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TV on your PC
Our love of multimedia is ever growing. So much so that we want access to all forms of media on our computers, from music and radio to video and television. Watching DVDs is enjoyable, but what people really want is to see and record TV using a PC. The means to do this has been available for a while now, but with the advent of home theatre PCs and media centres, the popularity of TV on the PC is increasing.
There's more than one way to view TV on your PC and there's more than one type of TV signal that you can view on your PC. However, most UK residents will be familiar with good old analogue television, so let's start there.
Inside your regular television is a tuner that allows you to 'tune-in' to one of the multiple channels sent over the airwaves to your aerial. You can purchase a tuner which does essentially the same thing for your PC, presenting the TV channel data in a form that your computer can display through a supported program. So, for the most basic PC TV configurations, you need an aerial, TV tuner device and software to run it.
TV tuners for PCs are available in three common forms. The first is as a PCI or PCI-Express add-in card, that requires you install the tuner within the PC. The second is as an external device, which you connect up using a spare USB port. The third is built into another device, such as ATI's All-In-Wonder series of graphics cards, which along with providing 3D graphics acceleration, feature video capture and TV Tuning capabilities.
You'll find some form of TV viewing software will come with most tuners, however the quality tends to vary. Luckily, chances are you'll find 3rd party software that is also compatible with your tuner, if you want to try out something else than what was bundled with the tuner. The software can get quite advanced, to the point where you can view TV guides and choose programs to record to hard drive for later viewing, or even pause live TV.
You can take TV on the PC even further. If you're building a media centre PC you can install a media-oriented operating system on it, such as Microsoft Windows MCE2005, or the Linux-based MythTV. Better still, obtain a dual tuner card, or two TV tuning devices and you can record one channel while watching another.
On top of analogue tuners, you can obtain tuners for digital television. Cable subscribers can also purchase tuners with slots for their subscription card. However, at the time of writing, Sky subscribers will have to feed from their Sky box to a capture card.