TV on your computer: Understanding TV signals and TV tuners

With Windows Media Center—a feature included in the Windows 7 Home Premium, Windows 7 Professional, and Windows 7 Ultimate—you can watch and record live TV on your computer. All you need is a TV tuner and a TV signal.

The following sections describe the kinds of tuners and signals that are available, and what you'll need to connect a TV signal properly. For information about how to set up your TV signal to work with Media Center, see Set up a TV signal in Windows Media Center.

About TV tuners

A TV tuner is a device you can use to connect an analog or digital TV signal to your computer. Without a TV tuner, you can't watch and record live TV in Media Center. TV tuners come in two basic model types: external TV tuners, which usually plug into a USB port on your computer, and internal TV tuner cards, which you must install inside your computer.

Picture of a USB TV tuner
A typical external TV tuner
Picture of a TV tuner card
A typical TV tuner card

Most computers do not include a TV tuner, but in many cases, it's possible to add one. For information about compatible TV tuners, see What should I know before adding TV tuners to use with Windows Media Center?

About TV signals

Windows Media Center supports a wide range of TV signal types, including antenna, cable TV, and satellite TV signals. The type of signal you can set up is determined by the following:

  • The area where you live

  • The cable or satellite television provider you subscribe to

  • The type of TV tuner you have installed on your computer

For a list of supported signal types, see TV signals that are supported by Windows Media Center.

Making the connection

Before you can watch and record TV in Media Center for the first time, you'll need to physically connect a TV signal to the TV tuner on your computer. This typically involves connecting one end of a coaxial cable to your tuner and the other end to your TV signal source (for example, an over-the-air antenna, a cable TV jack in the wall, a cable TV set-top box, or a satellite TV set-top box).

Windows Media Center supports both standard-definition TV signals and high-definition television (HDTV) signals. Use the following table to find your scenario and determine what equipment you'll need to get your TV signal up and running.

If your TV signal comes from
And you receive these types of channels
You need this type of tuner

A cable TV jack in the wall (no set-top box)

Local and basic cable channels (no premium channels)

An HDTV-ready tuner. For information about high-definition signal types, see TV signals that are supported by Windows Media Center.

A cable TV jack in the wall (no set-top box)

Premium cable channels

Digital Cable Tuner (a special kind of digital TV tuner built-in to a Digital Cable Ready computer). You'll also need a TV or monitor that supports High-Definition Copy Protection (HDCP) over DVI or HDMI, and a CableCARD from your cable provider.

A cable or satellite set-top box


A TV tuner with video input jacks and infrared (IR) support. (Most TV tuners today have this functionality.)

An over-the-air antenna


It depends on what signal types that your region supports. For example: in the United States, only digital over-the-air is supported, so you'll need an HDTV-ready TV tuner that supports the ATSC signal type.

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