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Turn a PC into a Personal Video Recorder

By Larry Magid

Special to the Mercury News

TV tuners for PCs have been around for more than a decade, but until recently they have been of questionable use. When I first reviewed a PC tuner back in the early 1990s, I wondered why anyone would want one when all they did was turn an expensive computer into an inexpensive TV set.

But things have changed and they’re about to change even more. For one thing, it’s now possible to record TV shows to your PC’s hard drive, which lets you use a PC as if it were a TiVo to time shift your viewing. For another, there are now tuners that work with laptops, allowing you to watch TV while you’re on the road.

High-definition TV is yet another breakthrough, making it possible to use a PC equipped with a tuner and an LCD computer monitor to watch HDTV. Finally, millions of people are about to get TV software on their PCs without even necessarily knowing it. Windows Vista Home Premium edition, which will be on most consumer PCs starting Jan. 30, will come with Windows Media Center, which is all the software you’ll need to watch and record TV.

As a frequent traveler, I find the ability to equip a laptop with a tuner especially appealing, but until now that required carrying around a fairly bulky external adapter such as Hauppauge’s WinTV-PVR2-USB, but Hauppauge has just come up with a new tuner that’s just a bit bigger than a thumb drive. The $100 Win-TV-HVR-950 plugs directly into the USB drive of a laptop and desktop TV, providing you with the ability to watch and pause live TV and record shows to your PC’s hard disk. It won’t work with very old laptops. It requires a Windows PC with a USB 2.0 drive along with at least a 2.2 GHz P4 or 1.8 GHz Centrino processor and 64MB of graphics memory.

The device comes with a portable telescoping antenna that can be used from the road. You can also plug in a cable from a cable or satellite system. In addition to standard analog TV, it can also pick up digital HDTV signals off-the-air, though you can only get standard definition programs from cable. The software quickly scans for available channels in your area.

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