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Guide to Computer TV Tuners

written by: Jennifer Claerr•edited by: Simon Hill•updated: 5/24/2011

By using a computer TV tuner, you can watch TV on your computer. Find out about the types of computer TV tuners and how to find and install a TV tuner that's right for your computer.

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    Computer TV Tuner Facts

    A TV tuner is a device that allows your computer to receive television signals. There are both internal TV tuner cards and external TV tuners, as well as analog and digital TV tuners, which can be installed on a computer. You can use your TV tuner to receive free-to-air television or to connect your computer to your satellite or cable receiver box. To receive free-to-air television signals, you will also need to use an antenna, just as you would if receiving broadcast television with a television set. You can determine which antenna to buy by reading Choosing the Best Digital Television Antenna. To receive HDTV or digital television on your computer, you must install a digital tuner. Using your computer with a TV tuner, you can receive, watch and record live TV. If your computer didn't come with a tuner, you can probably upgrade it without much difficulty. However, you'll have the best results with a late-model home entertainment computer with at least a 2 GHz dual-core processor, 2 GB of RAM, a 500 GB hard drive and Windows Vista. Trying to make an older computer work with a TV tuner will only result in frustration.

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    Types of Computer TV Tuners

    Internal TV tuner cards for computers typically come in the form of a PCI expansion card. External TV tuners are usually small boxes that connect to your computer by USB. To use an external USB tuner, you should have a free USB 2.0 port on your computer. An internal TV tuner card is your best bet if you want to adapt your desktop computer to receive television and if you have a free PCI slot. An external tuner is best if you want to upgrade your laptop computer, if you want to use the tuner with multiple computers or if you have run out of expansion slots in your computer. An external TV tuner is also much easier and quicker to install than an internal TV tuner card. However, an internal TV tuner card is a great space-saver. Make sure to compare several different products to find the best TV tuner for your computer.

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    Finding a Computer TV Tuner

    There are many different brands of computer TV tuners. To find the best one for your computer, check out the TV tuner reviews on a website such as CNET or The reviews are unbiased and, in most cases, based on actual experience with testing the TV tuner in question. User reviews can also help you to choose a TV tuner for your computer. Check a website such as or to find user reviews for the specific TV tuner you're considering buying. Be sure to check the system requirements of the TV tuner to ensure that it's compatible with your computer. You can shop for a TV tuner either in a store such as Best Buy or Circuit City, or online on a site such as or

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    Installing a Computer TV Tuner

    To install an internal PCI TV tuner, you must open your computer's case. This is a fairly simple process on a desktop computer. However, in most cases, for a laptop computer, TV tuner installation is best left to a professional. Before removing the TV tuner from its antistatic case, touch an unpainted part of the internal computer chassis to ground yourself. Remove the metal plate that is in the PCI slot. Then hold the card by its edges and gently but firmly push it into the slot. To physically install a USB TV tuner, in most cases you only have to plug it in.

    Install the software that came with your TV tuner. Then connect the tuner to your antenna, cable or satellite receiver box. Open the software to scan for channels. You may also want to open other software, such as Windows Media Center, that you plan to use to watch and record TV. To configure your TV tuner in Windows Media Center, go to "Tasks," "Settings," "TV" and "Set up TV signal." To find more information or to shop for a TV tuner, browse the "Sources" below.

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    • "TV Tuner Adapters," CNET,
    • "TV tuner card showdown," CNET,
    • "TV Tuners for Your PC," PC World,
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