There are dozens of types of TV tuners on the market. If you're building a media centre for recording and watching digital TV, where do you start?
Adding a TV tuner to your Windows 7 PC can transform it into your family's primary source of entertainment, especially in combination with an Xbox. In the July issue of PC Authority, we have a four-page step by step tutorial with tips and tricks for setting up your PC so it can record digital TV, including this advice about TV tuners below. The July issue has the full tutorial, including which remote to buy, accessories, and how to setup Media Centre to record digital TV.
Choosing a tuner card
Stick to an internal TV tuner card if possible, as they tend to feature stronger tuners than USB tuners. A stronger tuner reduces the chance of reception problems.
Speaking of which, use as few splitters and boosters as possible between your aerial on the roof and your media centre. Avoid using the piddly aerial supplied with the tuner card, especially if you live in a reception blackspot.
Interference issues could come from other gear in your lounge room, so use quad-shielded RG6 coax aerial cable and try to keep your computer away from Wi-Fi gear and your broadband modem.
Your choice of tuner card will be dictated by your choice of computer case and motherboard. Your motherboard will most likely feature PCIe slots rather than the old PCI slots. Check the dimensions of your case to see if you need a low-profile card - something you need to consider when choosing your other components such as your graphics card and CPU heat sink. Make sure you plan out every component of your media centre, and ensure they fit nicely together, before you buy anything.
Don't worry too much about the remote control bundled with your tuner card, you'd be better off ditching it for a universal remote.
Unless you've got a thing for community TV, forget about analogue broadcasts - they'll be gone in three years. You want two DVB-T digital tuners, preferably HD.
Windows 7 can utilise more than one tuner device at a time, so you could get away with two single-tuner cards or even several multi-tuner cards. A single aerial input supporting both tuners is handy, as are analogue video inputs if you want to capture video from external sources such as a VCR.Know your TV tuner
The PCIe tuner
Example: DViCO FusionHDTV Dual Digital HDTV Card PCI Express, $229, FusionHDTV
With two hybrid HD DVB-T and analogue TV tuners, the Dual Express lets you record one analogue and one digital channel or two digital channels simultaneously. It is also low-profile, so you can slot it into slimline media centre cases.
The USB tuner
Example: Kworld USB Dual DVB-T TV Stick (DVB-T 399U), $67, KWorld
This USB tuner features two high-def DVB-T digital TV tuners, so you can record two programs at once. A USB tuner offers portability, plus it's also handy if your media centre PC is overheating or running short of card slots.
The network tuner
Example: Elgato EyeTV Netstream DTT Network Dual Tuner, $399, Elgato
The EyeTV Netstream connects to your aerial and your home network, streaming high-def digital television to your Macs and PCs around the house. It basically turns any computer into a television and two computers around the house can use it simultaneously.