Looking to browse the internet and watch TV at the same time on your computer? You'll need a TV tuner card to accomplish this, hardware that converts the analog signals into digital signals...wait, isn't TV signal strictly digital anyway? Then what is the use of a TV tuner card? Quite useful, actually, if the option of watching TV on your computer appeals to you.
How It Works
In the days of analog signal, an analog TV tuner would take the signals, convert them to digital, and send them to your computer's processor. A digital TV tuner broadcasts digital TV, requires less bandwidth and supports high-definition television. A hybrid TV tuner is the best of them all: with a dedicated graphics processor that encodes the signal coming in to MPEG, it really helps keep your processor running efficiently.
These tuners can also receive FM radio signal, and the majority will record video as well. As for price, it's a “you-get-what-you-pay-for” scenario: the more efficient cards feature Fire Wire or USB 2.0, and are also pricey. They are worth it, however, with a multitude of built-in features similar to your DVR from your cable company. Some even have removable flash memory, which makes sharing your favorite shows with friends and family. This is great for teachers who love showing last night's episode of Nova. Some cards feature up to four tuners, allowing you to record multiple programs right to your hard drive.
How Is It Useful?
If you own or want to own a DVR, I'm sure you know just how expensive this add-on is on your cable bill. The cable company knows many busy people will pay an arm and a leg just for the convenience of recording favorite shows so as not to miss a moment. With a TV tuner card in your computer, you can kiss the DVR goodbye completely: your computer is now a DVR. Snag yourself a sizeable external drive, and conserve hard drive space if you know you will use this feature often.
What to Look For
Assess how you will use the TV tuner. Do you want to be able to record multiple shows at one time? Do you like the idea of FM radio capabilities? Figure out what you need, and choose accordingly. Don't forget to assure compatibility, not only with your computer but your operating system as well. Check for HD capabilities as well, as not all tuner cards will provide high definition quality images.
Coaxial cable has always ruled the TV world, and you'll find the same is true for the tuner card. However, the better cards offer other inputs/outputs as well, giving you options beyond the coax. If you aren't extremely computer literate, you might look for a card whose manufacturer offers support.
With a little research, anyone can find a TV tuner card to satisfy their TV watching needs. Just figure out what's important, and lose that DVR and all of its associated charges. If you enjoy services like Netflix but just can't ditch your basic cable in fear of missing your favorite new shows, and at the same time find yourself wishing you could record programs without spending a fortune in DVR costs to your cable provider, you should definitely check out the TV Tuner card.