There are a variety of ways to watch TV but if you are dropping cable and moving to over the air antenna broadcasts it can be a serious benefit to setup a Media Center Computer that can record shows that you might miss.
Unlike Cable TV where you can basically find reruns of any show at any time of the day because there really isn’t much new content on Cable or Dish anymore… If you are on Antenna based Broadcasts you want to make sure you make the full use of every hour of broadcast.
This is because good shows may be on when you are at work, school or sleeping and if you don’t want to be watching garbage or increasing your monthly bill by renting from redbox or downloading from a Pay Service you have to find a way to record these shows.
When I was growing up way back when Cable was still very affordable and there were networks pumping out new shows all the time to attract better advertising you could still get away with recording shows with a VCR. Today there are some DVRs that will record and store your shows but they can be limited to a small amount of storage or their ability to capture what you want to watch.
With a moderately fast computer an antenna and a TV Capture Card you can record shows 24 hours a day and play them back across your network to your set top boxes like a ChromeCast or Roku or Android based device. You will also be able to watch them on your phones, tablets and even across the internet but we aren’t getting that technical today.
The first thing you want to do is find a computer that can run Windows 7 Home Premium that has the included version of Microsoft Media Center.
You want to make sure that the computer you pick has at the bare minimum a fast dual core but better a quadcore processor in the i3 to i5 range. I would suggest that you get 8gigs of ram because your computer will not only be recording shows it will be converting them to a playable format with stripped commercials.
You want to have at least one PCIe slot so the stripped down computers with no expansion won’t really work. The PCIe 1x slot will be used for your TV Tuner Card. If you need other addons like USB3 to store your TV Shows on an External Drive or a 1gigabit network card or better video you will need more slots.
I really would suggest that you use either eSATA or USB3 if you will be storing your shows on an external drive because it will give you the best performance and the upgrade from USB 2.0 will be pretty dramatic. If not then you will want to store your shows on an Internal Drive. Many people suggest that you store them on a 7200RPM drive but if your Primary C Drive is fast your backup storage can be slower.
Now you need to pick the type of TV Card that you will install in your computer to capture your TV Shows and Movies.
Picking a TV Capture Card for Windows Media Center
TIf you will only be using your TV Card in Windows and with Media Center then the choices for TV Cards is not that difficult. Look for a model that is certified to work with your computer and that has certified drivers listed on the Microsoft comparability list. Most large vendors will pass this test.
If you want to use your card with other software within Windows or if you want to build a Linux Box then you really need to do your homework. Don’t just buy your card from a retail company after reading the specs on their site you must visit the manufacturer’s website and then visit some online forms and ask about your card or search for a solution that fits your needs.
With a standard TV Card you want to look for ASTC Over The Air Antenna Tuners that will pick up the newer digital signals. If you buy a card off ebay or another site make sure it is the exact model you want and not an older analog version. If you stick to PCIe versions rather than plain old PCI versions you are a step ahead but if you are going USB or another type you need to keep your eyes open.
That is another thing there are USB and even Ethernet Tuners out there but internal Cards seem to have worked the best for me when building a Media Center PC.. now if you are looking to build a Network distribution then Ethernet is your friend and you want wired not wireless for HD 1080 signal quality.
In another how to we will go into the benefits and drawbacks of USB Ethernet and Internal Card Versions of TV Tuners and they all have their uses and drawbacks.
Another thing to look for is Single or Dual Tuners. A dual tuner will let you pickup cable tv and Antenna Signals. You will need to hook a cable box to your computer but it does open the options for you.
Before you physically install the card and hook it up to your antenna make sure you test your antenna signal on a television. Find the best direction and write down all of the stations you receive. If your signal is strong enough or you have a distribution amp then keep the tv plugged in while you install your tv card and scan for stations. Anomalies can happen with Antenna Signals .. you could lose a station’s signal and think there is a problem with your tuner card when its just a cloud or something in the distance.
Installing your TV Card and Configuring Media Center
Once your TV card is physically installed in your computer and you have connected the coax cable to your antenna You can launch or install Media Center.
When the software launches for the first time you will be brought through a configuration wizard.
The wizard will download your local TV Guide for the next three weeks and it will install digital rights / copyright control software. You will need internet access for this.
The next step will be configuring your TV Tuner. Windows should see the tuner and allow you to select it for configuration. If you have more than one tuner in your computer or a dual head tuner you should configure them both at the same time.
Media Center will scan through your available channels and try to identify them. Often if the signal is weak or if it is a sub-channel it might not get identified correctly and you will be presented with an option of assigning it the correct station name to go along with your TV Guide listings.
Once the configuration settings have been completed you can change some of the settings from menus within Media Center however doing so is not really that simple. The places you need to find to change settings in the software are not in a straight forward settings dialog.
If your available channels change because you get a better antenna or ad an amplifier or for another reason you will need to go through this process from the beginning.
Now that your card is configured you can browse your available channels and select shows, series or movies to be recorded.
Having more than one tuner available to your system will let you record more shows or watch one show live and record another.
There are products from a few vendors that can provide more than one tuner. They come in dual head TV Cards or network tuners. They are nice if you already have your TVs configured for internet streaming with a device like a Roku, Chromecast or other device that can directly access your tuner for live TV along with the stored files from previous recordings.
Set top boxes that provide this option all have their good and bad features. We will cover them in other how tos.
Adding a tuner is not that difficult if you have a version of windows that comes with Media Center If you don’t have Media Center there are a few other products that offer similar features.
Remember going OTA Antenna means you must record shows that you miss because the availability of good shows is limited. You won’t have access to all of the premium content available on Cable or Dish so you want to have an available archive of recently recorded shows you can watch when nothing good is on.
TV Tuner Cards don’t have to be expensive to work. I purchased two for my system that were new old stock for $15 each. Just make sure you investigate the card’s drivers and compatibility with your system.