The Best Way to Record Broadcast TV

By Andrew Cockerham

There are several ways to save broadcast television shows for viewing later. TiVo and related services are great, but they usually charge a monthly subscription fee. Using the "Record Live TV" function of the Windows Media Center, however, is free after you buy the equipment, which costs less than most TiVo units. Options are more limited for Macintosh computers, but inexpensive choices are still available.

Setup and Equipment

Buy a USB or PCMCIA tuner stick or card that can handle high-definition television signals so you can record the highest quality broadcast TV available. Make sure that the tuner device can receive digital TV broadcasts as well, since all major stations must broadcast only a digital signal. (This shouldn't be an issue for new tuners, but it could be if you're purchasing an older used one.) Hauppauge, Pinnacle and WinTV are popular brands for PC, though others will work as well. Elgato's EyeTV and Pinnacle are popular brands for the Mac. Your computer should also have a fast processor and plenty of hard drive space, since video files can be very large.


Install your new tuner card or insert the USB stick in your computer and install the drivers. Open your new software (either Windows Media Center, Elgato's EyeTV or the program that came with your tuner) and set it up to recognize your tuner, if necessary. Most programs include a guide that displays upcoming shows on a grid. Make sure you have enough free hard drive space before you start recording so that you don't run out of room partway through. Experiment with your program's quality settings to find a good balance between stunning visuals and space considerations.


Make sure your computer is on and the tuner's antenna is connected when you schedule a recording. The computer will not automatically turn on to record the show, and if the antenna is disconnected, it won't be able to get a signal. Also, you may want to leave your computer alone the first time you try recording an HD broadcast. While newer computers may be able to multitask while processing an HD signal, many older computers will have difficulty used to do other things while recording.