Record TV on Your Computer

A USB TV tuner and Windows Media Center will turn your computer into a Digital Video Recorder (DVR) (also called Personal Video Recorder or PVR). This combination works with almost any desktop, laptop or notebook computer. To learn more about computer tuners read some USB TV tuner reviews.

Tuners work with over-the-air broadcasts (all work with analog signals and some work with hi-def), cable and satellite (premium cable and satellite channels require a set top box). Getting started with a computer DVR is a breeze, to install a USB TV tuner just plug it into a USB port and answer some basic set up questions on Windows Media Center (there are a lot of videos online to help with this).

A laptop TV tuner is especially useful as it creates a portable DVR and a portable TV. Watch TV anywhere you have an over the air, cable or satellite signal and watch recorded shows anywhere you can use a laptop.

Windows Media Center provides the guts of many high end home entertainment centers so you know it is good. It truly lets you create a home media center. See the images below for some screen shots of it and the video for more information.

Record TV on your computer

Windows Media Center interface - Click for full size image


Scheduling recordings on your laptop tv tuner

Windows Media Center free program guide - Click for full size image

Better Than a DVR?

By recording shows on your computer hard drive you can easily edit shows to make a compilation of your favorite scenes, favorite lines, best plays or highlights of your favorite team. You can also burn shows to a DVD or CD or post it to YouTube. You can transfer recorded shows to an iPod, iPhone, iPad or other portable device to watch wherever you want.

You have full DVR functionality including the ability to pause and rewind live TV and schedule future recordings. Many tuners come with a remote control making the experience just like a DVR.

One limit of most laptop TV tuners is that they only have one tuner so you cannot record two shows at the same time or record one show and watch another at the same time. Dual tuner models are available that eliminate this restriction.

How Much Does it Cost?

A typical DVR service has a monthly fee of about $10 for access to the program guide to record shows in the future plus equipment costs of either a few hundred dollars to purchase the DVR or $5 to $10 a month to rent one. With a laptop TV tuner the upfront cost is less than $100 and there are no monthly fees (the program guide is internet based and is free).

Required Software

Although most tuners come with software to select a channel, adjust the volume, record a show and watch recorded programs most people prefer to use Windows Media Center. Windows Media Center is free and is included on all Windows Vista Home Premium, Windows Vista Ultimate editions and Windows 7. Windows Media Center has better interface than most DVR services and also makes it easy for you to access all your digital media – home videos, music, photos.

Hard Disk Space

Video files are large so if you intend to record or keep a lot shows or movies on your computer you will need considerable space on your hard drive. The file size depends on the quality of the recording but analog recordings need about 1.5GB per hour and high definition over the air signals require 5 to 10GB per hour. The price of external hard drives is so reasonable now so if you want to keep a lot of recorded shows or movies consider getting an external hard drive.

Learn more about external hard drives HERE.

The Ultimate Tuner for a Computer DVR

While any USB TV tuner will enable you to record TV on your computer, you are limited to using it one computer at a time. You can use the SiliconDust HD Homerun network tuner on any computer on home network (wired or wireless). This includes TV’s with a Media Center expander like an xBox 360, iPad or iPhone. The HD Homerun also has dual tuners so you watch and record different channels at the same time or record two channels at the same time.

The SiliconDust HD Homerun is a big step toward the future of TV in your home and it doesn’t cost much more than a lesser USB TV tuner. For more information, read my full SiliconDust HD Homerun tuner review.

Additional Resources
Download Windows Media Center
Download add-ons to Windows Media Center
PC Magazine article on getting the most out of Windows Media Center