If you're willing to pay for the cable--but not for the TV--then you can stream live TV to your PC using a TV-tuner card. A TV tuner will allow your computer to pick up TV signals (including free, over-the-air digital channels), and you can plug it into your cable service.
TV-tuner cards come in two forms: USB and PCI. If you have a laptop, or if you're not particularly keen on poking around inside your desktop, a USB TV-tuner card plugs easily into one of your computer's USB 2.0 ports. You can find USB TV-tuner cards for as low as $30 (the Sabrent TV-USBHD Digital and Analog USB TV Tuner from Tiger Direct, for example).
If you're slightly more tech-savvy (or if you just don't like extra USB clutter), a PCI tuner card is the way to go. Plus, it's one of the easiest installations to perform--a great way for newbies to cut their teeth (without, you know, destroying the computer). Here's how to do it.
1. Pick up a PCI/PCIe TV-tuner card. You can buy one for any amount from $30 (Sabrent TV-PCIDG Hybrid AT SC/NT SC PCI TV Tuner from Tiger Direct) to $140 (Hauppauge 1213 WinTV-HVR2250 PCIe Dual TV Tuner from Tiger Direct). Yes, the more expensive models have more features--the Hauppage product, for example, has two tuners so you can watch one program and record another.
2. Unplug your PC and open the case. Depending on how old your PC is, you may have to use a screwdriver to open the chassis (newer models will likely have thumbscrews or be screwless).
3. Ground yourself! Before touching any of the computer's internal components, make sure that you're not giving off an electrostatic discharge. You can ground yourself in a few ways, including wearing an antistatic wrist strap or touching an unpainted metal object (such as the computer case, so long as no components are on the metal).
4. Locate the PCI or PCI Express slot, and remove the corresponding metal plate from the back of the PC case (so that your tuner card's ports will be accessible from the back of your computer).
5. Make sure the TV-tuner card's ports are facing the back of the computer, and line up the card with the PCI/PCI Express slot. Gently insert the TV-tuner card into the slot. Secure the card with a screw.
6. You should have read the included instructions before starting the installation, of course, but check them again just to make sure everything is correct. Some TV-tuner cards require that you install them in a certain PCI slot, or that you connect them to your sound card.
7. If everything looks good, close up the PC and plug everything back in. Install the appropriate drivers for your TV-tuner card (from a disc or the Web), and you're good to go.
Whether you found a Web service that works well or you decided to buy a TV tuner, you should now have live streaming TV on your PC--at a fraction of the cost of a new HDTV.
This story, "Stream Live TV to Your PC" was originally published by PCWorld.