A Kodi-based home theater PC is great for watching your ripped or downloaded videos, but even if you’ve cut cable from your life, there’s still a time and place for live TV–like sports. Not to mention recording shows onto a DVR. Here’s how to watch and record live TV from Kodi on Windows.
What You’ll Need
In order to watch live TV on a Windows PC, you’ll need a TV tuner to hook up to your antenna or cable box. There are plenty of TV tuners out there, and which you use depends on what you’re trying to do.
If You Use an Antenna
If you’re just watching broadcast TV from an antenna, we’ve had good experience with Hauppauge’s line of PCI tuners. Grab the WinTV-HVR-1265 ($70) for a good cheap option that can record one show at a time. If you want to record two shows at once, or watch one show while recording another, you’ll want the WinTV-HVR-2255 dual tuner ($112 for the boxed version, $99 for the OEM version that doesn’t include the software). You don’t need the software, but it can be helpful if you’re running Windows 8 or 10, as you’ll see later in the guide. Helpful, but not necessary.
These install into your PC just like any other expansion card (like a video card), so it should be a five minute task. If you’re using a laptop, you’ll probably need to use Hauppauge’s USB tuner ($65) instead.
If You Have Cable
Cable TV is a bit more complex. Since most cable signals are encrypted in the US, you’ll need a TV tuner that supports a CableCARD. The SiliconDust HDHomeRun Prime ($130) comes highly recommended for this purpose. Unlike the Hauppauge tuners, which you install directly into your PC, the HDHomeRun is a separate unit. You’ll need to have your cable company come to your home and install a CableCARD into the HDHomeRun, then hook the HDHomeRun up to your computer with an ethernet cable.
You may want to check with your local cable provider to see if their cable signal is encrypted. If it isn’t, the Hauppauge tuners may work fine for you. But in our experience in the US, a CableCARD-equipped HDHomeRun is necessary more often than not.
Kodi can’t watch live TV on its own. It needs what’s called a “backend” to decode the broadcast signals from your antenna or cable box. Then, Kodi will connect to that backend through an add-on, and provide the “frontend”–the interface you use to browse channels and watch TV.
We’ll be using the NextPVR software for Windows as our backend, since it’s generally the most popular and oft-recommended. The NextPVR add-on comes with Kodi, so you don’t need to install anything else (though depending on your setup, you may need to install some extra codecs during the process below).
How to Install and Set Up NextPVR
Head to the NextPVR home page and download the latest version. Double-click the resulting EXE file to install NextPVR, just like you would any other Windows program.
Start up NextPVR. You’ll be greeted with the settings window. (If you aren’t, right-click on the NextPVR window and choose “Settings”.
In the left sidebar, click “Devices”. Your TV tuner should show up in the list, possibly multiple times. For example, our Hauppauge WinTV tuner shows up twice: Once as an ATSC tuner (for broadcast antennas) and once for QAM (cable). Select the one you want to use–I’m using an antenna, so I’ll choose ATSC in my case–and click “Device Setup”.
Click the “Scan” button to scan for available channels.
This will take a few minutes. When it’s finished, the bar at the top will say “Scan Complete”, and you’ll have a list of all the channels available to you. Click OK.
On the Digital Recorder Settings screen, click OK.
Next, click “Channels” in the left sidebar. Click the “Update EPG” button at the bottom–this will populate the TV guide so you can see what’s on at any given time. (The EPG should automatically update periodically after this.)
Next, click “Recording” in the left sidebar. By default, NextPVR temporarily stores video in
C:\Temp while it’s recording. You can change this folder by clicking the “Edit” button. You shouldn’t need to do this unless your C: drive is particularly small (like if you’re using an SSD).
Similarly, NextPVR stores a buffer for live TV in
C:\Temp . You can change this by clicking “Misc” in the left sidebar and clicking the Browse button next to “Buffer Directory”. Again, the default is probably fine unless you have a good reason to change it.
Lastly, click “Decoders” in the left sidebar. If you’re using Windows 7, change as many of these dropdowns as you can to “Microsoft DTV-DVD Video Decoder”. Most TV tuners should work with that setup.
If you’re using Windows 8 or Windows 10, the Microsoft DTV-DVD Video Decoder will not be available for most of these options, particularly MPEG2 (which many TV tuners use). Click the dropdown to see if you have any decoders available to you–you may already have some installed from other applications on your system. I, for example, had LAV decoders installed, so I chose this.
If you don’t have any decoders available to you, you’ll have to install some separately. If your TV tuner came with any software, it may come with some decoders, so try installing that software, then returning to the Decoders page. If not, NextPVR also recommends installing the SAF codecs pack, which provides some good codecs for free.
You don’t necessarily need a decoder selected for every option–just the ones your TV tuner uses. If some channels don’t work or don’t have sound, try enabling more decoders to see if that helps. You may have to do a bit of experimenting before you find the right set of decoders.
When you’ve selected the necessary decoders, click OK to save your settings. You’ll see the main NextPVR interface, which you can use to watch Live TV. Scroll down to “Live TV” and press Enter to see if it works.
If it does, congratulations! You can watch Live TV from your computer.
If you like, you can go back into NextPVR’s settings, click Channels in the left sidebar, and delete any channels you don’t want. For example, I live in San Diego, so there are plenty of standard definition Spanish-language channels I know I’ll never watch. I’ve removed most of them from NextPVR, giving me a much smaller, more refined selection of channels.
You can also double-click on a channel to rename it, which is useful if you can’t remember what each call sign means. For example, I’ve renamed KFMB-DT to KFMB-DT (CBS), and so on. This is not mandatory, but it is useful.
How to Watch and Record Live TV in Kodi
NextPVR works decently well for watching Live TV, but if you use Kodi on your home theater PC, you can integrate NextPVR so you can watch and record your shows right from Kodi, while NextPVR does the heavy lifting in the background.
Start Kodi and head to System > TV and, under the General tab, check the “Enabled” box to enable Live TV.
Kodi will prompt you to choose a PVR add-on. Scroll down the list and find NextPVR. Press Enter.
Scroll down to the “Enable” button and press Enter to enable the NextPVR add-on.
Scroll up to the “Configure” button and press Enter. On the “Advanced” tab, I recommend enabling “Enable TimeShift with Live TV” (which allows you to pause, rewind, and fast forward live TV as you watch). Press OK when done.
Press the back button on your remote (or Backspace on your keyboard) until you return to the “TV – Settings” menu. Adjust any other settings you want. I recommend going to the “Playback” tab and disabling “Start Playback Minimized”.
When you’re finished, head back to the main menu and scroll to the new “TV” option that appears. (If you don’t see it, you may need to close the Kodi app and restart it.)
Select it, and you should see a list of all your channels. Scroll to the channel you want to watch, press Enter, and live TV should start playing right in Kodi.
If you want to make your channel guide look a little nicer, you can even download logos for each of the TV channels and apply them in Kodi. Just select a channel, press “C” on your keyboard, and go to Manage > Channel Manager. From there you can scroll over to “Channel Icon”, and select it to browse to an image folder on your computer. It’s a bit tedious, but it looks pretty great when you’re finished.
Those are all the basics. Scroll to the left to view the episode guide, or to view your list of recordings from the pop-out sidebar. From the channel guide, you can see what’s coming and schedule recordings for later. As long as your PC is on when that show airs, it’ll record it for you. You can also record a channel immediately by highlighting it, pressing “C” on your keyboard, and choosing “Record”.
There’s a lot more you can do with a NextPVR-powered Kodi machine, but this should get you up and running. Enjoy your new, even-more-fully-featured home theater PC!