Best USB TV tuners for PC, NVIDIA Shield TV and XBox One
USB TV tuners can bring a lot of free, live TV into your home at minimal cost.
Channels like NBC, ABC, CBS, FOX and PBS are broadcast in HD and available to anyone with a powerful enough antenna. Interest in TV tuners by Hauppauge, SiliconDust, Tablo and others have been on the rise. More people are buying a new crop of more powerful indoor and outdoor TV antennas.
That trend began in 2013.
Now with cable companies like Spectrum and Comcast increasing its rates and fees for a cable subscription, more people are seeking alternatives. TV tuners can add features to a home that uses a HDTV antenna like DVR and picture in picture for minimal or no added cost.
Software hubs like Plex now serve as a conduit for TV tuners, bringing live OTA channels to over-the-top streaming devices like Fire TV and NVIDIA Shield TV.
All of this is probably the watershed moment that government regulators envisioned more than seven years ago. That’s when broadcasters were mandated by the federal government to broadcast its signals in digital and drop analog.
In this review, I’ll be focusing on the Hauppauge WinTV-dualHD, a USB TV tuner that works on a PC, laptop and NVIDIA Shield TV. I will also talk about competitors like HDHomeRun tuners.
How I tested Hauppauge WinTV-dualHD
I’ve been using this Hauppauge USB TV tuner for roughly three months. The folks at NVIDIA sent me a WinTV-dualHD along with a NVIDIA Shield Pro back in July for a separate review. I tested the Hauppauge using Plex Live TV & DVR on the Shield Pro.
Since then, I purchased the necessary software from Hauppauge so I could use the tuner on my PC and laptop. I needed to buy the software on CD because I received a review unit. Usually, the software will come with the TV tuner.
I tested the WinTV-dualHD on my three year old ASUS laptop, and on an older HP desktop that came out in 2008. The ASUS laptop has had no modifications or improvements by me. I added an inexpensive ASUS graphics card to the desktop after I inherited it a few years back.
So neither computer is new by any stretch. This tuner also supports Clear QAM, which allows you to watch unencrypted channels from a cable provider.
The WinTV-dualHD comes with a small antenna. I decided not to use that for testing purposes. Instead, I connected a ClearStream FLEX amplified indoor antenna with an amplifier.
Best USB TV Tuner for PC, NVIDIA Shield TV: Hauppauge WinTV-dualHD
The Hauppauge WinTV-dualHD adds many features of a new TV and DVR for a fraction of the price.
Because it’s a dual-tuner, you can watch one channel and record another simultaneously. This USB TV tuner also lets you record two programs at the same time. You can watch two different shows using picture-in-picture or in two complete TV windows.
That’s pretty handy if you have an NFL football game on one channel and NHL hockey game on another.
To use the tuner with a PC or laptop, just plug it in to a USB port and load the CD with WinTV software. The antenna connects to the opposite end of the tuner.
You’ll need to register your Hauppauge tuner online while it’s plugged in to your computer. Once registered, you can download the WinTV viewing software. The setup wizard gives you the option to update drivers for the USB tuner, so you don’t have to go hunting for them.
Just like with setting up an antenna, you will have to scan for channels in order to pick up ATSC digital TV. The setup process is simple and takes about five to 10 minutes.
The picture quality on the dualHD came across crisp and bright on my PC and laptop, especially with networks like NBC, FOX and ABC that broadcast in high definition. I didn’t experience any kind of lag that you might encounter with streaming. A WinTV-dualHD doesn’t require any subscription for DVR when connected to a PC or laptop.
The user interface on the WinTV viewer appears rudimentary, and far from the thumbnail style guide that a Plex Pass subscription gets you.
But the features make up for user interface. The WindTV handled pausing and rewinding live TV without any struggle. I watched two channels at once with picture in picture, and recorded programs with no problems.
The WinTV viewer has buttons at the bottom of the screen to change channels, search for channels and options you’re used to seeing on a TV like closed caption. The picture in picture worked well during my testing, but occasionally it took a few seconds for the smaller picture to come on.
How do I record a show with a Hauppauge WinTV-dualHD?
To record a program, you can either hit the red record button at the bottom of the screen, or you can schedule a recording. The WinTV software also comes with a desktop icon for TitanTV, an online TV guide that gives you listings for both cable and over-the-air channels.
The WinTV comes with a small decent remote control changes channels, adjusts volume, pauses live TV, rewinds, fast-forwards and mutes sound. Streaming live TV over WiFi to my Samsung Galaxy 5S though a web-based interface didn’t work that well. It was slow to respond and sometimes hang up on a channel. I’d really love to see a WinTV app instead.
Overall, the WinTV-dualHD is the best USB TV tuner that I’ve tested. It offers quite a bit of value because you can transform any computer into a TV that also records live, over-the-air local channels.
In my home office, where I did most of my testing, having a desktop PC or laptop serve as a TV saved me a lot of space (and money) compared to buying a new television. Once I had the software setup on both computers, I could easily move the USB tuner from one to the other while my antenna hung from a nearby wall.
WinTV-dualHD with NVIDIA Shield TV
When Plex rolled out its Live TV feature on June 1 to complement its DVR service, Hauppauge WinTV-dualHD was among the first TV tuners to get support.
The WinTV-dualHD is the easiest and fastest way to set up NVIDIA Shield as both a PLEX Media Server and client.
Plug in the dualHD into the USB port located in the back of the Shield TV. Open up Plex, head over to settings and choose the Live TV & DVR section to connect the WinTV. After a channel scan, you’re ready to watch live TV and DVR programs using Plex. Using Live TV & DVR with Plex requires a Plex Pass subscription, which costs $5 per month.
Once your channel scan on Plex is complete, the NVIDIA remote or gamepad is the only thing you need to channel surf or program recordings.
I spent roughly two weeks using WinTV-dualHD with NVIDIA Shield TV and Plex. I was impressed with the clarity of my DVR recordings in 1080i. One of the recordings was an episode of Big Pacific from PBS. The picture was so clear that I don’t think any person would be able to tell that they were seeing a recording from an OTA channel.
I’ve written an in-depth review of Plex DVR that might be useful if you’re considering a WinTV-dualHD for either a PC or a NVIDIA Shield TV. My review of NVIDIA Shield Pro using Plex can give you more details on how it performed during testing.
If you don’t want to read that review, here’s my conclusion.
For a palm-sized device, you won’t find a better value among USB TV tuners than a WinTV-dualHD, especially for a NVIDA Shield TV as a Plex media server.
Hauppauge Digital TV Tuner for Xbox One
Plenty of people use their Xbox One as a media center to stream Netflix or rent movies. Subscription based apps like Sling TV, Hulu and HBO Go all work on Xbox One as well.
You can add a lot more free channels with the Hauppauge TV tuner made specifically for an Xbox One console.
Unlike the WinTV-dualHD, the Xbox TV tuner is a single tuner, which only allows you to watch one TV program at a time. But you can play a game and watch TV simultaneously while it’s in “snapped” mode.
There’s one perk that this tuner has that’s a big improvement compared to the one designed for PC use. It has a grid-style program guide called OneGuide. It’s similar to what you would see from a cable provider.
The OneGuide gives you about 30 minutes of pause and rewind functionality. If commercials annoy you, then pausing for about five minutes might be a good move. That allows you to easily fast forward through commercials when they come.
With the Xbox TV tuner, you can stream live TV to Windows 10 PCs around your house using the Xbox One Smartglass app. The app also lets you stream TV to your Android, and iOS devices like iPads or iPhones.
The true benefit of this USB TV tuner is that you’re getting a lot of extra channels for a minor investment.
So if you want to watch NFL games, concerts on PBS or regular network channels like FOX, you can get a nice uncompressed picture in HD with the XBox TV tuner by Hauppauge. It will look much better than when your cable provider feeds it to you.
Is there DVR with Xbox One TV tuner?
No. Microsoft indefinitely put “on hold” DVR functionality to Xbox One in 2016. And it looks like it will stay that way. It’s too bad given that the consoles are sold with plenty of hard drive space that could be used for recording programs.
Do I need a remote for an Xbox One TV Tuner?
You may want to buy a more legit remote to get the best experience out of using the Hauppauge tuner with an Xbox One. With a remote control, you will have a dedicated OneGuide button that brings up a full screen guide. You’ll be able to view full program information while choosing a channel.
With a game controller, you have to tap the home button, select the snapped OneGuide app and scroll to pick the channel you want. Even then, you won’t be able to see a fuller program description until you select “full screen” on the snapped OneGuide app.
Don’t feel rushed to get a remote unless you’re going to use the Xbox One for your main TV. In other words, if you have a spouse asking if it will be easy to channel surf, then get a remote.
That said, plenty of people seem happy with just using a game controller.
HDHomeRun vs Hauppauge tuners
Deciding whether to buy a tuner from HDHomeRun vs Hauppauge really comes down to features. Both tuners will do a nice job with giving you a clear picture.
There’s one thing that really makes HDHomeRun a standout device: the ability to watch OTA channels on tablets and smartphones.
SiliconDust, makers of HDHomeRun, simply have a better way to watch live TV on a tablets or iPhone compared to the WinTV-dualHD. HDHomeRun has its own dedicated app for TV viewing, and Plex as a second option. The HDHomeRun app is available for Android and iOS tablets, smartphones, Amazon Fire TV and Android TV streaming devices.
The entry-level HDHomeRun Connect is a dual-band tuner that costs about $20 more than the WinTV-dualHD.
Using a HDHomeRun tuner comes with an extra cost if you plan to record programs. SiliconDust offers its own DVR service for $35 per year. It costs nothing just to watch live TV on your devices. The DVR service from SiliconDust gives you a full program guide for 14 days ahead of airing.
The other option for DVR is subscribing to Plex for $5 per month. There’s an added benefit of Plex. You can have access to all of your movies and music that’s burned to a PC available on the app. Plex is accessible on streaming devices like Fire TV or your smartphone.
Unlike the Hauppauge tuner, HDHomeRun tuners need to be hardwired to your WiFi router so it can wirelessly broadcast the live OTA feed across your home network.
Hauppauge vs Elgato, AVerMedia: What’s the best USB TV Tuner?
There are a number of competitors in the USB TV tuner market. Price points run the spectrum on these devices. The Elgato EyeTV for Mac or PC has an eye-popping price. AVerMedia’s TV tuner is less expensive than the WinTV-dualHD. It’s generally liked among Amazon users with a rating of three and a half stars.
So far, I’ve only tested out the Hauppauge WinTV-dualHD among the USB TV tuners.
What’s the best antenna to use with a USB TV tuner?
The two antennas I have used with the Hauppauge WinTV-dual HD were made by Antennas Direct. Both models are amplified. And I continue to be impressed with their range, consistency and performance. The newest model is the ClearStream FLEX, an indoor multi-directional antenna. It’s easily among the most powerful indoor antennas that I have tested this year. It’s ultra-thin and easy to set up.
The ClearStream Eclipse is the FLEX’s predecessor and remains a critical favorite. Both of these antennas are portable, and easy to take with you and bring in a remarkable number of channels. Read my guide on How to Choose the Best Antenna & DVR for more tips on what to get.
Is a USB TV tuner worth it?
A Hauppauge tuner is the way to go if you want live TV and DVR capabilities without any subscription or fees. The tuner will need to be connected to a PC or laptop. Hard drive space on the computer will be used to store recorded programs.
This might not sound ideal, but it really boils down to your needs. I have an acquaintance that has a desktop connected to his living room TV. He uses it to stream a Sling TV subscription and watch other things on YouTube. A Hauppauge tuner would work well for him. If you watch TV from a laptop while you’re on the road, whether you’re a long haul trucker or an RV enthusiast, a Hauppauge tuner will be a good buy for you.
A WinTV-dualHD also works great with the NVIDIA Shield TV and Plex. It’s definitely a good pick if you want to avoid hardwiring your TV tuner directly to your WiFi router.
Where to buy
The WinTV-dualHD USB TV tuner and the Hauppauge Digital TV Tuner for Xbox One are both available at Amazon. HDHomeRun Connect can be found there too. SiliconDust just released two newer versions of its tuners. The HDHomeRun Duo tuner, and Quatro tuner are being sold exclusively at Best Buy.
You can buy the ClearStream FLEX or ClearStream Eclipse at Antennas Direct or Amazon. The Xbox One Media Remote can be found at Amazon. Do you use a USB TV tuner? What’s your favorite one? Tell readers about it in the comments below.
MENTIONED IN THIS REVIEW: