TV viewers have more options for watching their favorite shows and movies than ever before. They can watch shows live as they air, or they can record programming and watch it later on a DVR. Streaming and on demand video services help TV subscribers watch what they want on their own schedules.
Cable tuners can turn any computer into a TV viewing machine. They work well with cable providers, and they can even work with premium channels such as HBO and Showtime. There are some differences between tuners, but they all perform the same essential function.
Analog or Digital?
Several years ago, cable providers switched from analog broadcasts to digital ones. The transition was so seamless that few subscribers realized that any switch had occurred. However, older television sets were only capable of receiving analog signals, so analog TV owners had to purchase digital to analog converter boxes.
Thankfully, cable tuners produced in the past 5 years all support digital signals, so cable subscribers have nothing to worry about. Digital signals protect video and audio quality while allowing providers to air high definition content.
Tuners can also record TV channels, so a computer equipped with a tuner functions exactly like a DVR. However, HD shows and movies require a lot of storage capacity, so TV viewers may need to upgrade their computers’ hard drives to store more than a few hours of programming.
Users can also plug in external hard drives to take their shows with them without lugging their computers along. Because hard drives are relatively inexpensive, many cable subscribers prefer upgrading their own computers rather than investing in DVRs, which typically cost hundreds of dollars.
Using a computer to record TV shows is easy. Most tuners automatically sync with online TV schedules, so viewers can open up programming guides to schedule recordings ahead of time. Scheduling options are also flexible. Viewers can record particular shows or movies, or they can schedule their tuners to record a particular channel at 9 PM every Sunday evening.
After the switch to digital, cable providers could air programming in HD. Unfortunately, early cable tuners only supported SD resolutions of 480p, the same resolution as DVDs use. Newer cable tuners support resolutions up to 1080p and HD audio, so it may be time to upgrade for early adopters.
Most tuners can watch or record at least two channels at once. Quad tuners can record up to four simultaneous shows or movies, so viewers never have to miss a show because of overlapping schedules.
Digital tuners work well with just about any TV, computer monitor, or any other type of display. For full functionality, most tuners require a computer running the latest versions of Mac OSX or Microsoft Windows.
To watch TV on their computers, cable subscribers need to first hook up their tuners. Internal tuners will also require a software installation before functioning correctly, but external tuners should work perfectly right out of the box.
Viewers can use the included software with their computers to watch live shows or movies. For example, most copies of Windows 7 and 8 come with Windows Media Center, which allows viewers to listen to music, watch movies, and record TV shows. TV viewers won’t have to install third party programs that can be difficult to configure and use.
Internal cable tuners typically connect to computers through PCI or PCI-Express x1 ports. TV viewers who have never poked around in their computers might be intimidated by the internal hardware, but installation is quite simple. To install, a computer user simply needs to pop out the metal plate in the back of the computer and firmly push the tuner into the PCI or PCI-Express x1 port. The computer user then needs to install the software drivers from the included CD or DVD.
If that’s too daunting a task, computer users can always use external tuners. These devices can connect to computers through USB cables, or they can directly connect to displays through DVI or HDMI cables. Some tuners even support network connectivity, so users can watch TV on any computer connected to their networks.
Cable tuners come with all of the equipment needed for installation and setup. Inside the packaging, each tuner comes with an instruction manual and user CD. Most also come with remotes so users can watch TV from across the room. External tuners will also come with power adapters to plug into standard wall outlets.
However, cable subscribers will need to supply their own video and audio cables to connect their displays. An internal tuner will use a computer’s video and audio outputs, but external tuners require USB, HDMI, DVI, or Ethernet cables.
To access premium channels like HBO, cable subscribers will need to rent CableCARDs from their cable providers. This tiny device can access encrypted content, and it usually costs no more than $2 or $3 a month.