Setting Up and Watching ATSC with Windows Media Center
Although digital broadcast TV (ATSC) was supported in Windows Vista's version of Windows Media Center, the implementation was clumsy, and digital TV channels were not well-integrated into the TV program guide. Thankfully, Windows 7's version of Windows Media Center provides a better digital broadcast TV experience. This article shows you how to select ATSC-compatible hardware, set up your TV signal, and optimize your channel selection.
The Hardware You Need
To make ATSC TV work with Windows Media Center, you will need an ATSC-compatible TV tuner and a suitable TV antenna for your location.
TV Tuners for Digital Broadcast TV
ATSC digital broadcast (over-the-air) television requires a digital TV tuner. Although virtually all current TV tuner cards and USB 2.0 devices support ATSC signals, some older ones do not. Figure 1 illustrates the rear view of a desktop TV tuner card that supports ATSC as well as cable TV signals.
Figure 1 This Hauppauge TV tuner has separate leads for cable TV (TV) and ATSC digital broadcast TV (ATSC).
As you can see from Figure 1, typical TV tuner cards use separate connections for analog and digital signals. However, many USB-based TV tuners use a single connection for analog and digital signals.
If you're not sure whether a particular TV tuner card or device will work with broadcast cable TV, make sure the device supports ATSC. If ATSC signals are not supported, you're out of luck and will need a new TV tuner card or device. TV tuners are available in PCI or PCI Express (PCIe) form factors for desktops, ExpressCard form factors for laptops, and USB 2.0 for both types of computers.
In addition to using a TV tuner with ATSC support, you must make sure it will work with Windows 7. If you cannot obtain Windows 7-specific drivers for your TV tuner, keep in mind that Windows Vista drivers also work in Windows 7. However, if the tuner is supported only by Windows XP drivers, you will not be able to use it.
Whether you have just purchased a TV tuner or are using an existing one, be sure to check with the vendor for updated drivers. Note that some vendors still have links to their Windows Vista drivers on a separate web page from other driver downloads.
If you're already receiving ATSC signals on an HDTV or a conventional TV with a digital converter box, you already know how important antenna strength and signal quality are. If you have a weak digital TV signal, you won't have ghosting as you did with analog TV; instead, you will have a frozen picture, lack of synchronization between video and audio, or signal breakups.
The best solution is an external directional antenna; however, if you are primarily concerned about picking up local digital signals, an internal directional antenna may be acceptable. You need an antenna you can rotate to pick up the strongest signal from a digital broadcast TV tower, and the antenna needs to be powered. Look for an antenna that can store and recall settings and includes a remote control, as this will help you get the best-quality picture as you switch channels.
I've found the following resources to be useful in selecting and installing an antenna:
- The AntennaWeb site helps you choose the best antenna for your location based on your input, and provides a color-coded listing of nearby ATSC channels and the best type of antenna for each category of station.
- How to Install a TV Antenna provides basic tips on what you need, including when to use a pre-amp.
- Crutchfield's Choosing and Installing an Antenna for HDTV provides a useful introduction to ATSC along with links to help rural users tune in distant ATSC (HDTV) signals.
Follow the manufacturer's installation guidelines for setting up your TV tuner and antenna.