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How to Watch Digital TV on Your Computer

Just about everyone watches television, and almost as many spend their time behind a computer. Adding a TV tuner card to your computer is one way to do both at the same time.

What Do You Need?

Depending on what you want to watch there are a couple of options available. You can get a tuner card that fits inside your computer using an expansion slot, or you can go for an external model that connects over USB. The advantage of a USB solution from a company like Hauppauge is that it's not permanently installed to any one computer, so you can switch from one machine to another as your needs change. Most cards offer you the choice of one of two different options.

  • TV Tuner: These cards support the ATSC standard and enable you to view live TV in real time. In addition to decoding hardware they also include a tuner to select channels.
  • Video Capture: These cards don't contain a tuner, so you'll want to use them for capturing video from a VCR or security camera instead. They work but they don't give you the ability to see what's on TV.

What Can You Watch?

A Hauppauge USB TV tuner can let you watch a number of different channels and TV programs, and you don't need a set top box. You do need to connect the tuner to an antenna to get signals over the air, Wi-Fi won't do in this case, but that can be easily achieved with some coaxial cable. There are two main sources of TV that you can use with your USB tuner.

  • QAM Digital: Many stations broadcast unencrypted digital TV over the air, and as long as your antenna can get the signal you should be able to pick them up with your TV tuner. The ATSC standard specifically enabled over-the-air digital transmissions.
  • Analog Video: While you can't watch standard digital cable directly, most of these cards do support all forms of analog cable and broadcast television so you can also use it for any analog source and then convert it to MPEG-2 digital video.

Other Features

Because the card has access to your computer's processing and storage capability you can leverage that to gain access to a number of other features. For example, you can use the computer as a DVR and pause the show you are watching while the tuner records it to a file. With the right additional software and hardware, you can even make your own DVD for later personal home viewing.