With Windows Media Center—a feature included in Windows Vista Home Premium and Windows Vista 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 setting up your TV signal to work with Windows Media Center, see Set up a TV signal in Windows Media Center.

About TV tuners

A TV tuner is a device that enables you to connect an analog or digital TV signal to your computer. Without a TV tuner, you cannot watch and record live TV in Windows 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 is possible to add one. For information about compatible TV tuners, contact your computer manufacturer or go to the Windows Vista Hardware Compatibility List website.

You might even be able to add multiple tuners (for example, two individual tuners, one dual tuner, or one combo tuner) to your computer. Multiple tuners enable you to record one channel while watching another or to record two shows simultaneously. For more information about adding multiple tuners, see What should I know before adding TV tuners?

About TV signals

Windows Media Center supports a wide range of TV signal types, including antenna signals, cable TV signals, and satellite TV signals. The type of signal you can set up is determined by the type of TV tuner you have installed on your computer, the area in which you live, and the cable or satellite television provider you subscribe to.

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 Windows 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 tables to determine what you'll need to get your TV signal up and running.

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Standard-definition TV signal scenarios

Find your scenario in the table below to figure out what kind of tuner you'll need to watch and record standard TV in Windows Media Center.

If your TV signal comes from
And your signal type is
You need this type of tuner

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

Analog (for example, local and basic cable channels, but no premium or digital TV channels)

Analog TV tuner

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

Digital (premium or digital TV 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

Analog or digital

Analog TV tuner (the set-top box converts any digital signals to analog)

An over-the-air antenna

Analog (local channels)

Analog TV tuner

HDTV signal scenarios

Find your scenario in the table below to figure out what you'll need to watch and record HDTV in Windows Media Center.

If your TV signal comes from
You need this type of tuner
You need this additional hardware

A cable or satellite set-top box

Analog tuner (the set-top box converts the digital HDTV signal to an analog standard-definition signal)

None

An over-the-air antenna

HDTV tuner

None

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

Digital Cable Tuner (a special kind of digital TV tuner built-in to Digital Cable Ready computers)

A Digital Cable Ready computer, a TV or monitor that supports High-Definition Copy Protection (HDCP) over DVI or HDMI, and a CableCARD from your cable provider.