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How to record live TV on your computer

The Hauppauge HD PVR lets you record live TV (or video gameplay) directly on your computer for delayed viewing or transferring to a mobile device. Find out how to get started.

Sharon Profis Vice President of Content, CNET Studios
As the Vice President of CNET Studios, Sharon leads the video, social, editorial design, and branded content teams. Before this role, Sharon led content development and launched new verticals for CNET, including Wellness, Money, and How To. A tech expert herself, she's reviewed and covered countless products, hosted hundreds of videos, and appeared on shows like Good Morning America, CBS Mornings, and the Today Show. An industry expert, Sharon is a recurring Best of Beauty Awards judge for Allure. Sharon is an avid chef and hosts the cooking segment 'Farm to Fork' on PBS nationwide. She's developed and published hundreds of recipes.
  • Webby Award ("How To, Explainer, and DIY Video"); Folio Changemaker Award, 2020
Sharon Profis
3 min read

Component cables from your cable box connect to the lower "Video-in" ports on the Hauppauge HD PVR. Sharon Vaknin/CNET

For years, DVRs (and the accompanying monthly fees) have allowed you to watch cable and satellite TV according to your schedule, not the networks'. The next logical step -- at least in my mind -- has always been to add the ability to move that content onto a computer or mobile device to be viewed elsewhere.

Well, cable providers haven't yet fulfilled this wish, but companies like Slingbox and SimpleTV have tackled this very solution, offering ways to stream live TV on the go.

However, if you want instead to save TV shows and movies as video files and transfer them wherever you please, look no further than the Hauppauge HD Personal Video Recorder (HD PVR).

Though this gadget might be new to you, gamers and videophiles have used it for many years, recording live TV for transferring to their other desktops and mobile devices. And once you have the basics down, you can even use the HD PVR to digitize VHS tapes, record Xbox or PS3 gameplay, or record over-the-air feeds.

That means: no monthly fees and no worrying about glitchy video streaming.

Hauppauge offers several HD PVR models, but in this tutorial, we'll use this HD PVR, which will record 720p/1080i video. To get started, follow these three steps.

Watch this: How to record live TV to a computer

But first, a disclaimer: CNET and CBS Interactive do not encourage or condone the illegal duplication or distribution of copyrighted content.

Sharon Vaknin/CNET

Step 1: Hardware setup
To get started, you'll probably want to find a permanent spot for the PVR in your media cabinet. There are many video cables to connect, and connecting/disconnecting them each time you want to record TV would be hassle.

  • Connect the HD PVR to an outlet
  • Plug the component video and audio cables from the Video-out section of your cable box to the Video-in section of the Hauppauge HD PVR.
  • Finally, connect the USB cable from the PVR to your computer.

Before you continue, install the HD PVR Windows driver and the Total Media Extreme recording program, which can be found on the provided CD. Note that this software is only compatible with Windows. If you're on a Mac, you'll need to purchase additional software here.

Step 2: Configure the recording software
With Total Media Extreme installed, and all the appropriate cables plugged in, you're ready to start recording live TV. All the recording is done in Total Media Extreme, and the files are saved to the desktop location of your choice.

Launch Total Media Extreme and click "Record TV." In most cases, you'll see your TV's feed show up in the video preview box right away. But, before you start recording, tweak these settings in the left sidebar.

  • Video Input: YPrPb
  • Audio Input: S/PDIF
  • PC Audio Mode: 2 Channel Stereo
  • Format Settings. Click this and look at the bit rate slider. This will determine the quality of your recordings. A low bit rate produces a fuzzier video of a smaller file size, and a high bit rate will produce a high-def video of a large file size. A good middle ground is 7Mbps; you'll get clear video quality without hogging too much storage space.
  • Recording format. You have three options: MTS, TS, or MP4. If you plan to burn the recording to Blu-ray, choose TS. Otherwise, choose MP4.

Step 3: Start recording
Whew, you're almost there! The good news is, once you have all the hardware and software components configured, you'll rarely have to tweak them. Now it's time to record some live TV.

At the bottom of Total Media Extreme, you'll see a field titled "Save to..." Use this to determine where the final rendered video is saved. Above that, you'll see a Capture button and "Capture duration." If you only want to record for a specified duration, enter it in that box, which is formatted in HH:MM:SS.

Finally, hit "Capture" to start recording.

Once you have these basics down, explore the HD PVR's advanced features, like scheduled recordings and burning Blu-rays. More information can be found in the provided quick install guide, here.

If you do plan to make recording gameplay or live TV a habit, consider purchasing a dedicated external hard drive. These recordings, especially if configured with a high bit rate, will quickly eat up your hard drive's storage space.