The easiest way to watch TV on a personal computer--and the one that's most popular now--is to view programming over the Web. The major networks, a number of cable channels, and general sites such as Hulu allow you to view shows in your Web browser. If you want a more direct connection to your TV, you'll need extra hardware, namely a TV tuner.
Tuners essentially turn a computer into a TV set. Usually they include software that allows you to record programming on your computer, too, so you can watch shows on your schedule and not a TV network's. If you have a media center PC, a tuner may already be built into the machine. If you don't have a tuner, you can add one either by installing a tuner card into your PC or by connecting an external tuner.
External tuners have several advantages. Connecting one is easier than opening up your computer and installing a tuner card. The tuner doesn't take up a slot in your PC. You can easily disconnect it when you're not using it. And some models have the same design as a USB thumb drive--they're not only very portable, but also easy to use with more than one computer.
Two major makers of external tuners are Hauppauge and AVerMedia. Although the instructions for installing an external tuner may vary slightly from maker to maker, the general steps are the same regardless of model.
Step by Step: How to Set Up an External TV Tuner
Step 1 With your computer running Windows, plug the tuner hardware into a USB port. If the spacing is tight between the ports on your machine, you may want to use an extension cable with the USB tuner. In most cases it is not advisable to connect the tuner to a USB hub.
Step 2 Plug an antenna or cable TV cable into the antenna-cable-TV connector on the tuner. The connector is threaded and looks like the coaxial connector at the back of a TV or cable box. Some tuners include an antenna for receiving over-the-air TV broadcasts. If you want to view over-the-air TV but your unit doesn't have an antenna, you'll have to buy one. Rooftop antennas provide better reception than rabbit-ear antennas. Cable provides better reception than either type of antenna.
Step 3 If your tuner supports video recording, you'll want to plug in the A/V cable included with the device. The cable will have composite video and audio RCA plugs--red, white, yellow--and maybe an S-Video connector at the end of it that plugs into your TV or other device you'll be recording from. Depending on the design of the tuner, the end of the cable that fits into the tuner may be a single plug or another set of composite plugs.
Step 4 When you connect the tuner to your computer, Windows should pop up a 'device found' alert. If it doesn't, you might have to reboot your machine to wake up Windows to the new hardware you've installed. Either way, the alert is your tip-off to install the software packaged with your tuner. Typically that will be a two-step process: The first step installs the drivers for the device, and the second installs the applications for it.
Step 5 Once installed, the software will take you through the steps to start viewing TV on your computer.