Kim Komando computer TV tuner tech-tip

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Can a TV tuner power on your computer? 01/08/2010

Can a TV tuner power on your computer? - Tips, Reviews and Advice on All Things Digital - The Kim Komando Radio Show

Q: I would like to use my computer as a DVR. But I hate to waste electricity. So, I'd prefer not to leave the computer running at all times. Do any tuner cards turn the computer on and off for scheduled recordings?
—Gary in Elmira, MI, listening on WTCM 580 AM

A: Life is getting more and more complicated. Twenty years ago, people didn't have to deal with this. Of course, they had to learn the MS-DOS operating system. That seemed so advanced!

There's no point in ranting about this. So, let's get to the point. I only found one card that would do this. And it's hard to track down.

TV tuner cards typically won’t start your computer. But the software may help you save electricity.

I found one company whose tuner card will boot a computer. The software comes with some Compro Technology VideoMate tuners. It can wake computers from shutdown, sleep and hibernation.

However, the cards are difficult to find. I saw them on eBay. I also found them at an unfamiliar online retailer. You may have better luck. But I wouldn’t spend much time on this quest.

There are other solutions. You don’t need to use the software that accompanies your tuner card. You can use Windows Media Center. This is included in some versions of Vista and Windows 7. It won’t wake your computer from shutdown. However, it will wake it from hibernation or sleep.

SageTV Media Center ($80) will also do the trick. And I bet some tuner cards include software that works. Check with the manufacturer before buying.

Sleep and hibernation are power-saving features. You may already be using one or both.

Software alone won’t do the job for hibernation. Your motherboard also must support automatic wake from hibernation. How can you tell? It may be in your computer’s documentation. But don’t count on it. You’ll probably need to do some research.

First, find the make and model of your motherboard. Belarc Advisor can help you with this. Or, check the computer manufacturer’s site. Once you have the information, check the motherboard manufacturer’s site.

You also could call the computer manufacturer. Maybe tech support could tell you. But it may just be quicker to do the research yourself.

If your computer won’t wake from hibernation, all is not lost. It will probably wake from sleep mode. Sleep mode uses more electricity than hibernation. But it uses less than leaving the computer on.

Your computer will likely use a couple of watts while hibernating or powered off. It will use about double this while it is in sleep mode. But, while it is powered on, the average computer uses about 120 watts. The difference between sleep and hibernation isn’t great. But both are much, much more efficient than leaving the computer on.

Let’s compare this to a standalone DVR just for kicks. The average DVR uses about 30 watts. This doesn’t fluctuate. So, there is an upside and a downside to using your computer as a DVR. You’ll save quite a bit of power when the computer sleeps or hibernates. But the savings will soon dwindle when the computer is recording.

Finally, leave the computer monitor and speakers off. Otherwise, it can be jarring when the computer wakes. And turning off these things will save electricity during the recording.