Companies that manufacture household TV sets for cable-readiness are on the rise, but that does not help people who have yet to invest in a newer appliance. Instead, many people rely on set-top boxes to get the benefits of higher-quality cable television programming. Some households -- especially apartment dwellers -- rent these converters because they may not be able to justify investing in a cable box that they cannot use at a new residence. If this is your reasoning as well, but you still wish to have your own equipment, you can use a Windows-based PC to build a cable box.
Obtain an external TV tuner that connects to USB ports on PCs. USB ports are readily available on desktop and laptop computers. The fiber optic cords that extend from the wall in your home screw onto the coaxial cable connection on your computer's TV tuner card. Follow the TV tuner manufacturer's instructions for installing the hardware and drivers, until you finally connect the cable cord to the tuner. This completes the equipment-building phase of your cable box.
Click "Start" on the taskbar at the bottom of the Windows desktop. Type "Windows Media Center" in the search box at the bottom of the "Start" menu. Press "Enter" to open WMC on the start screen.
Press the down arrow on the keyboard to highlight "Tasks" on the start screen. Click "Settings." Choose "TV." Select "Set Up TV Signal." Click "Yes," if prompted.
Click "Next" after making selections on the pages that follow in WMC. These pages differ, based on the TV tuner card that you decided to use. The questions and settings selections include the following: region, ZIP code, terms of service and end-user license agreement. Also, pay attention to setting up the "TV Program Guide" page, because this mimics the feature in cable boxes that lists what is coming on in the future.
Click "Yes, Configure TV With These Results" on the "TV Signal Detection Result" screen if you see your TV tuner listed on the page. Click "Next."
Scroll through the list of signal providers on the "TV Signal Provider" screen. Click on the provider that best matches your service and location. Click "Next." Select "Finish" to complete the programming phase for the cable box.
Click the "Back" button in WMC to return to the start screen. Select "Live TV" to begin using your cable box.
For desktop PCs, you also can obtain an internal TV tuner card. These tuners connect to the motherboard inside a computer using PCI or PCIe slots. After you install the card and re-close the computer's casing, the coaxial cable connection is the only part of the TV tuner that is visible on the outside of the PC. Carefully read your computer's user manual to find the exact specifications of the slot on the motherboard.
Visit a local or online computer electronics retailer to find TV tuner cards.
Additionally, use the TV recording functions in WMC to mimic modern digital video recorder (DVR) boxes that cable companies offer to their customers.
Verify that your TV tuner card is compatible with Windows 7 or Vista prior to purchase by looking at the package's description. You can also visit Microsoft's Windows hardware compatibility Web page to view a list of TV tuners that work well with the operating system (see Resources).
- Tech FAQ: Set Top Box
- Microsoft: Windows 7: TV On Your Computer: Understanding TV Signals and TV Tuners
- Microsoft: Windows 7: Set Up a TV Signal in Windows Media Center
- Microsoft: Windows 7: Connect Your Computer To a TV
- The Wall Street Journal: FCC Makes It Slightly Easier to Pull Plug on Cable Box Rentals; by Amy Schatz; Oct. 14, 2020
- Microsoft: Windows 7: Compatibility for TV Tuner
- Microsoft: Windows 7: Record TV in Windows Media Center
- Mashable: Will Your Next Cable Box Be an Xbox?