Computer TV Adapters

Picture Quality does not Depend on the Price of the Tuner

With old analog TV equipment, you got a better picture if you spent more money. Digital TV is data. You either receive the data or you don’t. A more expensive device may have slightly better sensitivity if you use an antenna to receive broadcast digital signals from far away. On a decent cable connection, all devices are equal. Of course, your viewing experience depends on the quality of the monitor, and here spending more money gives you a bigger, better display even if you are just looking at a still photograph of your dog.


Analog TV is dead, so it makes no sense to buy analog tuner capability.

The FCC has approved a cable TV proposal to phase out unencrypted “Clear QAM” programming, so at this point if you have cable service you need a device that supports CableCards.

HDHR Prime

The SiliconDust HDHR Prime is a three tuner external Ethernet LAN attached device with CableCard support that now costs $80 on Newegg. The ability to record three programs at a time seems to be perfectly adequate for even heavy TV viewers. Because it is attached to your network, it can be shared between computers, although when all three tuners are in use no computer can record an additional program. So sharing does require some coordination.

SiliconDust even has apps for your phone or table to view live TV directly. However, the SiliconDust unit does not have a lot of processing power to convert from the MPEG 2 format used by TV to the MP4 format expected by mobile devices, so only Standard Definiton programs work correctly when watching live TV. The PC is a much better client.

Premium content marked “do not copy” like HBO or BBCA-HD can only be viewed or recorded using Windows Media Center, and then a recorded copy can only be viewed on the computer that stored it. However, there are three tuners and premium content is frequently rebroadcast several times a week, so each computer can record its own copy of each Game of Thrones episode.

 Hauppauge 2650

The Hauppauge 2650 (~$100) is a two tuner USB connected device CableCard designed by SiliconDust but sold by Hauppauge. Unfortunately, it has problems with the USB 3 ports on most modern mainboards. I do not recommend this device any more.

Satellite, U-Verse, and Premium Content through a Set Top Box

Hauppauge has two HD analog capture devices that can record HD programming through an external set top box. The Colossus card ($150) is an internal PCI-e adapter that can be plugged into a desktop computer. An older Hauppauge HD PVR 1212 ($190) is an external USB attached box.  They connect to an external High Definition tuner which may be:

  • A cable TV HD set top box
  • A satellite service HD tuner
  • A FIOS or U-Verse (TV from your phone company) box

The external device (set top box or satellite tuner) receives a digital HD signal containing video compressed using MPEG 2 (cable) or MPEG 4 (satellite or U-Verse). It decompresses the data and uses it to generate an analog 1080i signal that could drive an HD TV set. However, the analog component cables are plugged into the Hauppauge devices which sample the analog signal to obtain a digital value for Red, Green, and Blue. That is then recompressed to MPEG 4 AVC. The decompress/recompress and the digital to analog back to digital conversion lose some sharpness in the picture. It is still certainly better than SD (DVD) but not as good as the original HD digital data. However this is the only way to get DRM free recordings of premium cable channels that you can share among the computers in your home, and it is the only way to record satellite or other proprietary signalling systems that require an external receiver box.

However, the HD PVR 1212 is a buggy device that crashes periodically, and when it crashes it blocks further recording and may require a reboot of your computer to clear the hung device drivers. It has not proven to be a reliable solution and is not recommended for regular cable TV systems where the Hauppauge 2650 is more reliable and saves the original sharpest picture.