How to watch TV on your PC

PC as PVR

Software

Every TV tuner comes with some sort of software to allow you to scan for stations, save favorite broadcasters, and schedule recordings DVR-style. Compared to the Windows Vista's Media Center software, most of the tuner-bundled apps we've tried look positively amateurish.

TerraTec DT TV software

Hauppauge TV software
TV software from Terratec (top) and Hauppauge

It works, but generally performance is poor, we've found. KWorld's software, for instance, look bad and proved rather unstable. Seriously, with Media Center bundled with Windows Vista Home Premium, if you're upgrading your OS, or buying a new, Vista-equipped machine there seems little reason not to use Vista in preference to the tuner manufacturers' offerings.

Windows Vista tuner set-up
Windows Vista tuner set-up
Windows Vista TV tuner set-up

You'll be able to scan for channels, watch TV, pause and record from the comfort of your sofa with the added bonus of the MCE '10ft' interface on the screen and a decent remote control. On top of that you can expect that your tuner will come with a seven-day Electronic Programme Guide (EPG) but Vista's Media Center features a 14-day EPG.

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Across the network

There are a couple of interesting gadgets that you ought to consider as a means of distributing TV around your home - or even across the internet - to a PC. Sony has its LocationFree system, which connects to your home network and uses a wired and wireless transmitter, the LF-PK1, to distribute media around your home and beyond. The base unit is listed at £229 although you’ll find it discounted to less than £100, and you have to pay £20 for the software to register each additional receiver, which seems a bit steep. It also contradicts the LocationFree name as it’s not free at all.

Sling Media Slingbox
Sling Media's Slingbox: TV for the network

Slingbox from Sling Media incorporates its own digital TV tuner and redirects a selected TV channel to your PC where you view it with the bundled SlingPlayer software. It can take feeds and control other sources too. The trick is that your PC or laptop can be connected via broadband and can therefore be located almost anywhere on the planet. The only downside: only one remote client can connect to a single Slingbox at a given time. However, SlingPlayer also runs on a variety of mobile phones and handhelds, though you have to pay extra for this privilege.