Ceton InfiniTV 4 USB CableCARD Tuner

Sep 08 2011

Ceton InfiniTV 4 USB BoxFor more than a year enthusiasts in the Home Theater PC (HTPC) community have known Ceton as the Kirkland, WA company that delivered the first true PCIe, and until recently only, Digital Cable Tuner (DCT) available on the market.  Discontent to sit out the recent, relative glut of CableCARD devices and form factors they have introduced a new external USB member to their four tuner product line with planned availability on September 19th -- aptly named “InfiniTV 4 USB.”  We recently reviewed two similarly external CableCARD tuners from Hauppauge and SiliconDust which entered the market ahead of Ceton, but time to market is only part of the equation as both devices have struggled with maturity; so the real question is if Ceton’s experience in the field can provide the same quality of experience we have come to expect from their earlier device.

Device

Measuring 13.5cm x 18cm x 2.7cm (including feet) and weighing around a pound, the Ceton InfiniTV 4 USB has a solid feel and heft that provides an uncommonly rewarding tactile experience even with significant venting providing a geeks-eye view of the internals.  The review sample shown above is not exactly the same in appearance as the retail units, mostly because it is missing the “infiniTV” logo on the front, but also shows some minor blemishes (or so I’m told as any unsightly marks proved elusive) on the chassis and the feet will be slightly different.  Retail units should have the same quality materials however, because even though the case is a matte black plastic, it is clearly not the “budget” kind found on most consumer level devices.    There is one status light, a solid blue LED when everything is functioning properly, which is muted enough to not prove distracting even when placed in clear view.  Most users probably will not put the device on display however, preferring a convenient location within the A/V cabinet, but unfortunately mounting options are limited because screw holes are not provided. 

Setup

Driver installation was a straightforward click-through exercise with no real decisions required except whether to reboot when finished or to wait for a more convenient time. 

As was noted in the first look, getting the tuner recognized and working inside of 7MC was a breeze.  Assuming that the PC has already passed the Digital Cable Advisor, it only requires your zip code, a phone call and some button presses to get four tuners of CableCARD goodness pulled into the application.

Should the need to troubleshoot arise, Ceton includes a handy 2’ diagnostic tool that provides access to a more detailed view of activation and entitlement status.  The tool is also handy for those fortunate enough to have a benevolent Cable provider blessing them with Copy-Freely content because it lists the CableCARD and host IDs required to pair the m-card with the DCT before use with applications like SageTV or MythTV.

For those more inclined towards 10’ use, Ceton is planning to release the same diagnostic capability in a 7MC add-in in the near future.  The screenshots above are from a pre-beta release of the add-in so please do not take it for gospel, as some things may change; it is a significant step toward providing a seamless user experience especially for the curious or less technically inclined.

The tile for “network tuners” was not included in the galley above mostly because it warrants a more detailed discussion as a topic, but also because it is not beta.  While DCT are inherently UPnP network devices, up to this point only the SiliconDust HDHomeRun PRIME has fully embraced that reality and forgone the need for a PC host.  Because of this, both of the InfiniTV 4 models must have their network interfaces, which exist on a different subnet and are only routable through the PC interfacing with it, bridged with the host’s network interface card (NIC).  If this sounds complex, that’s because it is--but only a little.  Fortunately Ceton has made the process completely wizard-driven from within 7MC, so if all of the PCs that will host and use the InfiniTV 4 are running that platform all of the individual steps are taken care of for you.  Getting the host setup on another OS, like Windows Home Server (WHS) 2011 (check out the last two screens which show it working from WHS), is more involved but we have a guide for that :).  Everything is the same between the two models except the need to check the box to enable bridging on the USB device’s driver configuration page.  Once complete on all of the systems, the bridged tuners function seamlessly on the clients, but this is an area where the PRIME has a significant advantage because unlike the Ceton devices, which only offer static tuner assignment, SiliconDust provides the option for a more flexible approach (with some caveats of course), and without the host there are fewer moving parts to potentially break as well as a lower electric bill.

Use

Those with concerns around USB 2.0’s ability to handle the bandwidth demands of four simultaneous HD streams should be able to put those worries to rest with the usage (50Mbps) measured during monitoring being far enough below the protocol’s theoretical maximum of 480Mbps that even if the actual limit were only half that, it would still provide enough headroom for multiple InfiniTV 4 USBs.  Like all DCTs, the device is exposed via a network interface to the OS as well as presenting a web based interface launch-able from Windows Explorer for viewing additional diagnostic data (like signal level and signal-to-noise ratios) for those with issues or just wanting to poke around. 

No recording issues

Fancy plastic and a slick software ecosystem only gets a product so far, after all it does not matter how easy a device is on the eyes or in use, if it is not reliable – this is especially true when it comes to TV capture devices with Household Acceptance Factor (HAF*) on the line.  On this point, the Ceton InfiniTV 4 USB was a source of frustration for me, because as hard as I tried to break it – including a plethora of configuration permutations including: single 7MC PC, 7MC host + multiple 7MC clients (both physical and virtual utilizing 32-bit and 64-bit OS) and a WHS 2011 host with multiple 7MC clients -- the device was able to perform several 24+ hour, 4x HD, simultaneous recording sessions without issue.  Upon reflection, perhaps this is not so much a personal failure as an artifact of the tuner’s heritage, because even though this version of the product is “new,” it shares most of the moving parts with the PCIe revision inheriting its maturity as well.

Channel change speed was varied within a range of three to seven seconds, but most took between four or five seconds to complete so just a little slower than the HDHomeRun PRIME.  Usability from standby was significantly worse however, with the tuner requiring 60-80 seconds to present data after resuming from S3.

* Yep, a new term combining W[ife]AF/H[usband]/S[pouse]AF/K[id]AF/S[ignificant] O[ther]AF into one, easy to use, encapsulation :)

For SageTV users fortunate enough to have their cable line-up marked “Copy Freely,” SageDCT supported the InfiniTV 4 USB with no modifications.  Observant readers will have already noted the coexistence of USB and PCIe versions in the screenshot above, so a slight change was made (bumping the version to 1.6) to create static links between specific tuners and the associated network encoder to ensure that testing was accurate. 

power use

Power use was higher than expected with the device pulling 10.2 watts (W) even with no tuners active. Consumption ramped from there to a peak of 11.6W when fully taxed.  While there is a small reduction in draw (0.2W) when the PC is in standby, it still pulls ~10W in that state so there is significant room for improvement.  After viewing the power numbers, it comes as no surprise that the InfiniTV 4 USB gets warm.  Ranging from ~43°C to a 51.8°C (125°F) peak temperature measured during one of the stress tests, leaving the device somewhat uncomfortable to touch.  I was assured that anything less than 65°C is normal, and given the stability exhibited even in that condition it is safe to take Ceton at their word. 

Conclusion

With the recent introduction of DCT from SiliconDust and Hauppauge providing different form factors, tuner counts and discrete price points it is refreshing to see that Ceton is not content to sit still – extending the InfiniTV 4 line beyond a single [PCIe] product to include a USB external device. Also capable of delivering four HD streams the two members of the family share many features including an MSRP of $299; with the interface being the only clear differentiator once we pass the September 19th availability date.  Except for some nitpicks around power consumption and heat, the Ceton InfiniTV 4 USB provides exactly what it promises – simple, stable, premium digital cable in the HTPC. 

Pro

  • Stability
  • Form factor
  • Software ecosystem, including 10’ UI experience in Window 7 Media Center

Con

  • Power consumption, especially when the host PC is in standby
  • Gets hot

Thanks to Ceton for providing the InfiniTV 4 USB review sample.

Comments

Wow--  while I don't think I'll be getting a USB one any time soon (would have been nice to have started with one; but, can't justify it now that I have two internals!), I'd LOVE to have that beta 10'UI.  Any idea when it'll be released?

It will be available as a beta this month. Some options will have changed from what you see in the screenshots though.

Anyone know if it is advantageous to go with the internal version to save power?

Oingofan wrote:

Anyone know if it is advantageous to go with the internal version to save power?

Good question.  I think the PCIe version is powered down (since it shouldn't have a choice in the matter) when the PC enters S3.

Assuming that is true, and ignoring form factor as a decision point, it's one of those trade-off things b/w power consumption and putting the heat in the chassis right now.  Ideally Ceton will figure out how to make the USB model enter a low power state while the PC is sleeping so we won't have to worry about this issue in the long term.

As it currently stands, the internal version should save power if you power off/standby your HTPC when not in use. I haven't tested the sleep condition with a meter yet, but the InfiniTV 4 PCIe card is probably shut down when sleeping.

Once complete on all of the systems, the bridged tuners function seamlessly on the clients, but this is an area where the PRIME has a significant advantage because unlike the Ceton devices, which only offer static tuner assignment, SiliconDust provides the option for a more flexible approach (with some caveats of course), and without the host there are fewer moving parts to potentially break as well as a lower electric bill.

Can you explain this in more detail?  I'm currently trying to choose between these two products.  I will mainly be using two 360's as extenders and occasionally using another computer to watch live or recorded tv.

Are you saying that because it needs a host, that it's a disadvantage?  Or is there a difference in the way that you can share tuners (i.e. if one tuners is assigned to one device, another cannot utilize it)?

I guess I'm just looking for more detail in extender/other PC tuner usage.

Thanks!

rvvisse wrote:

Once complete on all of the systems, the bridged tuners function seamlessly on the clients, but this is an area where the PRIME has a significant advantage because unlike the Ceton devices, which only offer static tuner assignment, SiliconDust provides the option for a more flexible approach (with some caveats of course), and without the host there are fewer moving parts to potentially break as well as a lower electric bill.

Can you explain this in more detail?  I'm currently trying to choose between these two products.  I will mainly be using two 360's as extenders and occasionally using another computer to watch live or recorded tv.

Are you saying that because it needs a host, that it's a disadvantage?  Or is there a difference in the way that you can share tuners (i.e. if one tuners is assigned to one device, another cannot utilize it)?

I guess I'm just looking for more detail in extender/other PC tuner usage.

Thanks!

The Ceton IntiniTV 4 tuners allow the tuners to be assigned to any PC on your network. Once assigned, the tuner can only be used by the PC it is assigned to until you decide to change the assignment.

The SiliconDust PRIME also can function in the same manner. It also offers the option to oversubscribe the tuners. This means sharing the same tuner among multiple PCs on the network. This adds flexibility, but it also means that if the tuner is being used and it is then requested by another PC, there will be a tuning failure and software such as WMC is not graceful at handling this situation. It can work great so long as the user understands what they are doing.

The PRIME's native network support and more flexible tuner sharing model makes it more attractive when sharing the tuners with multiple PC clients because 1) there is no "host" that needs to be on in order for the secondary PCs to be able use the device and 2) SD's tuner sharing allows for exclusive (i.e. what Ceton does) and non-exclusive assignments.  Non exclusive assignment isn't perfect though because MC doesn't always handle tuner loss gracefully.

When using with extenders none of that matters because they require a PC host regardless of what DCT is in use. 

So the bottom line is that if your primary use case is as a shared device, mapped to multiple PC clients the PRIME has an advantage over either Ceton device.  If that is not your primary use case, then IMO tuner count is a better differentiator (i.e. 2 = HVR-2650, 3 = PRIME, 4 = Ceton, 6 = Super PRIME, etc.) than how it attaches itself to the network.

Ahhhh thank you so much!  I'm looking forward to my first HTPC!

 

"WHS 2011 host with multiple 7MC clients"

MORE DETAILS PLEASE!

This is very interesting, as my WHS server is always on.  The 7MC clients could wake up and get the tuner from the WHS.  Really slick.  Any downsides or problems with this?  Any tricks to getting the driver working on WHS?

Thanks!

Please see our guide for that.

StanF wrote:

"WHS 2011 host with multiple 7MC clients"

MORE DETAILS PLEASE!

This is very interesting, as my WHS server is always on.  The 7MC clients could wake up and get the tuner from the WHS.  Really slick.  Any downsides or problems with this?  Any tricks to getting the driver working on WHS?

Thanks!

Like Aaron said, you just follow the guide for WHS 2011 on the server and then walk through the network tuner process on the clients.  The only downside (if you can call it that) is that you can't go to low-end w/ your WHS box - either from a CPU or NIC POV.  For e.g. my test WHS 2011 was an E-350 system and the CPU was running in the 50-60% range with 4 HD streams, but it has a Realtek NIC that offloads a lot to the CPU so that didn't help.

Sounds great - I will probably give it a try.  My WHS is an i3-2100T, so it should have enough power.  There are also nice, low-power CPU upgrade paths, but I don't think they would be needed.

An i3 will be more than enough, just make sure you have a solid NIC and you'll be golden.

babgvant wrote:

An i3 will be more than enough, just make sure you have a solid NIC and you'll be golden.

And by solid NIC, that means Intel.  Just not the Intel PRO/1000 GT--it is trash.

In general, nobody should be going for PCI NICs unless that's all that the motherboard has. PCI bus can potentially limit GigE throughput.

In regards to tuning times, you mentioned 4-5 seconds for the Ceton USB, being a little slower than the Prime.  I was digging in the old Ceton PCIe version posts, and must have missed its tuning time.  Could you add that for reference here?  Thanks! 

Probably will decide between this and the Prime in the end, due to using a hacked up Tivo case for my new HTPC build, and dont want the internal Ceton heat in the case, unless its not all that hot?

Kirby wrote:

In regards to tuning times, you mentioned 4-5 seconds for the Ceton USB, being a little slower than the Prime.  I was digging in the old Ceton PCIe version posts, and must have missed its tuning time.  Could you add that for reference here?  Thanks! 

I haven't used the PCIe version with 7MC so I can't speak to the channel changing times directly (perhaps someone else who has one can chime in), but since the hw is very similar and my understanding is that it uses the same firmware I'd expect it to be very close to the USB rev.  FWIW, I wouldn't select a tuner based on how fast it changes channels (well, maybe as a tie breaker Smile) especially since we're talking a 1-2 second difference.

Kirby wrote:

Probably will decide between this and the Prime in the end, due to using a hacked up Tivo case for my new HTPC build, and dont want the internal Ceton heat in the case, unless its not all that hot?

I'd love to see some build shots when you're done.

As noted in the Hauppauge Colossus review, the InfiniTV 4 PCIe takes four to five seconds in 7MC for channel changes.

You could always add a little active cooling to temper the internal card, if necessary.

I guess I thought the cable card tuners were faster, but I was timing my Tivo this morning, and it was doing 4-5 second changes as well (on SDV channels).  Didnt test non-SDV. 

I've got an album going over on my G+ account that I am putting the photos of the build in, so far its just the gutted Tivo and a template of the DH61AG board.  Waiting for the MB to come so I can measure the cutout for the IO panel, and get the mounting height situated.  Initial goal was to use the coax opening on the back panel for the Ceton card's coax output, but then I remembered the actual CC stands proud out of the back of the card, so that wont work.  But I could maybe find a OTA card or something that would fit, but unlikely.

Plan is to use the Tivo's existing 60mm exhaust fan in the back of the case.  Going to have an SSD in there, not sure about a data drive (maybe e-sata or usb3).  Trying to keep internal heat to a minimum.

That sounds great, can't wait to see it.

Well the guide is not exactly perfect for WHS 2011 but it was good enough.  Have the unit installed and works as advertised.  Only problem is that one of my PC's is a very low end netbook and I cannot get HBO to show up or record on it.  All other channels are fine.  CPU utilization on a HP EX495 with 4GB memory with updated Q8200S CPU is max 6%.  I love it when a plan comes togeather.  Now just have to see what the XBox can do with this.

 

Well tried the XBox using WMC extender functionality and everything justed worked as advertised.  I can watch all recorded content and view all channels.

My full setup is as follows:

HP EX495 with 4GB memory and upgraded Q8200S quad core processor running WHS 2011 with the new Ceton USB tuner connected.  The PC running WMC and where my recording is taking place is an origional I7 920 with 16GB memory and 6TB of disk.

Only issue now is figuring out how to get the recorded TV shows to be stored on the WHS box.

I have a entry level Compaq laptop and HBO looks like it's only showing I frames. This is a display issue with the Intel graphics.

As for storage on the WHS, I think your best bet is to write a script that moves the files in the Recorded TV folder to a Recorded TV folder on the WHS. Make sure that you have set that folder to be watched on your MC machines and the shows will all be there. One warning, anything that is copy once (virtually all HD other than OTA here now on TWC) will show up on other machines but won't play. The shows will play on the computer that made the recording no matter the storage location of the recording.

Looks like the InfiniTV 4 USB is up on Amazon now.

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