It has been almost two years since I last wrote on the subject of TV tuners in computers, and a lot has changed since then. Over-the-air TV signals have finally gone all-digital, and many cable providers have reduced or dropped their analog cable lineups as well. These transitions, coupled with the release of Windows 7, mean that this year should be an exciting one for those of us with home-theater PCs.
As I alluded to above, Windows 7 has brought some very nice advancements to its included Media Center application. This is now available in all major versions of Windows – Home Premium, Professional and Ultimate. The improvements that affect HTPC use are threefold:
– The addition of support for CableCard-based tuners on a wider variety of hardware (previously they were restricted to only special BIOS-enabled motherboards)
– Support for tuning un-encrypted digital cable channels, also known as Clear-QAM
– Support for more tuners than previous editions of Media Center (up to four of each type now)
There aren't very many CableCard tuners on the market yet, so that advance won't be a big deal until more hardware vendors start shipping products – but it looks like a lot of stuff is being announced right now at CES, including a quad-channel tuner from Centon and a version of the HDHomeRun (which our company president, Jon, uses) that will use CableCard technology.
Clear-QAM is a much more tangible feature right now, and I am very much looking forward to making the switch myself from analog to digital cable. I tried that last year with set-top boxes, but I found that the extra hassle in setup wasn't worth it at the time. Please note, though, that what channels are available 'in the clear' will vary greatly between different regions and cable companies. In many areas, though, the option of free over-the-air digital (ATSC) means you can get many channels for a one-time investment in a good tuner and antenna; that is the option which we at Puget are recommending to our customers with the Hauppauge HVR-2250 we will soon be carrying.
I hope to post again in the next couple of months when I switch over to either ATSC or Clear-QAM myself, or maybe even a CableCard setup, but until then please feel free to leave comments on your own TV-on-PC experiences!