Monday, January 21, 2008

Satellite Tv On Pc: The Basics

When it comes to watching TV on your computer, you can go down one of two roads: the hardware one or the software one. If you take the hardware road, what you're going to buy is called a TV-PC tuner card. This comes either as a card that you install inside your computer that creates an external socket for your TV aerial, or as a USB device that will happily plug into the outside of your machine. This will allow you to receive television signals directly to your computer, and is handy for someone who has recording options on their computer that they can use for television content. This option, however, will not allow you to get any TV content that you are not already getting or entitled to either through a paid subscription service of free public television content.

If you take the software road, you are entering the land of "Internet television," which is at once a land of promise and a land of confusion. Here's what it entails:

1) There is plenty of free stuff available legally online by way of video clips and streaming content. This stuff can be anything from an amateur video on You Tube to streaming news clips associated with a professional news agency. Many satellite TV stations also stream live on the web, and there are a handful of websites that link you to this content.

2) You can opt to buy a software application (for anywhere from $25 to $125) that will provide direct links (often numbering in the thousands) to national and international satellite television programming. The software in most cases is downloadable online, and will open the chosen content in a standard media player.

Both of these first two options can be hit or miss as far as finding what you really want. And no, you cannot legally get MTV or HBO for free. What you do find is often a grab bag of foreign language and religious programming, and your search will be rife with browser incompatibility problems, applet errors, broken links, and endless buffering. If you do go with the proprietary software solution for a very low price, you can count on getting what you pay for.

3) You can also use peer-to-peer (P2P) applications to share video files with others. The technology itself is legal, but distributing and/or receiving protected television programming is not. But in this case at least you know what you're getting.

In the coming years, paid satellite TV subscriptions will go down in price and the offerings that are available for free will go up in quality. TV programming online will also improve, and the practice of micro-payments for certain content may help drive this change. In the meantime, searching for satellite TV programming online, often from other countries, will continue to be an unpredictable and often surreal experience, but it can also be a serendipitously rewarding one.

Drew Surrey writes on a changing TV culture in the age of the Internet and digital technology. For more on your TV to PC options, check out

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