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 a very easy process and requires just two additional pieces of equipment: a capture card or HD-PVR and cables.

First, a Note About Copyright

Before we get into the details, it is important to have a discussion about copyrighted material. Almost every TV show or broadcast and movie are protected by copyright law. This means that is illegal for anyone to copy it for any reason.

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

  • You can face criminal charges if you copy and/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 takes a lot of time and storage space. This is not as fast as sharing a .jpg photo file, these 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 which saves you from the worries associated with storing such large files. The quality will probably be better than your ripped copy and the price is not all 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 other services (some of them are free!) 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 to watch than you have time for. They're also legal and many of the included channels are either cheap or free.

If you don't believe that copyright laws are worth paying attention to, ask yourself a question: What if you created something and everyone ripped it off without paying you?

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 brings the video or TV signal into the PC. The capture card is the less expensive option, though we'll get into that in a bit.
  • 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 that is an output-only (from the computer) 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 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 The actual hardware that physically burns a DVD disc of your TV or Video program. Again, only necessary if you're going to DVD. 

Capture Card vs. HD PVR

You have two options for the actual 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, software is included, though the quality of the video 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, but it does come with a higher 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 video options.

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