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Community Newsletter: Q&A forum: 6/2/06 Possible ways to watch TV on your PC

by: Lee Koo (ADMIN) June 1, 2006 1:51 PM PDT

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6/2/06 Possible ways to watch TV on your PC

by Lee Koo (ADMIN) ModeratorCNET staff - 6/1/06 1:51 PM


I have been looking into TV-to-PC software to be able to watch TV from my PC. Some ads say "download now, no additional hardware needed," yet others say that a media card is needed, leaving me confused. Can anyone tell me the truth before I waste my money? Would I need additional hardware like an antenna, a media card, and so on? Or can I really
watch TV from my PC with just the software? What are the minimum requirements? How long will everything take to set up? The bottom line is that I would like to watch TV on my computer, so what are all the possible ways I can go about doing so? Thanks.

Submitted by: John B.



Regarding watching TV on a PC. There are several ways to accomplish the task of watching television on your PC:

1. Software-only solutions. It's hard to say without knowing exactly what service you're looking at, but it's important to keep something in mind: TV shows have to be broadcast from somewhere, somehow. Most software solutions are subscription or pay-as-you-watch services.

Since you usually download or stream the show to your computer, you need to have a broadband Internet connection. Beyond that, hardware requirements vary by service (each service should list the requirements), but I would imagine Windows 2000 or later, 256MB of RAM, and a decent video card (32MB to 64MB or so) would suffice.

Pros: No hardware to install, you can usually pay once and repeat a viewing as often as you wish, and video quality tends to be very high.

Cons: Quality can be spotty (depends on your Internet connection) and programming selection is currently limited as relatively few shows are available this way, although quite a few movies are available. Since video transmitted in this way is encoded to take up less space, your computer must decode it (meaning that you may encounter skips and stutters if you are watching a show while working with other programs).

2. External USB TV Tuners - imagine plugging a cable box into your computer and turning your computer into a combination television/DVR. External tuners pkug into a USB port and generally have a range of inputs, including the typical screw-on (F-type) coaxial cable. Some also have RCA and SVideo connectors, so you can attach a VCR or DVD player to capture video to your computer.

Pros: Pay once (no subscription except for your current cable television), uses your existing cable television service for programming, often these devices will have bells and whistles like capturing/saving video to your computer. Many ATI products (possibly others) also scan closed captioning for certain keywords you specify and start recording when these are encountered in a program.

Cons: Some people dislike external devices, requires existing television service and running a cable to the tuner box, quality will only be as good as what you'd see on a regular television equipped with cable (if your cable video quality is poor, the quality of video to your computer will also be poor).

3. Internal TV Tuner card - basically, this is the same thing as the device above, only in internal card form, and therefore has comparable pros and cons. These devices tend to be a bit less expensive than their external brethren. Since both types of devices have actual TV tuners, there is no video to "decode."

I personally have an older ATI All-In-Wonder internal tv tuner card and love it. Installation was a snap - open case, insert card, close case, turn on computer, install software.

I opted for an actual tv tuner because I wanted to watch the same programs I'd normally be watching if I was on the couch - basically giving me home office a TV like any other in my house. Subscription/software solutions don't necessarily do that, although the day will come when such on-demand services will surpass "regular" TV (especially after the selection improves).

Something else to consider is the HD TV equation. None of the tv tuners I'm aware of are HD-compatible.

One last thought - although it's a bit low-tech, you may want to consider buying a 13"-or-so REAL television for your home office. They take up little space and let you watch TV, DVDs, and so on without taking up any space on your computer screen. Get one with integrated DVD player and carry it to the bedroom, kitchen, or patio. And, there's absolutely nothing to install on your computer.

Submitted by: Andy F.

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