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83. Watching TV on your computer

By Andrew D. Wright

Want to watch high resolution TV and don't want to spend a fortune on a new set? You can turn your home computer into a TV for less than a hundred bucks.

It's been possible for several years to buy a TV tuner card that can be added to any computer with a free PCI slot.

New models offer sophisticated image processing to clean up TV picture quality, Digital Video Recorder functions such as pausing and rewinding live broadcasts, timeshifting favorite programs and a remote control. Some even include FM radio tuners and the ability to timeshift radio programs for more convenient listening later.

For those people not comfortable with opening their computers and installing a PCI card, TV tuners also come as external boxes about the size of a Walkman that plug into a USB 2.0 jack. USB 2.0 is the higher speed version of the Universal Serial Bus standard that has been in wide use since 2002.

Computer monitors have a much sharper picture than a standard television set is capable of offering. The sound cards in computers tend to be much better than the built-in sound of a standard television set as well.

System requirements vary for different tuner cards but any computer built within the last four years should be able to pass muster.

Having a faster computer with lots of memory and lots of free unfragmented disk space will make higher quality video recording possible and reduce stuttering, dropped frames and out-of-synch audio in recorded video. TV tuner cards allow a wide range of recording formats and quality levels so even computers with CPU speeds between 500 MHz and 1 GHz should be able to record reasonable quality video. Check the system requirements for the TV tuner card before you purchase it if you own an older computer with a CPU speed under 1 GHz.

For those wanting to upgrade their video watching experience, premium quality sound cards are built into the motherboard of most new computers that are capable of supporting 5.1 or 7.1 surround sound. Such sound cards can be purchased separately for about $30 and high quality surround sound speakers can be had for around $100.

Canadian video card manufacturer ATI is one of the big names in TV tuner cards. At the top of the line their All-In-Wonder brand has combined high quality 3-D rendering for gamers with onboard TV tuner and video processing for years. ATI also sells stand-alone TV tuner cards and USB 2.0 external tuners.

Hauppage is another big name in TV tuner cards. Their product line runs from low priced TV tuner cards and external tuners to premium quality cards incorporating Dolby Pro Logic surround sound and other advanced features.

When selecting a TV tuner card it is good to look at what is included with the card. Bundled software can include TV program guides, video editing and video conferencing software and DVD player software for use with an onboard DVD-ROM.

The Mousepad runs every two weeks. It's a service of Chebucto Community Net, a community-owned Internet provider. If you have a question about computing, email If we use your question in a column, we'll send you a free mousepad.


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Originally published 7 May 2006


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