We tend to advocate for two rather distinct entertainment solutions on this website: OTT services (like Netflix, Hulu, and the like) and OTA broadcasts (meaning over-the-air TV that you can pick up with an antenna). A lot of cord cutters think of these things as parallel – they're both great for replacing cable, but they work separately and never meet in the middle. You watch your OTT stuff on a Roku or a computer, and then you switch your TV input to watch OTA.
But the two can solutions can be much more integrated than that. Both can coexist on your computer, and all you have to do to make it happen is buy one thing.
TV Tuners Are Available for PCs (and Macs)
You can't just plug an antenna into most computers. Antennas use coaxial jacks (like the type that connects your router or cable box to the wall), which your computer won't have. Besides, the antenna signal needs to be converted into something that your computer can actually use.
But there are aftermarket products out there that can add this functionality to your computer. They're called TV tuners, and they tend to look something like this:
There are some variations, but pretty much all modern PC TV tuners have a coaxial jack on one side and a USB stick on the other. Stick an antenna in one end and put the other in your computer and bingo – OTA broadcasts on your PC (or your Mac – just make sure you get one that's compatible with your type of computer). Some products include software or a small antenna.
For you PC building DIYers, you can also get internal tuner cards, which work similarly but are plugged in like graphics cards or Wi-Fi cards.
What Can You Do With a TV Tuner?
Of course, this all may seem a little unnecessary. Why not just attach your antenna to your TV and change the input when you want to watch Netflix? Turns out, though, that you can do some pretty cool things with PC TV tuners.
For one, you can turn a dedicated media center PC into the ultimate OTA/OTT hybrid streaming box. No more changing your TV's input: everything can be accessed on the same device.
For another, you can set up a server that allows you to watch live OTA TV on multiple devices. Some tuners will help you set up a server that will push the broadcast to things like tablets and smartphones. SiliconDust's HDHomeRun CONNECT does something similar without plugging into your computer at all (it just connects to the internet directly – which, admittedly, makes it a little different than the other devices we've talked about here).
Connecting your antenna to your PC can also allow you to record live TV (a lot of tuners come with software that will help you do this). That essentially turns your PC into an OTA DVR. This is probably the biggest thing that draws people to PC TV tuners.
Put it all together and you have a pretty appealing package, especially if you use a dedicated media center PC on your favorite TV. A media center PC with a tuner can give you live OTA and OTT solutions on the same input, act as an OTA DVR, and even sling live TV over to your tablet, laptop, smartphone, or other device.