Build Your Own OTA DVR

Using a TV Tuner Card to build a PC based DVR for Recording OTA Free TV

You can use your home computer to capture and record free TV using an Over-the-Air Antenna!

Since 2009, United States tTV Tuner Card - USBtelevision programs have been broadcast Over-the-Air (OTA) exclusively in digital format. This means that HD signal is available for free in many locations using an indoor or outdoor TV antenna. Goodbye snowy picture!

If you’re already using a digital antenna to watch local programming, and you currently use a PC to stream video to your TV, you may be interested in purchasing a TV tuner card.

What’s a TV tuner card, you ask? Well, a tuner card is a peripheral that can be easily added to nearly any home computer to record free broadcast TV directly to your device. That’s right! You’ll be able to pause, rewind or fast forward your local programming exactly the way you would with an expensive cable or satellite box, without any of those pesky monthly expenses!

Did someone say it’s Football Season?

Record your favorite NFL games and watch them on your own time, and or commercial free. With a setup like this you can not only get Sunday and Thursday Football for free in HD, but you can watch a standard 3 hour game in an hour and a half. Learn more about watching NFL for free in HD

How to choose the right Tuner Card

There are four basic types of TV Tuner Cards:

  • Internal – install inside your computer
  • External – plug into an USB or IEEE 1394 port on your computer
  • External – connect to a CardBus slot or ExpressCard slot on your laptop
  • Network – plug into an Ethernet port on your router

At a high-level, the first choice to make when deciding on a new tuner card is whether you’d like a USB, Network or PCI-e compatible card. With a PCI-e card, you’ll need to open the case of your desktop computer to install the card, but you won’t need to sacrifice a valuable USB port. On the other hand, if you’re using a laptop or don’t have a spare PCI-e port, a USB tuner card will present you with quicker, easier installation experience. For most novice computer users the USB option works best. The cost for a device like this is around $30 – 60.00

H830 connection

The next step is to think about how you plan to use your tuner card. If you only need to record one show at a time, a single tuner model will save you some cash. However, dual or multiple tuner models provide the capability to record content while simultaneously watching another channel.  And if you don’t plan to add a cable TV connection to the setup, you can save a bit more by choosing a digital-only tuner card. Additional options such as a remote control or DNLA compatibility are also worth considering when making a decision.

HDHomeRun Connect

All that being said there is a solution that trumps all of these options. SiliconDust HDHomeRun is a TV tuner for people who want to enjoy video content throughout their home network. Once it is connected to your home router, you can access the HDHomeRun Tuner from any computer, anywhere in your home. Watch or record TV from anywhere you have a computer – using Windows Media Player.

HDHomeRun Connect diagram

To get a full list of TV signals that are supported by Windows Media Center click here. If you have questions about the HDHomeRun this Silicondust Forum has a lot of great information. The cost for a device like this under $100.

HDHomeRun Connect

Click here to check current pricing on Amazon. 

Here is a great quote from the comments section of Amazon.com: “Way back, when HDTV first started being broadcast Over The Air, I bought a HDTV tuner card. Being able to record HD TV programming without having to buy a massive processor to do all the encoding was really attractive. It was really nice to record HD programming and watch it in full HD quality sometime later. I know you can buy a box that does all that… back then, you couldn’t… and then you could, but it was really expensive. As HDTV programming was added, I quickly realized that I wanted more than one tuner. That was when I purchased my first HDHomeRun Dual tuner. It was so easy to setup and so easy to use, that I quickly realized that I needed another.” Read more reviews

Getting new peripherals to talk to your computer can sometimes be difficult, but the majority of tuner cards will work great if you follow a few simple steps.

Drivers and installation will vary depending on the tuner card you purchase, but major brands such as Hauppauge & SiliconDust provide a simple installation process through tight integration with Windows Media Center. Here are two great resources for learning more about TV Tuners and Windows Media Center.

If you have Windows 7 Home Premium, Professional or Ultimate, the required software is included with your operating system. Lucky you! To install simply open Media Center, select ‘Live TV Setup’ and follow the prompts. When setup is complete, you’ll be able to watch and record programming without leaving the native Windows software. The same result can also be achieved, albeit more difficultly, with other operating systems. One thing to keep in mind is that there are a few system resources that will either positively or negatively effect your ability to stream an OTA signal: processor speed, memory, and video graphics card capabilities, as well as available ports.

Now you’re ready to record HD OTA TV for free!

Recording the content will allow you to save programs for future viewing. Make sure you have plenty of space to store the files, however. The high-definition files can be as large as 7-8 gigabytes per hour of programming when captured using this method. A new external hard drive would probably be a good investment. Get a TV tuner card and enjoy recorded major network TV completely free of monthly charges!

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Next Steps – Playing that recorded Video on your HD Big Screen. Read “How to Connect a Laptop to a TV


Here are some additional articles that you will find helpful:

  1. Recording Over-the-Air Channels with a Set-top Box
  2. What is OTA (Over-the-Air)
  3. How to Connect Multiple TV’s to your OTA Antenna
  4. Sky HDTV Outdoor Antenna from Mohu
  5. Watch NFL Free

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