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TV Tuner Buying Guide

The PC add-in card you never knew you needed.

With the whole of the UK now switched over to Digital TV, now is no better time to upgrade that old analogue TV. There are many options out there from Freeview set top boxes to FreeSat, but what you might not be aware of is that you can view live TV from your PC or laptop using a simple TV tuner. This means you can watch your favourite soap dramas or catch up on the latest news whilst simultaneously tweeting about it to your friends.

What is a TV Tuner?

TV tuners are peripherals which can connect via USB or internally via PCI to your computer and give you the ability to view free, over the air, digital TV. Once connected, you simply connect an aerial or antenna and install the software and get going.

Why choose a PC TV tuner??

Imagine this scenario; you have bought a TV with built in Freeview not too long ago. You are probably wondering why you would need a TV tuner for your computer. The answer is simple. As well as allowing you to watch TV on your computer, they allow you to do so much more. Not only can you watch live TV whilst completing that word document that is due, but also play and pause live TV and schedule programs to record straight to your hard drive for later viewing.

External TV Tuners:

External TV tuners such the Hauppauge PCTV DVB-S223050 and Compro VideoMate U680F are great external tuners. As they plug into USB 2.0, they are portable meaning that you can unplug them and move them around the house or even take them to your friend?s house! They are also great solutions for laptops as you are unable to install one internally, allowing you to watch TV and listen to radio on the move. Provided you have an antenna with you. If you are planning on using a TV tuner with a laptop, probably the best solution is the Hauppauge WinTV-Aero. This little USB tuner has a built in telescopic aerial making it perfect for long train journeys or just for convenience around the house. Most USB tuners do not require an external power supply as they draw power straight from the interface. Another advantage of going USB is that they do not use CPU cycles to do the processing meaning they do not affect system performance. Some cards will also come with a remote control so you don?t even have to get up to change the channel.? Whilst still offering many of the same features as internal cards, external cards sometimes produce slightly lower image quality than their internal counterparts due to the bandwidth limitation.

USB Tuners are perfect for:

??Limited expansion options internally
??Plug in and play set up

Internal TV Tuners:

The alternative to external tuners is internal tuners. These are cards, much like other expansion cards which are simply slotted into a spare PCI or PCI Express slot inside your machine but can come with some extra features. They are perfect for media PCs or even in a gaming PC in your bedroom. Whilst you do lose some features such as portability when you opt for an internal card as opposed to a USB tuner, you do gain some. For example, improved image quality and some cards such as the Hauppauge PCTV 4000i Pro have dual inputs. Dual inputs allows you to watch two programmes at once, picture in picture or more usefully, watch one programme whilst recording another. Some cards also provide the ability to plug a device such as a PS3 or Xbox 360 directly into the card and record gameplay videos, a feature perfect for console gamers. Since an internal card is going to be a more permanent feature (where as an external one may be moved around), for the absolute best image quality, it is recommended that you run an aerial or satellite outside, just like you would with a TV, as opposed to the desk top antenna many of them come packaged with.

Internal Tuners are perfect for:

??Desktop and media systems
??Additional features
??Permanent fixtures

What should I look out for when deciding which to buy?

There are many things you should check before you purchase a TV tuner. First of all, do you receive TV signal in your area? Some places such as deep valleys may not receive a TV signal from the traditional antenna as the signal travels straight over the top which leads me to the next point.

Do you want one which requires a satellite dish or one which requires the traditional TV antenna input? There are many available for each option. If you do live in a signal dead spot, you may want to opt for a satellite card (such as the Hauppauge WinTV-Nova HD S2). If however, you do not have a satellite dish already installed, you may want to go with a card with the traditional TV antenna input (such as the Hauppauge PCTV 200i).

Do you want a high or standard definition tuner? You may have to spend a little bit more for a high definition tuner but it will mean you will be able to view high definition channels such as BBC HD which will make a big difference if you are viewing on a large screen.

Do you have spare expansion slots? Before going out and buying your new internal TV tuner, you must check if you have the available expansion slots on your motherboard. Remember to check for the correct slots. If you are planning on buying a PCI-Express card, check for available PCI-Express slots. If it is a standard PCI card, check for available PCI slots. If there are no available slots, you may want to opt for an external tuner.
I hope this guide has helped you decide which PC TV tuner is best for you. To view CCL?s full range of TV tuners, click here.