this article I hope to answer any remaining questions you might have around cable and Smart TVs.

Let’s get to it.

What does cable-ready mean?

A TV is ‘cable-ready’ if it doesn’t require an external set-top box to be connected in order to receive cable TV.

Back in the day when TVs were limited to just four channels (a long time ago, I know), set-top boxes weren’t required.

But then when more than four channels came along, you needed to connect an analog cable box to the TV to receive those extra channels.

Technology then moved on and those analog cable boxes were built into analog TVs themselves and that’s how the term ‘cable-ready’ came about.

Although you still hear the term ‘cable-ready’ today, it is no longer applicable to Smart TVs as you will find out in the next section.

Why digital cable boxes are still required

Since the mid-2000s, when digital TV came along, external cable boxes made a comeback.

Cable companies saw digital TV as an opportunity to combat piracy which was a big issue in the days of analog cable TV. 

External cable boxes were therefore re-introduced in an attempt to combat piracy.  

This was achieved by having the cable box decrypt the digital cable signal, which would otherwise be scrambled gibberish.

Cable boxes are still required today for the same reason.

Also, despite many cable companies offering the ability to stream many of their channels online, certain networks still require a cable subscription in order to watch them.

The bottom line is, if you want to watch full-fat, digital cable TV, you need to rent an external cable box from a cable TV provider.

Are there any Smart TVs that are cable-ready?

No, in order to get digital cable TV, an external set-top box is required, even for modern Smart TVs.

The decoding of cable TV signals has been kept in the domain of cable companies that want to protect their content from privacy.  

Plus the monthly fee they receive from renting out their boxes continues to be a lucrative source of revenue for them.

Can you use cable on a Smart TV?

Yes, cable TV can still be used with modern Smart TVs.

How do you connect a cable box to a Smart TV?

To connect a cable box to a Smart TV, follow these steps:

  1. Connect one end of a coaxial cable to the cable inlet on your wall and connect the other end to the ‘cable-in’ connector on your cable box.  Take care to ensure that the copper conductor in the center of the coax cable goes inside the hole of the ‘cable-in’ connector on the set-top box.
  2. Connect the power supply that came with the cable box.
  3. If your Smart TV has HDMI ports on the back (all modern Smart TVs do), then you can simply connect your cable box to the Smart TV using a HDMI cable.

    Some TVs automatically detect that you have connected a cable box and automatically switch to the source.

If your TV doesn’t do this, then you will need to select the correct HDMI input source on your remote.

If your TV does not have HDMI ports or if they’re in use by other devices, then you’ll need to connect the set-top box to the TV via another coaxial cable.

To do this, connect one end of a coaxial cable to the ‘RF OUT’ or ‘Cable Out’ on the cable box and connect the other end to the cable/antenna threaded connector on the back of the TV.

If there’s more than one threaded connector on your TV, connect it to the one that is labeled ‘cable’.

Please note that if you wish to view 4K content on your Smart TV through the cable box, you’re going to need to connect the cable box via HDMI.

Will any cable TV box work with a Smart TV?

Any cable box that has a HDMI port or RF-Out on the back of it will work with a Smart TV.

Can you get cable TV on a Smart TV using WiFi?

To get full cable TV on a Smart TV, you still need a cable box from your cable TV provider.

That being said, many cable companies now allow you to stream their channels over the Internet through a Smart TV app.

Do you need cable TV to watch a Smart TV?

No, cable TV is not required to watch Smart TV.  Smart TVs allow you to stream movies and TV shows over the Internet instead of having to have a cable TV subscription.

You can also connect a Smart TV to an antenna to watch local, over-the-air channels, again, without having to have a cable TV subscription.

Bear in mind though that although many Smart TV streaming services are free, others like Netflix for example require a monthly subscription.  

This may cost just as much as your cable TV subscription.

Does a smart TV need a coaxial cable?

Smart TVs don’t need a coaxial cable if you only plan to stream content over the Internet.

You would only need to use a coaxial cable with a Smart TV if you want to watch local over-the-air channels.

You can also use a coaxial cable to connect a cable TV box to a Smart TV.  Although, preferably, you should connect the two using a HDMI cable.

Do you need an antenna with a Smart TV?

You only need to connect an antenna to a Smart TV if you want to watch over-the-air local channels.


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Robert Anderson

Robert Anderson

Robert Anderson, the founder of Tech Parasol, had a keen interest in tech from a very young age. He studied Electronic Engineering at University and then went on to become a Software Developer. He launched Tech Parasol in 2021 to share his knowledge with the aim of making tech easier to understand for everyone.