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The Ultimate Guide to Choosing and Setting Up External TV Tuners

The Ultimate Guide to Choosing and Setting Up External TV Tuners

Why You Need an External TV Tuner

In today's digital world, you may think you don't need a TV tuner anymore. After all, can't you just stream everything online? While streaming is incredibly convenient, there are still some key reasons why an external TV tuner can be useful and even necessary:

Access Free Broadcast TV

One of the best perks of a TV tuner is the ability to access free over-the-air broadcast channels. Depending on where you live, you can get dozens of channels, including major networks, local programming, and more. An external tuner allows you to plug into broadcasts via antenna or cable without needing a full television setup.

Watch and Record Live TV

A great feature of many external tuners is the ability to watch and record live television. For example, you can:

  • Watch news or sports events as they happen
  • Record shows or movies to watch later
  • Pause and rewind live TV

For cord-cutters who want that live TV experience without a cable subscription, a tuner is essential.

View Content Without Internet

While so much is dependent on the internet these days, broadcast TV does not require an internet connection. An external tuner gives you the flexibility to access entertainment and information even if your internet goes down.

Convert Analog Video to Digital

For analog video sources like VHS tapes, camcorders, or gaming systems, an external capture card can convert that analog video input to digital so you can edit, live stream, or convert old home videos to digital files. This brings new life to those old analog formats.

Compatibility and Portability

External TV tuners are compatible with laptops, desktops, tablets, etc., so you can access your TV tuner on the go. Many external tuners are quite portable, so you can even bring live TV with you anywhere you bring your computer.

Better Performance

Built-in TV tuners in laptops or desktops often provide lackluster performance. An external TV tuner has dedicated hardware focused solely on smooth TV reception and playback. With support for the latest broadcast standards and connections, an external tuner brings much better TV viewing performance.

While streaming is ubiquitous, don't be too quick to ditch your TV tuner. An external model brings flexibility, performance, and access to watch and record live television on nearly any device.

What Are External TV Tuners and How Do They Work?

An external TV tuner is a handy device that allows you to view and record live television on your computer, laptop, or tablet. But what exactly are these devices and how do they work their magic?

What is a TV Tuner?

A TV tuner is a type of receiver that allows a device to decode broadcast video signals. This includes traditional cable, satellite, and over-the-air antenna feeds. The tuner extracts individual channels from the signal so you can view them.

Internal vs. External Tuners

Many desktop computers and laptops have internal TV tuners built-in. However, external tuners have some key advantages:

  • Better reception and video quality
  • More tuning options (analog, digital, HD, etc.)
  • Portability to use with multiple devices
  • Advanced features like time-shifting and closed captions

How Do External Tuners Connect?

There are a few types of connections used by external tuners:

  • USB - Simple plug-and-play USB connection. Provides power and data transfer.
  • PCIe Card - Install directly into a desktop PC's PCIe slot. Low latency and high performance for gaming or live streaming.
  • Network Tuner - Connects to your home network and tunes channels on the device. Streams video to any networked media device.
USBPortable, easy to use, compatible with laptops
PCIe CardLow latency, high performance
Network TunerUse tuner anywhere on home network

How Do External Tuners Work?

External tuners contain circuitry to decode television signals just like a TV does internally. The tuner has a tuner chip, video processor, and software to handle channel tuning and video output.

For over-the-air signals, the tuner receives broadcasts via antenna. For cable, it connects directly to the cable feed. The tuner extracts the individual channels from the full signal and decodes the analog or digital video and audio as needed. This video output then goes to your computer via the USB, PCIe, or network connection where you can view, record, and edit the video.

So in summary, external tuners act as a middleman - taking raw TV signals and converting them into video your computer can understand and handle.

Key Benefits of Using an External TV Tuner

External TV tuners provide some great advantages over built-in options. If you want access to free broadcast television, ability to record, and maximum compatibility, then an external tuner is the way to go.

Access to Broadcast TV

One of the biggest perks of an external tuner is gaining access to free over-the-air broadcast TV channels including major networks, local programming, news, and more. With a tuner and antenna, you can enjoy this content on your computer without needing a cable/satellite subscription.

Enhanced Features

External tuners come packed with awesome features not found on built-in models:

  • Time shifting - pause and rewind live TV
  • Closed captions - view subtitles/captions
  • Picture-in-picture - watch two channels simultaneously
  • Scheduling - program recordings for shows

Ability to Record and Edit

Unlike built-in options, external tuners allow you to record live television onto your computer. You can save shows, sporting events, movies, news broadcasts and edit them or convert to digital files.


Since external tuners are not fixed inside a computer, you can easily move them between devices like:

  • Laptops
  • Desktops
  • Tablets
  • Smartphones (with adapter)

This portability brings your live TV with you wherever you bring your device.


External tuners work across operating systems like Windows, Mac, Linux, etc. Many also support both older analog signals as well as new digital broadcasts.

Better Performance

With dedicated TV tuning hardware, external devices typically outperform built-in options providing:

  • Higher video resolution
  • Smoother frame rates
  • Increased channel scanning capabilities

This results in an enhanced watching experience.

Convert Analog to Digital

For analog sources like VHS tapes, camcorders, or gaming systems, external tuners make it easy to digitize that analog content so you can edit, live stream, and preserve those media memories.

Overall, external tuners unlock a wide variety of capabilities to view, record, edit, and enjoy live television on your computer or mobile devices.

Types of External TV Tuners

If you're considering an external tuner, you have three main options - USB, network, and PCIe tuners. Each has its own pros and cons.

USB Tuners

USB TV tuners are the most common and versatile type of external tuner. As the name suggests, they connect to your computer via USB.

  • Super simple plug-and-play setup
  • Portable - works across laptops, desktops, tablets
  • No need to open up computer
  • Wide compatibility with operating systems

USB tuners are limited by the bandwidth of USB ports, so video quality maxes out at 1080p. But for most uses, a USB tuner provides an excellent balance of convenience and functionality.

Example USB Tuners

  • Hauppauge WinTV-dualHD - great reception and user-friendly software.
  • SiliconDust HDHomeRun Connect - records up to two channels simultaneously.
  • Elgato EyeTV Hybrid - combines analog, digital, and HDTV in one compact device.

Network Tuners

Network tuners connect directly to your home network via Ethernet or WiFi. They can stream live television to compatible smart TVs, media players, tablets and phones on the network.

  • Access live TV anywhere on home network
  • Share single tuner with multiple devices
  • Streams HD content using home network bandwidth

The main limitations are that the tuner must be on the same network as your viewing devices. There can also be lag or buffering issues.

Example Network Tuners

  • Tablo - streams to iOS, Android, Roku, Apple TV, and more.
  • HDHomeRun CONNECT DUO - dual tuner records or streams two channels.
  • SiliconDust HDHomeRun Flex 4K - future proofed for 4K broadcasts.

PCIe Tuners

PCI Express tuners are expansion cards that are installed directly into a PC's PCIe slot. They offer the highest performance and the least latency since they directly interface with the PC's hardware.

  • Low latency for live streaming or gaming
  • Highest video quality potential - 4K or 1080p at 60fps
  • Dedicated decoding hardware provides optimal performance

The tradeoffs are that they only work with desktop PCs, require opening up the computer to install, and drivers may need configuring.

Example PCIe Tuners

  • Hauppauge WinTV-quadHD - four tuner card for recording multiple channels.
  • AVerMedia Game Capture Card 4K - optimized for gameplay recording.
  • Elgato 4K60 Pro - captures 4K at 60 fps with HDR.

So in summary, look at USB, network and PCIe tuners to choose the right fit for your specific needs and use case.

Choosing the Right TV Tuner for Your Needs

With the range of external TV tuners available, how do you pick the right one for you? Here are some key factors to consider when selecting a tuner:

Intended Use Case

First, think about how you plan to use the tuner. Do you want to:

  • Watch and record over-the-air broadcast TV?
  • Time-shift live cable TV?
  • Capture analog video sources?
  • Use across multiple rooms and devices?

Your intended use will help narrow down tuner types and features.


Compare features like:

  • Number of tuners - Single vs dual vs quad for recording multiple shows.
  • Video quality - SD, HD, 4K, HDR, frame rate.
  • Reception - Range, number of channels.
  • Inputs - Antenna, cable, composite, HDMI.
  • Time shifting - Pause, rewind, recording.

Connectivity and Compatibility

Factor in the devices you want to use the tuner with and make sure the connectivity is compatible:

  • USB - Windows, Mac, laptops, desktops.
  • PCIe - Desktop PC PCIe slot.
  • Network - Smart TVs, streaming boxes, phones, tablets.

Tuning Type

Select a tuner based on the signal source:

  • Over-the-air (OTA) - Access free broadcast channels via antenna.
  • Cable - Connects directly to cable source.
  • Analog - Converts analog sources to digital.
  • ATSC 3.0 - Next-gen broadcasts (available in select areas).

Software and Apps

The software and apps can greatly impact usability. Prioritize tuners with intuitive interfaces and robust DVR, scheduling, and streaming capabilities.


Finally, consider how much you want to spend. Basic HD USB tuners start under $100. High-end multi-tuner PCIe cards go up to $300+. Set a budget to narrow options.

Weigh your priorities in terms of use case, capabilities, connectivity, and budget. This will help you select the ideal external TV tuner for how you want to watch, record, and access live television.

Setting Up and Using an External TV Tuner

Getting an external TV tuner up and running is usually a straightforward process. Here are some tips for setup and using common features:

Initial Setup

For the initial setup:

  1. Connect the external tuner to your computer via USB, PCIe or Ethernet depending on the model.
  2. Attach any necessary cables such as the antenna or cable input.
  3. Install any required driver or software from the manufacturer.
  4. Run through any on-screen prompts to set up the tuner and scan for channels.

For USB and PCIe tuners, you may need to reboot the computer after installing drivers. The scanning process may take several minutes as the tuner detects all available channels.

Watching Live TV

Once setup is complete, open the tuner software application to start watching live TV. Features typically include:

  • Channel guide - browse channels and view programming info.
  • Favorite channels - pin your most-watched stations.
  • Adjust audio and captions.
  • Full screen mode.

You can click through channels just like regular television. Some tuners include extras like show reminders and parental controls.

Example: HDHomeRun App

The HDHomeRun VIEW app provides a full-featured interface to watch from a phone, tablet, or computer. You can browse channels, view program details, schedule recordings, and more.

Recording Shows

Recording shows works similarly to a DVR:

  1. Find the show in the guide you want to record.
  2. Select record or schedule recording (one-time or recurring).
  3. Recorded content is saved on your computer.

You can then watch recordings on-demand just like a personal video library.


Time-shifting allows you to control live TV by:

  • Pausing
  • Rewinding
  • Fast forwarding

This makes it easy to replay missed moments or take a break without missing anything. Buffering capacity varies based on tuner hardware.

Editing and Converting

Recorded shows can be edited or converted using video editing software. You can cut commercials, save highlights, combine footage, convert to different formats, and more.

With some practice, you can do almost anything with live TV using the tools provided by an external tuner. Enjoy the flexibility!

Top External TV Tuner Models and Brands

With so many options on the market, which are the best external TV tuners? Here is a look at some top models across USB, network and PCIe tuners:

USB Tuners

SiliconDust HDHomeRun Flex 4K

  • Records over-the-air 4K broadcasts
  • Compatible with HDHomeRun DVR software
  • Supports HEVC H.265 decoding
  • USB 3.0 connectivity

Hauppauge WinTV-dualHD

  • Dual tuner records two channels simultaneously
  • Includes antenna for OTA channels
  • Scheduled recording and time shifting
  • Clear video quality with Dolby Digital Plus surround sound

Elgato EyeTV Hybrid

  • Combines analog, digital, and HDTV tuning
  • Pause, rewind, and record live TV
  • Movie and show scheduler
  • Edit recordings and export to mobile devices

Network Tuners

SiliconDust HDHomeRun CONNECT 4K

  • Streams 4K and 1080p 60 fps
  • Compatible with a wide range of apps
  • Gigabit ethernet connectivity
  • Records to NAS, PC, or the cloud


  • Four tuners for recording four shows simultaneously
  • Works with Tablo apps on streaming devices
  • One week channel guide data
  • Automatic commercial skip feature

TiVo EDGE for Antenna

  • Six tuners, up to 300 HD hours
  • SkipMode to jump commercial breaks
  • 4K upscaling and streaming
  • All-in-one DVR solution

PCIe Tuners

Hauppauge WinTV-quadHD

  • Four tuners for capturing four channels at once
  • Records up to 1080i video
  • Hardware encoding to reduce PC workload
  • Low profile bracket for slim PC builds

AVerMedia Live Gamer 4K

  • Captures 4Kp60 HDR gameplay
  • Ultra-low latency for streaming
  • Multiple video and audio inputs
  • Multi-channel audio mixer

These represent some of the best tuners across connectivity types in their respective classes.

Benefits of Amazon Prime for Buying External TV Tuners

For tech devices like external TV tuners, being an Amazon Prime member can provide some nice perks and savings. Here are some of the benefits Prime offers when purchasing external tuners on Amazon:

Free Two-Day Shipping

One major Prime advantage is access to free two-day shipping on millions of items. For larger external tuners that may be expensive to ship normally, the free expedited shipping can represent significant savings.

Easy Returns

Amazon Prime provides free, convenient returns on most items within 30 days of receipt. This makes it less risky to purchase an external tuner you aren't completely sure about, knowing you can easily send it back if needed.

Access to Lightning Deals

As a Prime member, you can take advantage of special limited-time Lightning Deals. These deals offer big discounts on select external tuners, usually 20% off or more, but the low prices only last a few hours while supplies last.

Prime-Only Pricing

In addition to Lightning Deals, some external tuners qualify for exclusive pricing discounts just for Prime members. You'll see "Prime Exclusive" on the product page if it has special pricing only accessible to subscribers.

Availability Notifications

If an external tuner you want is out of stock or unavailable, you can sign up for availability alerts. Amazon will notify you via email or app push notification when it's back in stock and ready to ship.

Access to Reviews

As a Prime member you can browse thousands of reviews from verified owners when researching external tuners. This helps make more informed purchasing decisions based on real customer experiences.

Overall, a Prime membership can get you discounts, free shipping, hassle-free returns, and other perks for ordering external TV tuners. Take advantage if you plan to buy from Amazon!

Dual Tuner TV

A dual tuner TV is a device that allows you to watch and record two different TV channels at the same time. Here are some search results that provide more information about dual tuner TV:

  1. The Hauppauge WinTV-DualHD Dual USB 2.0 HD TV Tuner is a popular dual tuner TV device that can be plugged into the USB port of your Windows 10, 8 or 7 PC. It has two built-in TV tuners that allow you to watch one channel while recording another, record two programs at the same time, have picture-in-picture or two complete TV windows.
  2. The Hauppauge WinTV-dualHD Dual TV Tuner is another popular dual tuner TV device that can be plugged into a USB port on your Windows PC or laptop. It allows you to watch, pause, and record two channels of ATSC and clear QAM High Definition and Standard Definition TV. It has two complete TV tuners so you can record one TV program while watching another, record two TV programs at the same time, have picture-in-picture, or have two complete TV windows on your PC screen at the same time.
  3. The Hauppauge WinTV-dualHD Dual TV tuner is available for purchase on the Hauppauge Webstore. It is a dual HD digital TV tuner for your Windows PC that has two tuners for ATSC and clear QAM digital TV. You can record one TV program while watching another, record two TV programs at the same time, have picture-in-picture using the included WinTV v10 application, or have two complete TV windows on your PC screen at the same time.
  4. The Tom's Hardware Forum has a discussion thread about upgrading a single tuner TV card to a dual or multiple tuner card. The thread includes recommendations for good quality dual tuner cards that support Windows 7 64 bit and/or are supported by it.
  5. The Hauppauge WinTV-dual HD USB Dual Tuner is available for purchase at Micro Center. It has two built-in TV tuners that allow you to watch one channel while recording another.
  6. Newegg has a variety of external TV tuner boxes, media players, and satellite receivers that include dual tuner TV devices. Some of the popular devices include the Hauppauge WinTV-DualHD Dual USB 2.0 HD TV Tuner, RCA Extension Cable, and S-Video 4 Pin Mini DIN to RCA Splitter Cable.

Overall, a dual tuner TV is a great device for those who want to watch and record two different TV channels at the same time. There are many options available in the market, and it's important to choose the one that best fits your needs and budget.

Hauppauge 1657 Wintv-Dualhd

The Hauppauge 1657 WinTV-dualHD is a dual TV tuner device that allows you to watch, pause, and record two channels of ATSC and clear QAM High Definition and Standard Definition TV. It can be plugged into a USB port on your Windows PC or laptop and comes with the new WinTV v10 application for Windows, which allows you to watch or record your favorite TV programs in your PC, in a window or full screen. With the WinTV-dualHD, WinTV v10 can record two TV programs at the same time, record one TV program while recording another, or display two TV programs on your PC screen at the same time. You can choose either picture-in-picture or have two complete TV windows on your Windows screen. The device is available for purchase on the Hauppauge Webstore and Amazon. It is also available at Best Buy. The device is for digital TV only and does not support analog TV. If you need analog TV, any one of the WinTV-HVR products (such as the WinTV-HVR-955Q) include analog TV. The HVR stands for 'hybrid video recorder' and all WinTV-HVR's have both analog and digital TV reception.