Originally created 09/08/02

Tuning in

Q: I just moved into a tiny college dorm room, with no space for both a computer and a television. Is there any way to squeeze both functions from a single device?

A: Sure. Pay a little extra and you can add TV-watching capabilities to a new PC. Or you can buy an add-on TV tuner and install it yourself.

TV tuner cards convert an analog television signal into digital form, allowing it to be displayed on a computer monitor. Most of these cards sit in one of the computer's rear expansion slots, with analog jacks for audio input and output, television cable or antenna.

Hewlett-Packard and Compaq sell desktop PCs pre-configured with TV tuners.

For the do-it-yourselfer, a plethora of TV tuner cards are available for prices running from $40-$300, depending on your needs. Unless you plan to capture and edit video, you ought to be satisfied for less than $100.

An online search of Yahoo! Shopping found two main types. The most common requires someone to open the PC case and install the tuner card in a PCI slot.

A more simple external version simply plugs in to a USB port.

Many TV tuner cards come bundled with a remote control to allow you to change channels. Some offer FM radio tuners as well. Other features include connecting to a VCR, camcorder or webcam.

Some, like the $75 Hauppauge WinTV-USB 125 Channel TV Tuner, permit simple capture of still images and the capability to preview as many as 16 separate TV channels simultaneously.

With a resizable window, a diligent student can leave, say, a ball game running in the top corner of the monitor and type up a term paper.

A warning to those installing the internal PC cards - some models have been known to conflict with certain programs already installed on the machine. Unless you're adept at PC tinkering, you may want to opt for another approach.

One such solution - which lets you watch TV on your monitor without even booting up the computer - is AV Toolbox's $129 XGA Theater.

This gadget, which comes with a remote control, routes your television signal directly to your monitor via a tuner-equipped switch box.

The device connects to both PC and monitor via simple cable connectors, allowing you to watch TV or toggle between television and computer.

If you prefer to forgo any such monkeying, HP and Compaq sell desktop PCs directly from their Web sites with the ATI All-in-Wonder graphics/video card, which includes a TV tuner. HP's Pavilion 542 and 792 contain the cards, as do Compaq's Presario 6000 and 8000 models.

For the serious student, of course, TV is a distraction from a higher calling. Best to leave it at home.

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