XP media center / tv tuner card

I’m going over the invoice for my Dell Dimension 9100, loaded with Windows XP Media Center 2005, which has shipped and should arrive in the next couple days. And I notice that I failed to select a TV tuner card. I did
select for my graphics card the new nVidia GeForce 6800 (256MB PCI
Express x16 (DVI/VGA/TV-out.) I guess I thought this would work as the
tv tuner card. Do I have to install a separate tv tuner card to use
Media Center to watch and record television on my PC? Will I have to
remove the GeForce card? Or do they work together? Or are they totally
separate things? And while I’m at it, I’m having a hard time
visualizing what I’ll be plugging where. I’ll also be upgrading to a
cable modem through Comcast, which is my current cable TV provider.
Will the same cable that carries my broadband signal to my PC through
the cable modem also deliver my cable tv signal to my PC?
The 19-inch “Ultrasharp” 1905FP digital flat panel I ordered should be
better than any tv I own, so I’m anxious to make full use of it with
media center.
Thanks for any help that will save me time on hold with Dell tech
support.
Elmo

I’m surprised that Dell would sell you a Media Center PC without a tuner card. That kinda defeats the purpose, doesn’t it? Unfortunately, that GeForce card is not a TV tuner. You’ll have to buy a separate one if you want to watch/record TV.

TV tuners come in three general varieties:

  1. Internal TV tuner cards (PCI). These are the most common and would be the best choice for your situation.

  2. Internal graphics card with a built-in TV tuner (AGP or PCI Express). Since you already have a GeForce, you do NOT want this option, as it would be redundant. All you need is a standalone TV tuner (option 1) and not a card that does both.

  3. External tuners (usually USB). You can use these without having to open up your computer case to install a card, but they are usually more expensive.

As long you as go with types 1 or 3, you don’t have to remove the GeForce card. They are two separate cards and you need both.

As for cable, no, you’ll need a cable splitter. Comcast should be able to provide one for you. There’ll be one coax cable coming out from the wall, which will then be split into two. One end will go to your cable modem, which will then connect to your computer via either an Ethernet cable or an USB cable. The other end of the split coax cable would connect directly to your TV tuner card to provide it with the TV signal.

(By the way, if you want to record two shows at a time or watch a show while recording another, you can buy two separate TV tuner cards and then split the cable three ways instead of two.)

Everything I’ve read states that the software M$ uses for “media center PCs” (which your Dell most likely will have) is pretty darn wonky to work use, so make sure that you install the software which comes with your tuner card.

I’m surprised, too. It’s obviously my fault, though, for not researching enough before making my selections. I just didn’t select the tv tuner card option. Dell really should have an alert that says: Why are you ordering Media Center without a tv tuner? Or just make it standard.

To tell you the truth, I didn’t realize all the possibilities when I selected XP Media Center as my OS. Just figured it was the latest version of XP. And since I’ve wanted to play around with video editing and so on, it seemed the right choice. It wasn’t until after my order shipped that I began reading up on it and realized some of the cool possibilities. Your option 1 is exactly the info I was looking for, so many thanks!

One more question on the Comcast cable, though. I have Comcast digital, and it goes through a box on my set in the living room. Which allows me to get my premium channels, music, etc., and a whole array of other channels. In the bedroom, where the new PC will be, I just have the coax cable hooked directly to a small tv. And that tv only gets my basic cable channels – no HBO etc. So, am I going to have to get a second box to get the premium channels and all the others that go beyond basic? Or, will the tuner card and the PC be my “cable box”? I’ll ask Comcast, but I suspect they’ll just say I need second box.

Thanks again.

There are some TV tuner cards which claim that they can handle digital cable channels, so you might not need an extra box.

I am not sure, sorry. The TV tuners I’ve tried only go up to channel 125 or so and couldn’t handle any of the digital stuff, so I had to use the cable box. Which also meant that none of the PVR stuff worked (since the computer couldn’t select the channels by itself).

I hope Tuckerfan is right.

[US-centric info here. Other countries are a different story]
Some tuner cards can tune some digital cable channels. Most standard tuner cards are NTSC cards, which means no digital channels. Some will have QAM demodulators on them, which means they have the capability of tuning digital cable channels, but they can only make any sense of the data if it is unencrypted, because the encryption that the cables companies in the US use is proprietary. Some cards have 8VSB demodulators so they can tune ATSC, which is digital TV broadcast over the air (and unencrypted) instead of via cable. I have one of these cards in my Media Center PC and get all the local major channels in glorious HD for free (you need a good antenna for this, though).

So it is possible to have a tuner card that can decode the digital channels that are “in the clear”, but that’s not very many channels.

I don’t use any 3rd-party TV software on my Media Center PC (just the Microsoft stuff), but my impression is that the 3rd party stuff is generally buggy junk with a terrible user interface.

I’ve got a fairly ancient TV tuner card card and the interface for it’s quite nice and not particularly buggy at all. I’ve not used the media center PCs, so all I have to go on about the software and interfaces are the reviews I’ve read in the various PC mags.

Personally, I owned an earlier version of this. It worked great. Regular cable only or antenna, though.

If you are looking at tuner cards, I’ve heard great things about these:

http://www.hauppauge.com/

The PVR 350 includes a built in encoder on the card (MPEG-2). That means it won’t use your CPU to encode the TV signal. If you plan on using the PC while recording television or have a slow processor (less than say 1.4 Ghz) this really kicks butt.

Even better, the 350 has 2 tuners, if I’m not mistaken. This allows recording one show while watching another, or recording 2 at once.

I thinking on building a MythTV box with one of these, but Linux still scares me.

I’ve read somewhere that Media Center Edition of XP only works with *certain[/i[ TV tuner cards.

Here’s a list

All the TV tuners listed there SHOULD be optimized to work with Media Center, but that doersn’t mean one not on the list won’t work, but to be safe, pick one that is on the list, or someone else says works fine with their Media Center.

I’ve been contemplating the same. Linux doesn’t scare me but my wife does (I’d have to buy all new hardware - mo’board/processor, BIG hard drives, tuner card, tv-out card).