A TV tuner for the PC allows you to watch and record television on your TV, with the ability to watch the video in full screen or to place it in a smaller window while working on something else. There are two basic types of TV tuners: internal PCI cards and external USB boxes. Both options allow you to hook up coaxial, S-Video, HDMI and/or composite cables. While the video quality can vary slightly, most reviewers claim that the differences are small enough not to affect the decision of which option is the better buy.
PCI Versus USB
For customers who are looking for the option that produces the least clutter, the PCI card is the obvious choice. Since it is internal, it minimizes the amount of space taken up. Generally speaking, they also tend to be cheaper than the USB boxes. Internal TV tuners also tend to have faster performance.
Alternatively, the USB boxes are a good choice for laptops, or for desktops without any remaining PCI slots. While some of the boxes taken up quite a bit of space, they are getting smaller, and some of the options already available are about the size of a deck of cards.
One advantage of the USB box is that it is simpler to set up, since you won’t have to access the innards of your computer. Both PCI and USB TV tuners are fairly easy to get up and running after they are plugged in or installed. After hooking them up, a few clicks in a few option windows is all it takes to start watching TV on the computer. The software will need to scan the computer to see which inputs are available. From there, you can install a PVR software—oftentimes, the TV tuner comes prepackaged with a personal video recorder application that lets you record and organize TV shows.
Pausing, Rewinding, and Recording
Both types of TV tuners allow recordings that are similar to TiVo, offering the chance to pause live television, record, rewind, and fast forward. Some of the software handles this better than others. While some don't seem to cause any problems, others cause the video quality to be reduced. Most systems have no trouble simply recording, however. The recording process is similar to TiVo, and operates through a website that provides TV listings.
Most of the TV tuners provide the ability to record a show in either a DVD or CD format, making it simple to burn the videos to a disk. This feature also makes it possible to transfer video from VCRs or older camcorders that don't record digitally.
The majority of TV tuners can also be purchased with a remote control. For those with a TV that can be hooked up to the computer, this is especially useful. A sensor has to be installed for this to work, so it is important to ensure that the sensor is located in a place where it is in line of sight with the remote. A better option is a remote that uses a radio frequency. This works without needing to be line of site with the remote.
Finally, with HDTV on the rise, it may be worth it to consider an HDTV tuner with HDMI outputs. These are less likely to work well with slower computers, and defeat the purpose if the computer does not have a high enough resolution, but for those with the right technology it is worth the investment.