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I'd like to be able to watch TV in a window while working on other projects... Is the current state of tuner hardware to the point where this would be possible? What are the most popular cards out there?

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Yes, it's possible to watch TV in a window. All modern tuners and their associated software should be capable of this, whether it's a PCI card or a USB device. Needless to say, you will need a reasonably modern PC to avoid any performance issues or jerkiness. If you have Windows Media Centre, e.g. on Vista Home Premium then you can use that as your viewing software.

I've got on well with Hauppauge devices in the past.

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  • +1 for the Hauppauge link. Been INCREDIBLY happy with my WinTV-HVR-1800 MC board - hauppauge.com/site/products/data_hvr1800mc.html
    – Mark Pim
    Jul 15 '09 at 12:57
  • +1 also for Hauppauge. Been using their stuff for years.
    – Joe Schmoe
    Jul 15 '09 at 20:45
  • +1 got the wintv-pvr usb 2 external hardware tv/tuner and this baby has some cons but any computer even a prehistoric one can run it easy ... works on every windows 2k+ (7 also) and linux ... not bad for an old baby !!!
    – zillion
    Aug 29 '09 at 9:33
  • The only thing to watch out for is to make sure the tuner cards are compatible with your OS.
    – Keltari
    Jun 8 '13 at 6:33
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I use a "dedicated" home theater PC running Vista Media Center with a Hauppagge WinTV HVR-1800, and an over-the-air antenna to watch HDTV. Sometimes I'll watch in Windowed mode while browsing on a second monitor.

AV Science Forum is a great resource on home theater PCs and AV hobby in general.

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Maybe hulu fits your needs, you don't need any fancy tuner hardware.

If you really do want to build your own computer-TV/DVR then you'll need an ATSC/ClearQAM/NTSC tuner device. Hauppauge makes some of the best under their "WinTV" line, though there are plenty of other options. Generally speaking most tuner cards come bundled with software that will let you watch TV on your computer. If you want something different or desire additional functionality there are lots of other options such as Windows Media Center, MythTV, etc.

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  • Hulu: not in Canada, unfortunately! Thanks for the reply! Jul 15 '09 at 8:08
  • +1 - Over The Air TV is so 1960 and cable is only a couple of decades better. If you do not have access to Hulu, TV.com or Netflix($) check out the individual network websites (i.e. abc.com, nbc.com, bbc.co.uk) as they will often have their own shows available for viewing.
    – Rob Allen
    Jul 15 '09 at 13:27
  • @RobAllen, watching shows on Hulu or DVD is not the same as watching live TV. Those have no commercials or anything (which of course has its pros), but it also feels very isolating and lonely, while live TV with network promos and such feels more connected to the world (especially for those of us with Social Anxiety Disorder who avoid real people). More importantly, those only allow you to watch one particular program, while channel surfing allows you to see all kinds of stuff that may not even be available on Hulu/DVD. Even re-runs are nice.
    – Synetech
    Jul 13 '12 at 17:54
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Except for the resolution differences (the quality goes down fast when ran at full screen), TV tuners are great for watching TV on PC.

Here's two links about someone who got his gaming consoles working on his PC (where he uses to take screenshots of the games) and the quality of the TV tuner he brought:

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I have had an ATI Theater 550 PRO for a while now (2-4 years or something) and together with Windows Media Center it worked very well.

Right now I don't have an antenna or anything to plug into it though, but I still use it for Radio as it has an FM tuner as well. Anyways, Yes it is possible =)

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You might also want to consider getting a Dreambox

My previous roommate had one of these babies.

Once you get it up and running they are very nice!

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Elgato has some products that can do this. HDHomeRun is a network tuner.

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