Why Buy a TV Tuner Card?
Everyday many people ask themselves "How do I watch TV on my computer?" When you hook up your cable or antenna to a television, all you're essentially doing is connecting a signal to a monitor. All televisions are equipped with tuners that allow the monitor to decode the signal coming through the cable into comprehensible images and sound. A TV tuner card allow your computer to do the same thing. Such a card also allows you to record these signals digitally on your system. It performs much like a DVR device that records programs from your television.
Generally, these cards are not standard in PCs you buy off the shelf at your local electronics store. Therefore, you have to buy a TV tuner card from a third party and either install it yourself or have a computer-minded friend or hired IT professional to install it for you. Truth be told, there really isn't a reason you shouldn't be able to do it yourself; if you can construct a structure out of Lego's or Construx, you can install a TV tuner card into your computer's PCI slot.
We rated and ranked all the best TV tuner cards on the market today. When our review of the best TV tuner cards ended, the Hauppauge WinTV HVR-2250, the Videomate T100 and the Diamond ATI TV Wonder HD each claimed one of the top spots on our best TV tuner card comparisons and reviews. In addition, we have created informative articles on TV tuner cards that instruct you on how to install third-party and aftermarket cards, as well as on how to cut your home entertainment budget using this technology.
Using a TV tuner card to route television signals to your computer offers several benefits you just cannot realize on a normal television or monitor. Chief among them is the ability to record television signals directly to your hard drive. This feature alone allows you to negate the cost of maintaining a DVR device controlled by your cable company. You are only limited by the size of your hard drive and the technical knowledge needed to utilize this technology fully. The best TV tuner for PC features an antenna splitter so you may be able to cancel your cable TV altogether.
TV Tuner Cards: What to Look For
When choosing which TV tuner card is right for you, consider what you want to accomplish by installing this component on your computer's motherboard. You should also ask yourself the following questions: Is the computer you currently own capable of supporting the tuner? Do you have the knowledge and skill to install it yourself? Are you planning to use the TV tuner as a replacement for cable, satellite or other television services? Each TV tuner card on our lineup has different features and capabilities; we rated and ranked each TV tuner card in the following categories.
The best TV tuner cards allow you to not only capture television signals, but also AM/FM radio and other over-the-air signals.
Most computers don't have the latest and greatest operating system available. This is especially true in the Microsoft Windows universe. The best TV tuner cards not only work with the latest iteration of Windows, but also with past versions that still reside on a majority of computers currently in use.
High definition is the new standard for media in all forms. Unfortunately, a lot of technology has not caught up to this rich resolution. The best TV tuner cards pipe HD signals into your computer system in all their deep, colorful glory.
Since time immemorial, coaxial cable has carried TV signals to television and monitors. A TV tuner card are no different. The best TV tuner cards not only connect via coaxial but also have more inputs and outputs that give the card more usability.
Help & Support
Even though a TV tuner card is easy to use and install, you can run into trouble occasionally. The best TV tuner cards are supported by their manufacturers with a warranty, and those companies provide technical support when necessary.
At the end of the day, a TV tuner card performs a simple yet powerful task. It routes television signals through your computer, allowing you to watch, record and store television shows and programs.
If you decide that watching, recording and storing TV shows on your computer is what you want, you need to purchase a TV tuner card. The Hauppauge WinTV HVR-2250 is hands down the best TV tuner card we reviewed. It does everything you expect a TV tuner card to do and much more.
When you install the Hauppauge WinTV HVR-2250 onto your computer's motherboard, you're essentially turning your computer monitor into a fully fledged television, but with much more usability than your average standalone TV.
This TV tuner card contains a dual tuner. This means that you have the ability to tune in two separate channels simultaneously to your computer. This is useful because it allows you to not only watch whatever channel you want on your computer, but also to record a separate channel at the same time. Granted, people have been able to perform this task since the early days of VCRs. However, doing it directly on your computer offers several advantages. Chief among them is that the recorded programs are stored directly on your hard drive. This means that the recorded shows are yours and yours alone; they are not stored by the cable company and are not therefore subject to the limits and terms of whatever cable company to which you subscribe.
This TV tuner card also has a built-in antenna splitter. This feature allows you to ditch the cable company all together. With so many HD signals floating through the air for free, this feature makes a lot of sense. If you don't utilize some of the premium channels offered by cable companies, you ought to kick cable to the curb and attach an antenna directly to your computer. When you've done this, you have the ability to capture over-the-air broadcast channels to watch and record the best shows broadcast by networks like CBS, NBC, ABC, FOX and more. In all honesty, those channels are where most of the quality content lives.
The Hauppauge WinTV HVR-2250 integrates seamlessly with Windows Media Center. This means that apart from the CD and drivers that come in the package, you don't need any special software to use this TV tuner card. Additionally, this TV tuner card comes with an infrared remote control, so you can use it just like you would a normal television or monitor.
This TV tuner card is easy to install. If you possess even a passing knowledge of computer construction, it should be a piece of cake to open up your computer and install the Hauppauge WinTV HVR-2250 into an open PCI slot. If you don't know what that means, or if you are not confident you will install it correctly, one of your computer-minded friends should be able to hook up your card for you. Absent that, just take your computer and card into your local computer supply store and they will certainly be able to install it for you in no time.
This TV tuner card is compatible with every iteration of the Windows operating system in wide use today. Compatible operating systems include the latest and greatest Windows 7 back through Vista and even legacy operating systems such as Windows XP. The only caveat is that you must have the Windows Media Center installed on your machine. That is not too much of a chore, since most computers come with this feature preinstalled.
There are a few other requirements worth mentioning. The computer you install this TV tuner card on must have a 2.2 GHz processor or faster. Additionally, if you want to experience the deep, rich, high-definition images of today's broadcast television, you need to have a monitor that supports HD video. HD monitors are not as expensive as they used to be and are a far cry cheaper than HDTVs that only perform one function.
You also must have a PCI slot available to install the TV tuner card. You'll need to have a sound card installed and a graphics card with at least 64MB of memory. Lastly, your computer must have a CD-ROM drive so you can install the software that comes with in the package of the Hauppauge WinTV HVR-2250. However, none of those things should be a problem if you've bought a desktop computer built since 2005.
The Hauppauge WinTV HVR-2250 has the best picture quality of any TV tuner card we reviewed. Every resolution and aspect ratio all the way up to the 1080i format are supported and displayed in their full HD glory.
You don't have to worry about a degraded picture to fit a smaller monitor that some computers support. If your computer has only a standard-definition monitor, this TV tuner card will adapt the aspect ratio and resolution of the HD picture to fit your monitor with no visual artifacts or distortion.
The connection array on the Hauppauge WinTV HVR-2250 is the most extensive on any TV tuner card we reviewed. It has the obligatory female coaxial port so you can connect your cable or antenna signal. It also possesses an FM radio connector so you can pipe your favorite radio stations through your computer to record and store all your favorite music and radio shows.
Additionally, this TV tuner card has an S-Video input as well as an auxiliary AV connector built right into the chip. Therefore, you have the ability to connect almost any device that sends or receives audio and video signals. Also found on the connectivity array is the remote-control connector, which enables the included infrared remote control to perform its intended function.
The breadth and scope of support that Hauppauge offers for the WinTV HVR-2250 pleasantly surprised us. On Hauppauge's website, you'll find everything you need to not only purchase the TV tuner card, but you'll also find comprehensive installation guides and user manuals that can answer every question you might have about this TV tuner card.
Furthermore, Hauppauge offers a tech support line. However, if you live outside the 631 area code, which you most likely do, it's a long-distance call. We would like to see the company acquire a toll-free number for customers looking for help.
Additionally, you have the option to cruise through the company's support section located in its website. Simply click Support and find the WinTV HVR-2550 section and you'll be presented with a wealth of information relating to the product, its installation, maintenance and much more.
Lastly, you have the option to fill out a Technical Support Contact Form. This feature allows you to email Hauppauge directly. It's a simple form and shouldn't be too much of a problem if you are clear and concise about the problem you're dealing with. The Hauppauge support group will get back with you in a timely manner.
In the final analysis, we recommend the Hauppauge WinTV HVR-2550 because of its robust feature set, ease of use and simply outstanding performance. With this product, you will be able to capture audio and video from a multitude of sources including, cable, broadcast signals and radio frequencies. It's easy to install and the company provides a full range of support options. We highly recommend this device for all your TV tuner card needs.
The Videomate T100 is a TV tuner card that allows you to watch, record and store TV signals on your PC. It operates in almost the exact same manner as the cable box that sits next to, or in most cases, is built into your television set. The recording and storing functions operate in almost the exact same manner as a TiVo or DVR device. If you're looking to throw away your TV or manage your recorded content like any other media file, this TV tuner card is worth taking a look or two when considering which one to buy.
This TV tuner card allows you to capture both analog and digital television signals. It has one female coaxial port that has the ability to decode both types of signals. Other products on our lineup have dual ports – one for analog and the other for digital. That's a fine way to do it, but we feel that having a single port for both signal types enhances the simplicity of the Videomate T100.
The Videomate T100 is missing a couple of features we look for in this section. Namely, it lacks an FM radio tuner and an antenna splitter. Granted, these go above and beyond the call of duty for a TV tuner card, and the lack of these features doesn't prevent this product from performing its designed function. However, all three of the award-winning products have both of these features, and their absence is what kept the Videomate T100 just outside award-winning territory.
In today's digital age, a television without a remote control might as well be a giant paperweight. When we complied all the products for our TV tuner card review, we were surprised by how many do not come with a remote control. Fortunately, the Videomate T100 is not among the remote-less products. In fact, the remote that comes in the package with the T100 is the only remote you'll need. Compare that to your living room setup, where most people have at least three remotes to control one television.
The Videomate T100 works well with Windows Vista and Windows 7. The aging Windows XP OS is not included on this list, and that's a letdown because there are millions of perfectly good PCs out there still running Windows XP. It's not bad odds that people who are looking to cut their entertainment bill by purchasing a TV tuner card also don't want to pay to upgrade their operating systems. They're not cheap, just frugal. In all honesty, the frugal mind is the type who purchases a product such as this.
This TV tuner card possesses all the technology to produce HD-quality pictures on your computer's monitor. Additionally, it allows you to record these full, rich pictures. The picture quality is only inhibited by the capacity of your monitor and the amount of free space you have on your hard drive.
As we mentioned earlier, the female coaxial port on the Videomate T100 decodes both digital and audio signals. It also has an S-Video port that allows you to connect to another device. In addition, it has composite connections that allow you to attach other media sources to this TV tuner card.
Compro Technology furnishes all the obligatory customer support options and offers a one-year warranty for the Videomate T100. This is standard stuff; there's nothing to complain about or praise here. However, if any of the support avenues were absent, we'd have some serious questions about the quality of this product.
When all is said and done, there are only a few things that keep the Videomate from being the best. Namely, the absence of an FM radio tuner, antenna splitter and Windows XP compatibility are the only things missing from our feature matrix. Most users won't notice their absence because the rest of the component is so useful.
Most of the products on the lower end of our TV tuner card lineup didn't land there because there is anything particularly wrong with them. For the most part, the latter portion of our matrix is populated by simple tech, not bad tech. This distinction is rare in most of the side-by-side comparisons we do. The Diamond ATI TV Wonder HD 750 PCIE, manufactured by AMD, has nothing to be ashamed of; it's a simple, affordable solution for routing TV signals through your computer. The only thing that really could use an overhaul would be its shockingly long name.
The Diamond ATI TV Wonder HD 750 PCIE captures both digital and analog signals from whatever source you connect it to, with the exception of an antenna. This TV tuner card lacks a direct antenna splitter, so you don't have the ability to hook an antenna directly into your system. However, it's easy to look past that feature because, for the most part, connecting an antenna to your computer is impractical at best.
This TV tuner card comes with a remote control in the package. The remote works exactly the same way as the remote control for your TV. It's the only remote you need to watch TV on your computer. Compared to the two or three remote setup in most living rooms across America, this is refreshingly simple.
As we mentioned earlier, this simple component performs a single function. On our comparison matrix, we have a slot for an FM tuner. The Diamond ATI TV Wonder HD 750 PCIE has this feature. This allows you to pipe radio signals through your computer the same way TV signals come through.
Our biggest bugaboo with the Diamond ATI TV Wonder HD 750 PCIE is that it is designed exclusively for use with Windows Vista. This is a real letdown, because of all the Windows operating systems, Vista is the most despised. It may be an unfair rap for Vista, but the fact is that most users and businesses skipped this generation of the Windows OS, so there aren't that many people who use it. That being said, this TV tuner card will work with Windows 7, but it's a roll of the dice on how well it works. This is the one glaring flaw of this TV tuner card.
On the bright side of things, the Diamond ATI TV Wonder HD 750 PCIE touts a complete connectivity array. It has a coaxial port that allows you to connect to a majority of signal sources, an S-Video connection as well as composite AV inputs. The only connection option that this TV tuner card lacks is USB.
AMD issues its standard one-year warranty for the Diamond ATI TV Wonder HD 750 PCIE. The company also has a wealth of help and support options available by phone or on its website.
Simple and functional is the name of the game with the Diamond ATI TV Wonder HD 750 PCIE. The only real problem we have with this TV tuner card is that it only functions at its intended capacity on the Windows Vista operating system. Other than that, we feel it will suit most of your TV-watching needs nicely.