Purchasing a TV tuner for a home theater PC is never an easy task. There are a good number of considerations to take into account before running out and buying the internal or external tuner you think is best for you. Simply grabbing the first tuner you find won't work. Let's take a look at some of the things you should think about before adding the ability to record TV to your PC.
More important that any other consideration is the type of television signal you receive from your provider. Do you still have an antenna? Are you a cable or satellite subscriber? Only certain tuners will work with certain signals so you need to be sure you know what you get.
If you use an antenna to receive over-the-air (OTA), you're going to want an ATSC tuner. For digital cable subscribers, a CableCARD tuner is probably your best bet. ClearQAM is also for cable subscribers but you may not receive many channels using these tuners. NTSC tuners can be used for getting satellite signals into your HTPC. Some cable companies still provide analog signals and an NTSC tuner will allow you to capture these signals.
Type of HTPC
Do you use a full-sized computer for your HTPC? Maybe you use a laptop. No matter what form factor you choose for your home theater computer, you'll need to choose a tuner that will fit that form. TV tuners of each type are available in both internal and external forms.
For a full-sized computer, most people choose an internal TV tuner. If you have the space available, this saves you needing another electrical outlet and running more wires between devices. For smaller form-factors, an external USB or network tuner might be better for you.
No matter which type of form factor you choose, you'll want to be sure that you have the right connections available to you. Most external devices are USB so having an open port is important. Most internal tuners are PCI or PCIx so, once again, verify that you have the proper ports available to you before making your purchase.
This is one of those times when price is actually the last consideration. You'll of course need to choose a tuner that fits within your budget but the numbers can vary widely depending on the type of signal you want to capture. CableCARD tuners are easily the most expensive on the market but they allow you to capture premium cable content that you can't receive with other types of cards.
When it comes to NTSC or ATSC cards, you have some more leeway with pricing. One thing you don't want to do with a TV tuner however is skimp on quality. Lower cost tuners tend to use cheaper hardware and you could have issues with recordings. There's nothing more frustrating than missing your shows because of a cheap tuner.
While there are fewer things to consider when shopping for a TV tuner, you should definitely take your time when making the decision. Knowing the type of signal you receive is really only the first step. Most people enjoy their TV viewing time and missing recordings or having to micro-manage your tuner isn't something that you're going to enjoy. This is one of those cases where spending more time to choose the right tuner and spending more money will save you a lot of grief in the future. Take your time and get the device that will serve its purpose for years to come.