What is a Digital TV Descrambler?

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  • Written By: John Lister
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 12 November 2018
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A digital TV descrambler is a device, usually built into a set top box, that decodes encrypted channels and allows customers to watch subscription-based channels or pay-per-view events. Usually, the television service supplier will give subscribers a smartcard that allows the descrambler to work for the duration of their subscription. Some independent traders offer unofficial descramblers designed to allow viewers to watch subscription channels without paying, though this is both illegal and unreliable.

Descramblers can be used in both satellite and cable systems. In some countries, they are also used with digital terrestrial broadcasting: that is, digital channels broadcast over the air and received with a standard TV aerial. While some countries have all digital terrestrial broadcasts available without charge, other countries have systems where some premium channels are scrambled as with cable or satellite.

Consumers should not confuse a descrambler with a cable converter box. The latter device allows someone to watch the cable channel of his or her choice on a single channel on a TV. This can be done through a standard channel, such as the VHF channels on an American TV, or through the “auxiliary” or “external” channels assigned to RSA jacks or HD inputs. The confusion arises as most cable companies will build the descrambler directly into the converter box.


The name “digital TV descrambler” is also commonly used by people selling unofficial devices. These are billed as offering the chance to get access to scrambled channels, including those broadcasting pay-per-view events, without paying a subscription fee. Putting aside the fact that this is breaking the law, such offers are often not what they are cracked up to be. Digital channels are encrypted in a much more complicated manner today than in the analog TV era, lessening the chances that such devices will actually work. Even where a device does descramble channels when first used, there is absolutely no guarantee that it will continue to work permanently.

The legal situation over owning an unofficial descrambler has been a gray area. There is little, if any, dispute that possessing such a device is a criminal offense and that law authorities could prosecute owners. It is not clear whether TV service suppliers, such as cable firms, can take civil action over owners, however. A ruling in one case appeared to suggest that companies could only bring lawsuits where they had managed to obtain evidence that the owner had actually used the device.


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Post 5

I am from a country that is going from analog to digital. It's a third world country that has 70 percent of its TV watchers who can't afford dingy boxes or sign on with a provider. Local TV station owners are complaining.

I know a well known software company in Tanzania and am trying use this opportunity to find a way to provide legit service to TV stations and to the public. Anyone interested in this project who can configure a TV station so the viewers can receive signal by antenna? There is lots of potential.

Post 4

@KaBoom - I had a few friends back in college that used a digital descrambler to get free satellite TV and they truly didn't think what they were doing was wrong. They thought stealing cable was their way of "sticking it to the man" or something like that.

I'm not a fan of dishonesty but I can understand why some people do this. I guess they figure it's not really hurting anyone, but I still find it ethically objectionable.

Post 3

@Domido - It's amazing how many people steal digital cable who would never steal a physical item. I think some people think if they didn't walk into a store and take something they aren't stealing. I'm with you though, I would be shocked and appalled if I caught my parents stealing digital cable!

Post 2

Are digital television descramblers more cost effective than satellite or cable?

I’ve got to say that I am a stay at home mom and so we have some pretty tight finances most of the time. I just cannot bring myself to pay such outlandish prices to sit and watch television!

I would love to have the extra channels, but I am too frugal for it, I guess. Really, fifty or sixty (or more) bucks go a long way toward our grocery bill!

But, if I could find something that didn’t cost quite that much each month, it really would be nice to join everyone else in this century. Maybe then my sixteen year old nephew wouldn’t look at me and roll his eyes when he remembers that we don’t have cable tv.

Post 1

I was absolutely shocked to find out that my parents were using an illegal digital cable TV descrambler! These are people that made me take back the chewing gum I lifted when I was four (which cost two cents at the time).

Not only did I have to take it back to the store, I also had to apologize and promise to never take anything again. I then paid for the returned merchandise out of my own money and couldn’t even have it.

But these two were not finished yet. They then carted me off to the police station (we lived in a small town) and made me tell our Chief of Police what I had done, too

. Needless to say, I’ve never even stolen so much as a gum wrapper since then!

Hence my complete and utter shock at their behavior! I was simply amazed and flabbergasted that my saintly parents would do such a thing as steal cable!

It wasn’t long though, and these two criminals got what they deserved. Their television was struck by lightning. I had to laugh at this turn of events and knew precisely where it was headed!

My mother declared that that was what they got for stealing cable, and immediately threw out the contraband descrambler.

I was so relieved to see that thing go and see my parents go back to their usual, upstanding selves.

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