How to Capture TV or Video on Your Computer

The hardware and software required for video capture

HD personal video recorder

ADwarf/Creative Commons

Do you want to capture the action on your TV and save it to your computer? It's actually an easy process and requires just two additional types of equipment: a capture card (or HD-PVR) and some cables.

First, a Note About Copyright

Before we get into the details, it is important to understand the ramifications of copyrighted materials. Almost every TV show, film, or broadcast content is protected by copyright law. This means it is illegal for anyone to copy it for any reason without permission.

There are a few reasons why you need to think about this before you make copies:

  • You can face criminal charges if you copy or distribute copyrighted material.
  • DVDs, Blu-Rays, and even that old stash of VHS tapes may have anti-copy encoding embedded in them to prevent unauthorized copies.
  • Copying full-length movies and television series consumes a lot of time and storage space. This is not as fast as sharing a .jpg photo file; they can be very large video files.

Avoid Copyright Issues With These Alternatives

Buy a digital copy of your favorite movie or TV show. Many services are available, and quite often, they will store that purchase in the cloud for you, which saves you the worry of having to store such large files. The quality will probably be better than your ripped copy, and the price is not that bad, especially if you take advantage of special deals.

Subscribe to a streaming service that plays what you want to watch. Netflix, Hulu, and others are filled with great movies and shows to watch anytime you like.

Look into streaming TV devices. Roku, Amazon Fire, and similar devices will give you access to more movies and shows than you will ever have time to watch. They're also legal, and many of the included channels are either cheap or free.

ATI Twin Wonder Capture Card
Evan Amos / Wikimedia Commons / Creative Commons

What You Will Need for Video Capture

Now that we have the disclaimer out of the way, if you are still interested in capturing video from your TV and saving it on your computer, you will need a few things. 

  • TV or Video Source: You can output an analog signal from just about any source: TiVo, cable DVR, satellite DVR, VCR, DVD player, DVD recorder, camcorder, game console, etc.
  • Capture Card or HD-PVR: This is the hardware that transfers the video or TV signal to the PC. The capture card is the less expensive option.
  • Component Cables: These may or may not be included with your capturing device, but often a simple set of RCA cables (the red, yellow, and white plugs) will do the trick. Note that HDMI will not work because it is an output-only connection.
  • TV or Video Capture Software: You will need software that compresses the video signal into a video file stored on your computer's hard drive. Many times this software comes bundled with a capture card or HD-PVR.
  • DVD Recording Software: This software allows users to create a DVD and DVD Menu. Once the video or TV is encoded, it's ready to be burned to DVD. If you want to watch the video on your phone or tablet, this is not necessary.
  • DVD Burner: This is the hardware that physically burns a DVD disc of your TV or Video program. Again, it is only necessary if you're going to DVD. 

Capture Card vs. HD PVR

You have two options for the device that captures video and sends it to your PC.

  • The capture card is a small device that typically costs less than $50. You will hook up your gaming console, cable box, or TV to the card via component cables. The card then plugs into your computer's USB port. Often it includes the requisite software, though the video quality is not always the best. It's a perfect choice for gamers who want to share video.
  • The HD-PVR will get you that high-quality video capture you're looking for, but it comes with a heavier price tag of around $200. This is a large box that hooks up to your TV and computer in the same way as a capture card. The necessary software is also included in most cases, and you may find that this gives you more control over the video.

PC software is common with either capture device. Mac users may need to find or purchase a capture software separately.