TV Tuner Cards

How it works

Digital TV Tuner cards for computers are relatively simple pieces of hardware: in essence, they include a regular coaxial aerial connector, a RF tuner, and a decoder. The signal hits the antenna, is passed down to the tuner and then to the decoder. The information is then processed by either a dedicated MPEG-2 decoder or the computer's processor. A basic digital TV tuner kit will include a TV tuner card and some software to record and watch TV.

Most mid-range TV tuner bundles also include a remote control and infrared receiver, which is used to drive the tuner software. These will often include a digital radio tuner, too, which also allows the user to receive digital radio broadcasts. Basic models often forego the remote control, but if you're planning on using the computer as a TV, it's a crucial component.

Interface: Internal or External

The first choice to make after deciding to go with a digital TV tuner card is figuring out whether you want to opt for an internal or external solution. Digital TV tuners are available as both internal cards that fit into a PCI slot or as external USB devices.

An internal card requires a spare PCI slot, as well as a desire to open your computer up to install it. This isn't technically challenging, just a little daunting if you've never done it. PCI Express models are also available that take advantage of the PCI Express bus found on newer motherboards. These are functionally similar to the internal PCI models but are designed to fit the PCI Express slot instead. Internal cards tend to be cheaper than their external brethren, but they're a little less flexible.


Internal cards start around $99 and go up to $250. Generally, a basic model will include a card, some tuner software, and little else. The card will include a coaxial aerial connector, but you'll have to go shopping for coaxial cable yourself, and if you're serious about watching TV from a distance you'll also have to add a third-party USB or Serial infrared remote control. These cards are generally adequate for recording shows though, and if your primary goal is to be able to watch TV while sitting at a PC this solution is ideal. Higher-end models will generally include more cabling, a wider range of connectors, a remote control, richer software bundle, as well as extra filters to clean the image. As a result, they'll offer a slightly superior picture to less expensive models, but the difference isn't enormous.

Some high-end tuners will even include analogue inputs, allowing the user to record footage from a VCR. This sort of device can do double duty: it can be used to receive and record broadcast TV and also for converting old VHS, Super 8 or Beta tapes into a digital format.

An external device is the only viable solution for notebook users while also favouring those that don't want to mess around opening their computers. Better yet, they're portable. You're generally looking at a slight price premium to move from an internal to external solution. When buying an external tuner, the best bet is to go for a USB 2.0 or Firewire model. This is because the limited speed of USB 1.1 (11Mbps) isn't adequate for the data passing between the tuner and the PC. To avoid any playback glitches, Firewire (400Mbps) and USB 2.0 (480Mbps) of bandwidth respectively, which is plenty to cover the demands of a digital TV tuner. External tuners start at around $120 and go up to $300. Like their internal counterparts, the more expensive models feature extra software, cabling and often ship with a remote control.

Join the PC World newsletter!

Error: Please check your email address.
Rocket to Success - Your 10 Tips for Smarter ERP System Selection
Keep up with the latest tech news, reviews and previews by subscribing to the Good Gear Guide newsletter.

GoodGearGuide Staff

Good Gear Guide
Show Comments

Most Popular Reviews

Latest Articles


PCW Evaluation Team

Matthew Stivala

HP OfficeJet 250 Mobile Printer

The HP OfficeJet 250 Mobile Printer is a great device that fits perfectly into my fast paced and mobile lifestyle. My first impression of the printer itself was how incredibly compact and sleek the device was.

Armand Abogado

HP OfficeJet 250 Mobile Printer

Wireless printing from my iPhone was also a handy feature, the whole experience was quick and seamless with no setup requirements - accessed through the default iOS printing menu options.

Azadeh Williams

HP OfficeJet Pro 8730

A smarter way to print for busy small business owners, combining speedy printing with scanning and copying, making it easier to produce high quality documents and images at a touch of a button.

Andrew Grant

HP OfficeJet Pro 8730

I've had a multifunction printer in the office going on 10 years now. It was a neat bit of kit back in the day -- print, copy, scan, fax -- when printing over WiFi felt a bit like magic. It’s seen better days though and an upgrade’s well overdue. This HP OfficeJet Pro 8730 looks like it ticks all the same boxes: print, copy, scan, and fax. (Really? Does anyone fax anything any more? I guess it's good to know the facility’s there, just in case.) Printing over WiFi is more-or- less standard these days.

Ed Dawson

HP OfficeJet Pro 8730

As a freelance writer who is always on the go, I like my technology to be both efficient and effective so I can do my job well. The HP OfficeJet Pro 8730 Inkjet Printer ticks all the boxes in terms of form factor, performance and user interface.

Michael Hargreaves

Windows 10 for Business / Dell XPS 13

I’d happily recommend this touchscreen laptop and Windows 10 as a great way to get serious work done at a desk or on the road.

Featured Content

Latest Jobs

Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?