I hope you’re not too attached to that TiVo, or your TV for that matter. The government has a plan to nudge consumers into the digital age; but we’re going to have to make a few sacrifices. The CableCard is an actual card-like device that will insert into your TV to provide digital cable. However, there are only a handful of televisions that currently support the new mechanism.

The government has a plan to help speed the arrival of digital TV and let you dump your cable box. It’s called CableCard, and it’s poised to come out from the wings, if not take center stage, in the cable TV market this year.

Momentum for the technology has been building almost imperceptibly since late 2003, when the Federal Communications Commission first ordered cable companies to support it. Now CableCard is gaining visibility, thanks to new devices promising to give consumers more control over their TVs while keeping everything simple enough for average folks to use.

If you’re shopping for a new TV or personal video recorder (PVR) this year, you should know something about CableCard. At this month’s Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, TiVo, Hewlett-Packard and others unveiled new products incorporating the technology. Most new digital television models including HDTVs now include CableCard hook-ups.

So what is CableCard? And why haven’t we heard much about it until now? The following CNET News.com FAQ explains the ins and outs, the pros and cons and the whys and wherefores.

CableCard is an interface for digital TV that lets you plug your cable line directly into your TV set without the need for a set-top box. It’s about the size of a thick credit card, and fits into a special slot built into digital TVs and a growing number of peripheral devices, such as a newly announced version of TiVo and HP’s media “hub.”

CableCard’s first function–and arguably its most important–is to prevent people from stealing cable TV. Like a set-top box, it stores subscriber information and codes for unlocking and viewing scrambled digital-cable signals.

CableCard is meant to replace set-top boxes. But it does not yet replicate all set-top box functions. Notably, you can’t yet use CableCard for services that require two-way interactivity, such as accessing your cable company’s interactive programming guide or purchasing pay-per-view programs. Also, equipment that was made before the CableCard specification was created won’t work with CableCard. That includes all current TiVo models.

More here.