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How I Cut the Cord — But Kept Live TV — Using an Old Computer

Tuning TV on the computer

Sites like Hulu and Netflix have made ditching cable TV fairly painless, but there have been moments — whether during presidential debates, Hurricane Sandy news or when the Penguins nearly won the Stanley Cup — when I've missed broadcast TV. But you can still get broadcast content without going to cable. It's a little tricky, but with an old computer (laptop or desktop) and  some special gear, it's doable and a bargain by comparison. Here's the lowdown:

I started with the thin, flat MOHU Leaf Antenna (less than $40), which can hang on a wall or sit behind the TV.

Then I added the $150 Elgato EyeTV USB stick with HDTV tuner that you plug into your computer. Eureka! Plugging the Leaf into the EyeTV brought me the channels I craved on my PC. Thanks to Windows Media Center (a built-in feature in many versions of Windows since Vista), setup was extremely simple. Despite not having used a cable box for a good eight years, I was using an old laptop as a DVR in minutes. (If you have a Mac, you can use the included Elgato software to do the same thing.

Unfortunately, Elgato has since discontinued the EyeTV USB stick. If you are unable to find one still on sale, you can instead use another TV tuner stick, such as the $79 Hauppauge WinTV-HVR-950Q. It supports Windows PCs out of the box. For Macs, you can add the $80 Elgato EyeTV 3 software, which will control the Hauppauge stick, as well as format recordings to play on iPhones and iPads.