Do you remember the good old days? If you needed to record a TV show to watch later, you’d throw a cassette in the VCR and set up the timer. It was easy.
Today, VCRs barely still exist (though you will have to use one to convert your VHS collection into digital format). As the cord-cutting phenomenon continues to gather pace, more people than ever are watching TV through their computers.
So, if you want to record TV shows on your PC, what options do you have available? A lot depends on how you’re receiving the video in the first place.
In this article, we’re going to introduce you to a selection of apps, devices, and services that’ll let you record TV on your PC.
How to Receive a Signal
Broadly speaking, there are three ways to receive a live TV signal on your computer screen.
Over-the-Air (OTA) Antenna
An OTA antenna can pick up any free-to-air channels in your area. You can pick up cheap OTA antennas at your local supermarket, but for a sleek high-end option, check out the popular Mohu Leaf.
We will discuss how to record OTA footage later in the piece.
You can pay a cable company for access to premium channels. The packages vary from $20 per month through to a couple of hundred. The average cable bill in the U.S. is $103.
For both cable TV and an OTA antenna, you will also need a TV tuner if you want to watch the content on your computer. You can either use an internal Peripheral Component Interconnect (PCI) card, an external USB card, or a network attached device. A network attached device – such as the HDHomeRun – is the preferred option.
Getting a cable TV signal onto your computer is further complicated by the channel encoding format. It is called Quadrature Amplitude Modulation (QAM). QAM frequencies vary between cable providers; it can be difficult to establish the correct frequencies for your provider.
Luckily, there’s a workaround. We’ll discuss it shortly.
There are an increasing number of online services which offer live TV. The three most popular are SlingTV, DirecTV, and PlayStation Vue.
These services are the easiest way to get live content on your computer, but they are the most fiddly to record. You will need to decide whether the tradeoff is worth it.
Great, let’s take a closer look at some of the apps and devices that can help you record live TV.
If you’re a keen cord cutter, you will already know about Plex. It’s one of the best ways to access, manage, and cast your locally-saved media.
Plex offers a premium service called Plex Pass. The subscription costs $14.99 for three months, $39.99 for a year, and $119.99 for a lifetime.
One of the best features of Plex Pass is access to live TV. If you pick up an antenna and a digital tuner, you can watch any OTA channels in your area. The content is displayed on a full electronic program guide (EPG).
Plex Pass also provides you with a DVR. It means you can use the EPG to set programs to record. When the recording has finished, it will be available on your Plex server. You can watch it on any of your Plex apps.
2. Movavi Screen Recorder
If you don’t use Plex, you might consider purchasing a subscription from one of the TV “skinny bundle” providers. Right now, three services lead the way: SlingTV, DirecTV, and PlayStation Vue.
Using the skinny bundle services has advantages from a budgeting standpoint. You can “shave” the cord; reduce your existing cable TV package down to a basic package and sign up to one of the three providers. You’ll have more TV channels to choose from, but your monthly outgoings will be lower.
SlingTV offers a DVR facility, but it costs $5 extra per month and only permits you to store 50 hours of footage. PlayStation Vue also offers a DVR facility. It’s free, but there are no custom timer options; users frequently complain about the end of programs getting cut off. DirecTV does not offer a DVR feature.
The solution is to try a screen recorder. The Movavi app works well. It has a customizable capture area. Just fire up the app and drag the capture area over the top of the live stream. You can convert the file into the format you want at the end of the process.
Remember: It is illegal to distribute footage you record using the above method.
Download: Movavi Screen Recorder
Let’s look at the problem from a different angle.
The two solutions we’ve discussed above both assume you want to record TV footage that’s coming through your internet connection. But what if you’re not a cord cutter? What if you still have a cable subscription and want to retain copies of shows, just like we used to do with VHS cassettes?
You will need a Hauppauge HD Personal Video Recorder (PVR) 2.
The device is nothing new, gamers have used them for years to record their antics and either post them online or save them for posterity. You can even use the device as part of your setup to digitize old VHS cassettes.
Setting up the device is relatively straightforward. You will need to connect component video and audio cables between your cable box and your Hauppauge device, then connect the USB cable from the PVR to your computer.
Install the necessary drivers and software on your machine, then follow the on-screen instructions to start recording. You can configure the audio and video settings, the recording format, and the bitrate.
Once you become proficient in using your new setup, you can perform more advanced tasks such as scheduling recordings and burning Blu-ray disks.
The final way to record TV shows on your PC is to use an HDHomeRun device. It’s a TV tuner, so you will need to pair it with an OTA antenna to receive channels. Right now, the most popular and versatile OTA antenna is the Mohu Leaf. You can pick one up on Amazon.
HDHomeRun devices come in either a two-tuner or a three-tuner model. Both have the ability to record footage.
However, like SlingTV, HDHomeRun requires a subscription in order to use the DVR features. The subscription costs $35 per year, but also adds a 14-day TV guide, the ability to pause and rewind live TV, and a way to watch live TV while simultaneously recording another channel.
There are even a few quirky options, such as being able to set your favorite sports team and automatically record all its games during a season.
HDHomeRun recordings can be managed from your computer or through one of the mobile/smart TV apps. Unfortunately, it’s not possible to remove your recordings from the cloud and share them offline.
Alternatively, you could check out Tablo. Tablo is a standalone box that offers DVR capabilities when you attach an aerial. Again, you can access your recordings through the company’s apps, but you can’t take your recordings offline. Tablo only works with OTA television.
You can use Tablo’s DVR for free, but the $4.99 subscription introduces additional options such as series recording, a 14-day EPG, metadata, and artwork.
There is one other way to record live TV on your computer, but it’s not user-friendly.
The app is called MythTV. It’s a free, open-source video recorder. It started life back in 2002 as someone’s pet project but has since grown to become a viable alternative to the now-defunct Windows Media Center.
The feature list is impressive. You can record analog and digital TV, pause live shows, automatically skip commercials, and even deploy parental controls.
So, what’s the downside? Well, the installation process is a nightmare. You will need to compile the app yourself as the developers don’t offer an EXE file. Explaining the process is beyond the scope of this piece, but you can check out the instructions on the app’s official wiki.
How Do You Record TV Shows on Your PC?
We’ve shown you four different ways you can use your computer to record live TV. Some methods – such as the Hauppauge PVR and the Movavi app – will create an offline version of the show which you can use anywhere.
Others – such as Plex and HDHomeRun – don’t provide you with portable copies of your recordings but do allow you to watch the videos from anywhere in the world through their families of apps.
Now it’s over to you. How do you record TV shows on your PC? Which apps, devices, and services do you use?