This may all be moot soon. The cable industry is adopting Downloadable Conditional Access Security technology, in which authentication is performed by software on the set-top or even the TV. That could both eliminate an ugly box and make the TV a more integral part of your network.
In two years you'll see DCAS-enabled set-tops that can interact with other devices on your home network, says Dave Clark, director of product strategy and management for Cisco-owned set-top maker Scientific Atlanta. And via a coaxial home network, you'll be able to move HD content around your house and to portable devices, he says.
If you don't care about interactivity or cost, you can buy a better box than the cable company offers. But the safe bet is to wait--and watch.
This story, "New Choices Coming for Cable TV Users" was originally published by PCWorld.