What is a TV Tuner?

wiseGEEK Writer

A TV tuner allows a person to receive signals on his or her television, and therefore receive different channels. It converts signals into pictures and sounds. The oldest type of tuner was simply the dial used to change channels and allow the television to pick up different analog signals broadcast over the air. Sometimes, in order to get certain cable channels, a TV needs a special box purchased or rented from a cable company.

TV tuner cards can be installed on computers.
TV tuner cards can be installed on computers.

A basic tuner is available in most TVs, or through most cable companies. Televisions sold in the US as of mid-2007 were required to include a digital tuner to allow the set to pick up digital television signals by antenna. In addition, many people have a TV tuner card, or exterior tuner that allows them to receive television programming on a computer screen. Essentially, this can convert a computer to a television, and depending on the owner's cable service, it may allow him or her to watch a wide number of television stations.

A TV with tuning knobs.
A TV with tuning knobs.

Many people use tuner cards to watch free, over the air television on their computers without using a cable service. To receive digital television broadcast signals with this card, the user will usually need to attach an antenna.

A digital TV signal can usually reach set antennas up to 70 miles away from broadcast towers.
A digital TV signal can usually reach set antennas up to 70 miles away from broadcast towers.

Care is required when purchasing a card or an exterior TV tuner, since not all tuners work with all computer systems. Some are specifically designed for Macs or PCs, and many require additional software in order to view images. They may also require a certain amount of memory to work correctly.

A tuner is required to receive signals on the TV in order to view programs.
A tuner is required to receive signals on the TV in order to view programs.

Some argue that it's a waste of money to set up a computer to show television programming, especially at a computer desk. If families, for instance, enjoy watching TV together, it may be somewhat uncomfortable to arrange a whole family around a desk to watch a small screen. As technology advances, however, it is possible to buy a large computer monitor that can be used in place of a television, or to attach a laptop or other computer to a TV and use it as the display.

Watching TV through a computer seems a popular trend that is likely to continue. Especially with increasing numbers of laptops, a TV tuner may be a great purchase for people who live alone, for people who are on the road frequently, or for kids living in dorms. Since headphones are relatively inexpensive, a person watching TV on a laptop is not likely to annoy his or her roommates.

Some tuners will also pick up FM radio signals, so they can provide a way to listen to radio stations as well. Many TV tuners are far more expensive than a simple radio, however.

A basic tuner is available in most TVs, or through most cable companies.
A basic tuner is available in most TVs, or through most cable companies.

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Discussion Comments


I am looking to get rid of cable, and am looking for a dvd recorder that will record shows. All of the dvd recorders do not have tuners, but I wanted to know if I can hook up my antennae to the dvd recorder and then hook the recorder to my television to record the program and also watch tv. Will this work?


Can a MID tablet pc be a built in TV Tuner?


@Varian: When we pass a channel that is encrypted on our TV, the screen goes black and the LG logo comes up (our TV is an LG) and it says "signal scrambled." Since we've had DirecTV, it comes up with a box with a toll-free number saying, "You are not subscribed to this channel. Call to subscribe."

On my mom's TV (she has an analog TV), the cable box just goes right past some of the channels she doesn't get, and with others, it pops up the Charter logo and says, "signal scrambled." No big deal and not much to see.

I don't remember the premium channels having a line through them in the 80s. With our cable system, the cable box either skipped past them or if you tuned it directly to the premium channel, you got snow. Didn't come in at all.


I was just wondering If i saw an encrypted channel like Hbo on Cable Tv Today what would it look like? I know years ago in the 80s and mid 90s it would have a line through the middle of the tv screen. Right? Would hbo look like pixelation or Tiling encrypted or would it have a line through the middle of the tv screen like in the 80s and mid 90s?


I’m looking to buy some older televisions for apartments that I plan to rent out. I read that some T.V.s have tuners in them and some don’t. And because of the digital transition you have to buy a converter box in order to use the ones that don’t.

This hotel liquidation store is selling some decent T.V.s, but I don’t want to have to buy those boxes if they don’t have tuners in them. Is there a way I can find out before buying them?


SunDevils11-Yeah, we do have a DVD player for the grandkids. And it is hooked up with those three cords too. Well you say you work for the cable company, so I’m going to trust you on this one. But really, thank you for the help. I called down to our company and the gal could not answer my question.

I guess I need to know how to pay my DVDs, but I’ll ask this technician when he comes to install our cable next week. And he’ll have some questions about all those connections in the back of the new T.V. too.


KeyLimePie-I work at a cable company and get these questions all of the time. After the digital conversion, you should have a digital tuner for that old T.V., right? So when your cable company comes out, they will disconnect that and run the coaxial cable (white cable line) straight into your old T.V.

They will auto tune to pull in the channels and you’ll be ready to go! Oh, if you have a DVD or VCR it is best to hook it up to your T.V. with those red, yellow and white cables.


We have a high definition television set and are looking to get basic cable without the box. I also have an older T.V. in the bedroom that I’d like to watch cable on too. It’s about ten years old and weighs a ton, but the picture still comes in okay. We’re not up on all of this new technology stuff. Basically we want to know if we’re going to have to get a box or a converter for that old T.V.

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