back to article How to watch TV on your PC

Watching TV used to be a passive affair: you sat back and watched whatever happened to be on. These days, passivity is passé. Digital Video Recorder (DVR) set-top boxes can pick up programmes beamed out from a terrestrial transmitter, sent via satellite or pumped down a cable and save them on a hard drive so you begin watching …


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  1. Tom Silver badge

    Dont use Vista....

    Readers should be aware that Vista will not allow you to watch HD tv at full resolution - the DRM sytem will reduce it to something lower

    Same for Digital Radio.,135814-pg,1/article.html

    so use XP, MAC or Linux...

  2. Daniel Bennett


    I'm surprised how SEXY it looks on Vista...

    can't wait for me to get Vista and a TV Card \o/

  3. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    Is DVB-C really that simple? As far as I am aware, Virgin Media send all the channels down the cable line, regardless of which ones you subscribe to, and it is your box/viewing card which decodes the ones you have paid to view - can a DVB-C card decode the signal from the cable directly? It seems in your article that you are just surmising this to be the case without any practical knowledge of it.

  4. Rich

    ...and in the open source corner...

    MythTV anyone?

  5. Neil Daniels


    Unless Virgin changed their T&Cs recently, they won't let you plug anything into their cable that isn't one of their supplied set-top boxes or cable modems. A shame really as the hardware to make use of cable - including the smart card - is out there for very reasonable rates.

  6. Nick Palmer

    Nonsense re: cable

    "Cable looks straightforward: simply install a DVB-C (Digital Video Broadcasting - Cable) tuner such as Terratec's Cinergy 1200 DVB-C PCI card and connect the cable. Your cable company - Virgin Media, here in the UK - only feeds you the channels that you pay for so it probably doesn't much care whether you watch your TV via its own set-top box or through your PC. And you can use your Media Center PC to record content, burn it to CD/DVD, strip out the adverts and stream TV to other PCs around the house."

    This is a nonsense; VM stream to their own set-top boxes which are equipped with smart card readers. No card, no paid for channels. You MIGHT get unencrypted (i.e. Freeview equivalent) channels, but to suggest that you can get paid channels just by buying a DVB-C card is irresponsible. Moreover, VM's terms and conditions forbid the connection of other than their own kit. It IS possible to get cable decoders with a common interface slot that may work with one or other CAM on the market, but it's hardly guaranteed, and is a violation of the aforementioned Ts&Cs.

  7. Mark


    Avoid the basic KWorld cards - they're not very good in my experience.

    Instead of Vista, you might want to become a Linux hippy and investigate the MythTV route ( There's less problem with content protection, and there are CDROM installations of MythTV available, with no problems about having lots of tuners.

  8. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Cable feeds

    Virgin actually send all the channels across its cable network - including the broadband internet (essentially broadcast as a group of channels) and pay per view access like sports events - your set top box restricts access to the channels you don't pay for...

    Most of the channels are encrypted

    Although you can get boxes which circumvent the encryption....

    You will find that connecting anything to your Virgin Cable connection is in contravention of their terms and conditions (Hence the anonymous post!)

  9. Erlang Lacod

    Window$ ? mac ?

    Good article but please can it be revised to include something that could be useful to the growing number of Linux users wanting to watch TV on their PCs

    I'm reliably informed that quite a number of the PC TV cards available are quite capable of running under Linux but as this fact isnt made obvious from the two line product descriptions and box-front piccies provided on most on line reseller sites it would be really useful to see this covered in feature such as this one.

  10. Andrew Hall

    Virgin Media Transmission

    Actually Virgin Media stream all channels including HD channels (but not pay per view) to every subscriber. I believe it is the card in the front of your box that determines what channels you can actually view. I'm not sure how far you would get using the cable tuner you touched on in your review with Virgin Media.

  11. Gary Conroy


    Glad it was so painless for you guys.

    I spent a couple of months wrestling with Vista Media Center and the dual Yuan TV tuners in my Acer Idea 510. Despite umpteen software combinations, I could find no way of getting it to recognise the tuners. Searching around the web, I've discovered that this is a common issue. Works beautifully in XP MCE, though, I'm told.

    I have now given up and purchased Beyond TV which worked straight out of the box. With a couple of bits of freeware, I can use the Radio Times TV guide and with a low-cost bit of hardware can actually get it to work as a PVR.

    I just wish I didn't have to fork out that extra £100 and spend hours of hair-tearing experimentation to get it to do something that it should just 'do.'

  12. Nev Silver badge

    FTA Satellite via FireWire

    You missed out FireDTV.

  13. Simon Painter

    Been using vista...

    I have been using Vista media center on ultimate since rtm and it works like a charm. I can series link a show and then use the vista dvd creator to burn the series to dvd to keep. I now have the complete works of the new series of Dr Who on DVD with swanky menu system and all that malarky.

    for personal use only of course

  14. Paul


    As stated by others cable stream all the channels (even the on demand streams other people in your area are viewing are streamed to your box) and they are encrypted (by nagravision) so to decrypt them you still need the viewing card, and just getting a DVB-C card with a CAM to take the card wont be sufficient as the viewing cards are locked to the mac of the set top box.

    There are ways around it with software CAM emulation, but it's very much against the Virgin t&c's and on very dubious legal ground.

  15. Morely Dotes

    Pity the poor Windows users

    Using Vista (or any other Microsoft product, for that matter) to watch TV is like using a Rube Goldberg machine comprised of a 20kg gold brick, a lever-and-fulcrum arrangement, and a shotgun, to kill flies. Certainly it can be done, but it's difficult to operate, unstable, unreliable, and tends to be messy to an extreme degree.

    Let MS operating systems stick to what they do reasonably well - play games, and sell Microsoft Office to idiots.

  16. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    Any particular reason why you don't mention Nebula Electronic's TV (and freeview) cards? They have Microshaft Vista drivers and seem to work very well. I have been using one for some time with no problems. Linux drivers are available from third-party providers.

    I am using WinXP at present, until I can save up the money for Mr Gates' new product.

  17. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Time for protest...

    In regards to MAC, LINUX not being covered etc. The very mention of the word television sends people into PC mode (Political Correctness, not the other acronym). Why not just state this article is just for the PC and be done with it (who cares about smelly Linux and "everything must be designer" Apple users anyway).

    Disagree? - In that case I propose a full protest outside el reg's HQ offices. BBC employees welcome ;).


    Mediaportal anybody?

  18. Adam


    I have been using Media Portal on my XP system to watch telly

    Media Portal is opensource and is a full functional Media Center

  19. b166er


    You really should check Mediaportal out. It does tv server-multiple clients, clients can all schedule recordings and watch recorded shows/pictures/music/radio from the server and SOOOOO much more ;) fanboy? Oh yes!

    DVB-T cards are available with a CI slot so you can use Top-Up TV, has anyone ever?

    You can also plug your cable/$ky decoder into an analogue card and have Microsoft's MCE remote (or many other remotes) control your decoder manually or through scheduled recordings.

    Viewing encrypted $ky broadcasts is possible using a FireDTV/FloppyDTV with the DragonCam and a valid $ky subscription card (which needs to be inserted into its paired $ky box about every 3 months). As I don't have a $ky subscription, or indeed view any of $ky's offerings, I feel I can suggest what a person might do in order to watch encrypted $ky broadcasts though hasten to add that this may indeed break their T&C's. If so, go the analogue card/IR blaster route.

    Viewing FTA satellite broadcasts is simply a matter of plugging the coax into the back of the DVB-S card. If you want to watch the FTV channels too, you may require a FreeSat from $ky card (£20 I believe) and a DVB-S card with a CI slot, there are some available, see Mediaportals website for a list of their hardware requirements, which specifies whether the hardware has a CI slot. Some cards also provide enough power to be DISEqC compliant and can therefore control a motorised satellite dish so you can wean yourselves from the Murdoch feed (fodder?).

    $ky, tch, fancy paying a subscription AND having to watch adverts.

    Oh yeah, Mediaportals EPG beats anyone elses hands down (after some tinkering)

  20. Jamie

    nay the naysayers

    I have a suspicion that the ones so quick to damn the windows TV viewing experience haven't actually tried it. I have been using the vista media centre with my TV card for months now, and love it. It is stable, attractive and slick. It "just works". The quality of digital broadcasts on my 24" screen is superb.

    Furthermore, the recording features of the vista media centre are beautifully streamlined - it records back a few minutes all the time without you telling it to, so that you can watch the thing you just missed again. If you set it to timer-record a program and then subsequently decide to watch it when it has started recording, you can do this from the begining whilst media centre continues recording ahead in the background. These sort of features are missing or poorly implemented in proprietary software that comes with the cards - i.e. the Haupaggue software.

  21. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Vista still has really stupid problems

    I just spent the weekend trying to get Vista media center to play video files.

    For some unfathomable reason, Microsoft have arranged it so the media player component of Media Center does not use the same codecs as the stand-alone Windows Media Player 11...

    After many hours of searching & trying various 'solutions', Media Center still does not recognise any files beyond the built-in types.

    Media player handles them all.

  22. David Powell

    Vista Media Center 64 Woes

    I'm not sure if this applies to the 32-bit version of Vista MC, but I tried it with the "Vista Compatible" Compro E700 PCI-E Dual DVB-T tuner and MC found the card, found all the channels, but would not display any of them when you tried to watch them! Apparently more than this card is affected by the problem.

    Also be prepared for a lack of Freeview now/next, 7-Day and Freeview playback EPG support in both MC and the cards own software. Most TV cards collect the EPG fro mthe internet and not from the broadcast EPG. Without Freeview Playback EPG support the likelihood of "Sky+" style series link and PDC recording is but a pipe dream.

    Also, despite having album art defined for my music collection (i.e. folder.jpg) album art is often missing! It usually appears in the album views and for the first track on album playback, but all subsequent tracks have the artwork missing! Media Player does not have this problem at all though?!?!?

    My opinion is that creating a Vista Media Centre PC is not for the faint hearted and it is not ready for mass market.

  23. Daniel Bennett

    RE: Virgin Media Transmission

    That is indeed true.

    Apparently, You can get "hacked" cards that will allow you to receive all channels. But my question is, Would VM know?

    VM make contact with the card as well. If you change your TV Service package from the S package to a L package, you don't get a new card (AFAIK)...

  24. Robin Lovell


    Chaps, you're going about this all wrong. My self-built media PC has been running over a year now.

    Abit Shuttle pc, P4, 1GB RAM, 300GB SATA HD, WinTV PVR150 (ditch the MCE controller)

    Install WinTV drivers and software (obviously) - no antenna reqd. don't scan for terrestrial at this stage

    Connect SKY SCART output to S-Video input of WinTV card

    Connect SKY audio line-out RCAs to line-in of WinTV card

    Subscribe to DigiGuide (£8 per year)

    Buy yourself a RedEye - £20 - COM port IR sender, tape the IR end over/near the IR 'eye' on the SKY box

    Download the free RedEye plugin for DigiGuide

    Update the DigiGuide EPG from t'internet

    Verify the paths for output, WinTV software in the RedEye/DigiGuide config

    Sit on your sofa and for each program you want to record, click on Record Using PVR (including Series etc.)

    Sounds more complicated than it is. Ok it has limitations:

    Can't record one channel and watch another - My use for this was to record SKY whilst I'm out or asleep to watch later

    er..that's it. DigiGuide is aware of all SKY channels and their numbers, and it tells the RedEye to send the correct characters at the right time, thus changing SKY channels. The WinTV compresses to MPG2 in hardware for DVD quality video.

    Trust me. Try it. It works.

  25. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Why all the mucking about?

    Although good techy fun, its so much easier to either buy a 2nd hand TiVO (my choice, linux based, lots of mods etc. for those who like to tweak) or if you want it simple, just get SKY+, theres no monthly charge any more so why muck about with all the peripherals/software/compatibility issues etc. Plus these boxes are built for the job, fit nicely in your cabinet, don't have a problem with PSU noise etc.

    Free up your PC for more useful things!!

  26. David Beck

    More on satellite than Sky

    If you don't mind the subtitles or speak a European language, you can find lots of European TV on FTA satellite. The German's solution to providing TV signal to out of the way places was via FTA satellite so all German domestic channels are available FTA, as are some French, Italian and Spanish, plus lots of others. You need to point the dish at one of two main satellite clusters so it is a bit geeky but fun jus the same.

  27. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    nay the naysayers part 2

    Agree with Jamie's comments above, we use Windows Vista media centre on our 32" tv screen in the living room with the infra-red remote control and it works perfectly well. Even my technophobe girlfriend is happy using it.

    I've also been pleased with the fact that you can schedule tv recordings and leave the pc in sleep mode, the os will come out of sleep mode record the required program(s) and then go back to sleep again, saving you from having to keep the pc on all the time.

    Those having issues with tv tuner hardware or are considering purchasing such an item I would suggest that a bit of research in done before purchasing. I've always used Hauppauge hardware and have not had an issue with getting that to work with either XP media centre or Vista media centre.

  28. David Powell

    RE: Vista Media Center 64 Woes pt. 2

    Well one thing to check when searching for Vista hardware is that it has the MS Vista Compatible Logo not the MS Vista Capable logo. What's the difference? Well only Vista Compatible hardware is guaranteed to work in 32 bit and 64 bit versions! Even with the logo present there is not guarantee that it works with Vista MCE. (thanks a bunch MS)

    Last time I checked Hauppauge's Nova T-500 Dual Tuner card did not support Vista 64 bit and they had no plans to support Vista 64 bit either.

    So to all the eye-sayers please tell me of a TV card that has dual tuners and with Vista 64 MCE supports DVB-T subtitles, MHEG-5 digital teletext and Freeview playback?

    Why all the mucking around someone asked when you can just get Sky+ or a Humax PVR-9200TS? Well I'd like a one box does it all solution for CD, DVD, blu-ray, Photos, TV (Freeview), web surfing and the odd occasional letter to the rellies. Whether or not that's achievable at all is another matter entirely!

    I suspect by Christmas I'll be buying a PVR-9200TS and consigning the Media PC to the back room.

  29. Robin Lovell

    RE: Why all the mucking about?

    Mmm..there are people who can't get SKY+ as they are on a communal feed, ie no personal dish

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