Depending on which inputs your
TV-tuner will accept and which outputs your set-top box or cable connection
offers, simply connect the appropriate cable to the TV-tuner card.
Remember that S-video offers better picture quality than composite connections.
If you have basic (analog) cable, you can connect the coaxial
cable that carries it directly to your TV-tuner.
Playing back digital media with the
Windows XP comes with a capable
media player included with it, so technically you don't need any other software
to begin playing back DVDs, audio and video files on your new HTPC. Since
most TV tuner cards come with remote controls though, and since these remotes
usually work only with the software bundled with the TV-tuner, it's best to use
the bundled applications to play back your files.
In our case, the
Powercolor Theatre 550 Pro shipped with a copy of Cyberlink's PowerCinema
software, which includes full DVD, video and audio playback functionality
as well as some PVR options (but not program scheduling). For a more
in-depth look at this software, see our review of the Theatre 550 Pro card
Controlling a Satellite or digital cable feed
with a TV-tuner
Most TV-tuner cards, including
the ATI Theatre 550 PRO we used in this article, will give you full channel
control with basic (analog) cable feeds as well as broadcast TV. Where
things get difficult is with the set-top TV decoders that come with most
satellite and digital cable services. While they can receive television
signals from them, there's no way for most TV tuner cards to change channels on
one of these devices. You will need to use your set-top box's remote for
There is a way around this
annoying limitation, but it requires extra equipment. Infrared USB devices
are available which can be programmed with your set-top box's control
codes. The device then acts as a relay between your HTPC and the TV
decoder, so that when you change channels on your HTPC, the IR device sends the
channel change signal to the set-top box.
Unfortunately these devices are usually
specific to individual multimedia software packages. For example, a
similar IR device is included with licensed Windows XP media centre 2005 PCs.
software: recording and scheduling live TV
One of the best uses for a
TV-tuner card-equipped HTPC is as a PVR (personal video
recorder). By running your TV feed through the computer, you can
record the signal onto your hard drive for later viewing, and also pause, rewind
(and fast-forward after the fact) through live TV broadcasts. The
TV-tuner accomplishes this by streaming the TV signal directly onto your
hard drive in real-time, then displaying the recorded signal on your TV or
monitor. Since the image you are viewing is coming from the HTPC, you are
free to pause or rewind it while the TV-tuner continues to record the original
signal in the background. This does lead to some picture quality
degradation though, as the data is compressed as it is recorded to the hard
If you want your HTPC to truly
function as a PVR device like the (in)famous TiVo, you will need some form of TV
scheduling/recording software, preferably with an integrated electronic
programming guide (EPG) that allows you to view upcoming shows and schedule
Generally, these programs come as an all-in-one package
like the PowerCinema software that was included with the Powercolor Theatre 550
TV tuner card PCstats used for this article. It's worth noting that PowerCinema
does not include an electronic programming guide, so it's not the best choice if
you want full digital recording functionality. Software packages you might want
to look at include Windows XP Media Centre 2005 and SageTV.