Computer Guide

Recording TV shows on the computer

by George Skarbek - 21 August 2007
Click here to buy Skarbek's book Computer Guide now


Recording TV shows on the computer

Q: My DVD recorder recently broke down. I want to use my new computer to do that stuff now. Is there any way I can record TV from my computer? And is there a good editing program?

A: Recording a TV show by using the computer is quite possible. All you have to do is to purchase a TV card and install it into your computer or use a USB attachment. I have seen a tiny USB TV tuner about the size of my thumb that produced very good results. The software supplied with these tuners has improved and become more stable over the last couple of years as well as increased  functionality. I purchased by first TV tuner card over five years ago and now for under $100 you can have a greatly improved product. It will scan and find all the TV stations for you. The software should have the ability to start recording at a given time so you can record your programs while you are away from your computer.

If you have a moderately new computer, watching TV should not use more then 20% of your CPU capacity which means that you can watch TV and work simultaneously. However, your personal productivity may be reduced. Most TV software programs will have a time-shift capability which means that if you arrive home half way through a program that was being recorded you can then watch the start of the show while still recording and catch up during the ads with fast-forward.

I suggest that you purchase a tuner that has digital input as this will enable you to watch the high definition shows. Because your computer monitor has a very much better resolution then the TV has; the image quality will be excellent. If you would like to capture some of your old VHS tapes and burn a DVD then you will need a tuner that has both analogue and digital inputs. See: for a large selection of tuners.

Now after all the good news some points of caution. Firstly you must have an antenna coming in to your tuner. Some USB tuners have a tiny antenna but unless you are very close to the transmitter the signal will be poor. Another aspect to keep in mind that you will need a lot of disk space to store your recorded programs. The MB per minute will depend on the compression, if any, that is used.

Finally to burn a DVD for watching on the TV will required additional steps and may require additional software plus a lot of time if you want to edit out the ads. For a selection of DVD creation software see: Depending on the format that your tuner saves the recordings you may need to convert that format to make it suitable with the burning software so when shopping around ask if the supplied software can edit and also create and burn DVDs as this will save you a lot of hassles in the future.

As for a good editing program, independent reviews has given good reports to Adobe’s Premiere Elements 3 as being a very good compromise between ease of use and number of features that it possesses. Be aware that with any video editing program there will be a lot to learn. For readers who live or travel to Melbourne the Melbourne PC User Group has regular free sessions and workshops covering video production for a variety of different editing programs and also classes for beginners. See: for details. Admission is free and visitors are welcome.


Big downloads

Q: I switched to low usage ADSL broadband recently. The BigPond user guide includes a warning that ‘recent updates have been more than 150MB’. This is alarming for a pensioner wanting to keep to 200MB per month! How important are the XP updates? Is it possible to be selective about them and if so is there some simple rule of thumb which would help me decide which to accept?

A: These large downloads are certainly a problem for anyone on a small volume plan as they come on top of the essential anti-virus downloads. However, in my opinion, most are desirable but none are essential. Generally they fix very obscure security holes and many of which may never be exploited by hackers as some are found by researchers.

If I was on a small plan I would want to be notified that patches are due for download but only select the very few that I need. Microsoft gives their knowledge base reference number and you can always look up any large patches and decide if you really need them. My guess is that you would not. To alter the automatic downloads open Control Panel, Security Center, Automatic Updates and click Notify me but don’t automatically download or install them.  


To look at the e-book in PDF format, Computer Guide, based on these columns click here