"There's 57 channels and nothing on." When Bruce Springsteen sang those words back in the 80s, many Brits might have gently raised an eyebrow at the notion of more than four dependable terrestrial channels, plus those satellite upstarts Sky and BSB.
These days, we expect choice - even at the expense of content quality. As well as the UK's five terrestrial channels, a huge selection of digital channels is just a Freeview box away.
But a Freeview box or a new TV aren't your only options for obtaining telly heaven - and the analogue signal could soon be switched off in your area. TV tuner cards that plug into your PC are available from as little as £30 including VAT.
Simple to install, these cards come with their own antenna or connect directly to your existing aerial and pick up TV signals as they are broadcast. They cover terrestrial and digital channels; some even offer HD programmes.
Two formats are available: PCI cards are internal; USB tuners are external. If you're looking to upgrade a laptop, you'll need to purchase the latter - there just isn't room inside the compact chassis to fit a PCI version.
Many tuners now have time-shifting and recording functionality, so you can pause live TV or record it and transfer the file on to a portable device. TV tuners are a great space-saving solution, too. If there's no room for both a TV and PC in any given room, plump for the PC and get the best of both worlds.
It's worth noting that if you watch or record TV programmes as they are broadcast then the law requires you to purchase a TV licence.
Install an internal PCI TV tuner
1. We're using a Compro VideoMate E650 PCI-E Hybrid DVB-T/ analogue tuner; setup for other models may vary. Unplug the PC before opening its case. Locate the ATX power switch pins on the motherboard, usually labelled ‘Power SW'. Unplug the pins and connect them to the JS1 connector on the TV tuner.
2. Find the Power Up patch cable that was supplied with the TV tuner. Attach the black connector to the power switch connector on the motherboard, and the white connector to the JS2 connector on the TV tuner. Close the PC case and attach your home TV aerial or a loop aerial to the back of the machine. Restart the PC.
3. The Windows Add/Remove Hardware wizard will detect the TV tuner. Press Cancel and insert the supplied software disc. Follow the onscreen prompts, then restart your PC. Double-click the ComproDTV3 icon on the desktop to launch the software, which will ask whether it should scan for new channels. Click Yes.
4. You're now ready to begin watching TV. Double-click a TV channel from the list, then close down the Options window. To change channel, simply use the onscreen channel up and down button. Alternatively, use the remote control Compro bundles free with the tuner. Batteries aren't included, however.
5. The Compro VideoMate E650 also offers a channel-surfing function that displays thumbnail images of all the programmes that are currently on air. If you see a program that you like the look of and want to watch, simply double-click the channel name and the programme will display in full-screen mode.
6. Many PCI tuners, including this one, offer the ability to pause and rewind live TV. Press the time-shifting icon to begin recording a program. You'll then be able to use the Pause button to stop playback, or the time bar to rewind the programme to a specific point.
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Get TV on your PC with a USB tuner
1. We're using a Pinnacle USB tuner, but all kits should consist of a software CD, a USB dongle and an antenna. You'll need to attach the aerial to the USB stick for use on the road, otherwise you can use your existing TV aerial. Insert the connector at the end of the antenna lead into the TV tuner.
2. Insert the TV tuner into an available USB 2.0 port on your PC or laptop. Once the hardware has been recognised by Windows, insert the supplied Pinnacle TVCenter Pro CD and follow the onscreen instructions to install the necessary drivers and software. Click the TVCenter Pro icon to launch the software.
3. The first time you launch the software, you'll be prompted to configure the TV tuner's settings. After this, the device will establish which TV channels are available. If you're using the supplied aerial, you'll need to position it as close to a window as possible. Reception can be affected by tall buildings and walls.
4. A list of TV channels currently broadcasting will be displayed in the main window. Use the up and down buttons onscreen to select between the available channels. The Pinnacle package we're using here includes a smart remote control that lets you select a channel number from the outset.
5. Live TV can be stopped momentarily by pressing the Pause button. To resume watching a programme from this point, simply press Play. It's also possible to rewind a recording or scroll back through a live broadcast although, obviously, you can go back only as far as the point where you began recording.
6. The icons at the top of the screen provide access to other media types, allowing you to toggle between watching TV, listening to digital radio stations and playing back video files stored on your PC's hard drive. The Settings option at the far left lets you adjust your setup.
7. Select the EPG logo to display the programme guide. This lists all the programmes available on the channels you can access, along with a brief description of each show. Use the buttons below the onscreen guide to elect to watch the programme immediately, to set up recording or to edit the recording settings.
8. Programmes scheduled to be recorded are indicated in the EPG by a yellow circle on the left of the programme listing. Alternatively, pressing the red Record button automatically records the programme currently being broadcast. By default, content is saved in Mpeg1 format; SVCD, Divx and Mpeg4 are also available.