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Review: Ceton Takes HTPCs To a New Level With the InfiniTV 6 ETH

Posted by Jim Tanous on June 24, 2013

Television tuner products for personal computers have come a long way over the past 15 years or so. What began as complicated add-on cards with temperamental single tuners evolved to plug-and-play USB products and finally to whole-house networked solutions. These products promise consumers the ability to watch and record cable (and sometimes over-the-air) television without the fees and restrictive user experiences of cable company-provided set-top boxes.

Ceton InfiniTV 6 ETH Review

The 4 Tuner Ceton InfiniTV 4 PCIe

Many companies inhabit the TV tuner market, but perhaps the most innovative is Ceton. The Washington-based company made headlines in 2010 when it released the first consumer-targeted and CableCARD compatible four-tuner product, the InfiniTV 4 PCIe. While certain cable companies and DirecTV also released four-tuner products around the same time, the InfiniTV 4 brought the functionality to the more customizable HTPC market.

Ceton InfiniTV 6 ETH Review

The external Ceton InfiniTV 4 USB

Ceton later released a companion product, the InfiniTV 4 USB, which, as its name implies, took the technology formerly housed in a PCI Express card and packed it into a compact external box.

Now the company has upped the game again by releasing a new InfiniTV product with two key additions: six tuners and networking support. Ceton loaned us a review sample of the InfiniTV 6 ETH, as it’s called, and we spent a few weeks putting the device through its paces. Here’s why we think it’s a game changer.

Requirements

The InfiniTV 6 ETH is a cable-only product, which means it won’t work with over-the-air ATSC signals via an antenna. Therefore, you’ll need an active cable subscription in order to use the device. The tuner can access both Clear QAM, or unencrypted, cable signals as well as the premium signals protected by the aforementioned CableCARD specification.

Unfortunately for Mac owners, the InfiniTV 6 is only compatible with Windows 7 SP1 or Windows 8, although there is experimental Linux support for certain products. Windows 8 customers will need to make sure they have Windows 8 Pro along with the additional upgrade to the Windows Media Center (WMC) add-on pack.

You’ll need a relatively fast PC to handle potentially six simultaneous video streams. Ceton recommends a dual- or quad-core CPU at 2.5 GHz or faster, 4 GB of RAM, and a wired gigabit Ethernet connection. You’ll also need an HDCP-compliant GPU and display in order to view encrypted television content.

Box Contents & Setup

Ceton InfiniTV 6 ETH Review

The InfiniTV 6 ETH comes packaged with almost everything you’ll need to get set up. This includes the tuner itself — a small rectangular device measuring 5.25 inches wide by about 7.5 inches deep (including the extrusion for the coax cable connection) by about 1 inch tall — a power cord, an Ethernet cable, an installation guide, and a USB cable for connecting to a tuning adapter required by some cable providers. The only thing missing is a coaxial cable for connecting the tuner to your home’s cable line, although it’s a safe bet that most consumers have a cable from an existing setup.

Ceton InfiniTV 6 ETH Review

The process of connecting the device to your home network and setting up the required software is relatively simple thanks to the included installation guide, a copy of which Ceton has made available online as a PDF. The major consideration for new users involves obtaining a multi-stream CableCARD and tuning adapter from the cable company. Once these items are in hand, the step-by-step instructions are quick and easy.

Ceton InfiniTV 6 ETH Review

One potential area for trouble is activating the CableCARD with the cable company. All CableCARD users must call in to activate their CableCARD devices and pair the card with the device’s unique ID. How smoothly this process goes can vary wildly by cable company and even by the customer service representative who answers the phone.

Ceton InfiniTV 6 ETH Review

A Tuning Adapter, provided by your cable company, may be necessary to tune certain channels (SDV).

In our case, which involved several calls to pair and re-pair cards with multiple devices, we had two excellent encounters (the representative answered quickly and knew exactly what to do) and one terrible experience (30 minute hold, then an awkward conversation with someone who wasn’t familiar with anything other than TiVos). Again, your experience will vary but Ceton has done all it can to help you. The company’s customer service team has worked with all major cable companies in the U.S. and provides a list of the direct phone numbers for each company’s CableCARD help line. In short, this will likely be the most frustrating part of the installation, but it will be worth it.

Usage

Once you’ve got your InfiniTV 6 ETH activated and set up, it’s time to have some fun in Windows Media Center. In our testing, we launched the Media Center Guide and started loading up on scheduled recordings. WMC will notify you if you’ve selected too many overlapping recordings and there’s a conflict. While this happened a few times a week on our previous four-tuner product, we had to try really hard to reach a recording conflict with the InfiniTV 6 ETH.

Ceton InfiniTV 6 ETH Review

This results in a whole new way of thinking about DVRs. While power users have long been addicted to connecting multiple tuner devices to their PCs, average HTPC consumers are still likely to have only one tuner device. With the InfiniTV 6, that one device is now far more capable. For most users, virtually anything they want can be recorded with no conflicts.

The large number of tuners also benefits users with multiple PCs or devices. As a networked product, the InfiniTV 6 ETH is natively built to support more than one PC. Ceton allows users to configure this tuner distribution via one of two methods: assigned tuners and pooled tuners.

Assigned tuners means that a user manually links one or more of the six InfiniTV 6 tuners to a specific PC. This is done during the Windows Media Center setup. When the WMC setup procedure reports that it has found a six tuner device, choose to configure them manually. Each individual tuner on the InfiniTV 6 will be presented in a list; make sure that only the tuners you want associated with that particular PC are checked. Then, perform the same steps on other PCs until all tuners are assigned.

Ceton InfiniTV 6 ETH Review

While assigning tuners means that many PCs on the same network can share a single InfiniTV 6 ETH, this process doesn’t allow for automatic reassignment if necessary. In other words, if you have two tuners assigned to one PC, you won’t be able to access three channels at once, even if the remaining tuners assigned to other PCs are not in use.

To address this scenario, Ceton is developing its own implementation of “tuner pooling.” As the name suggests, tuner pooling allows multiple PCs on the same network to dynamically share all available tuners. If one PC is recording six channels, all tuners will be allocated to it. If one PC is recording three channels, another PC recording two, and a user launches live TV via their Xbox 360 media extender, all tuners will dynamically reassign to compensate.

This is an exciting feature and it remains in development. Ceton allows users to experiment with it via beta software and drivers, but it is not yet entirely stable. We had some fun throwing different configurations at tuner pooling via three PCs and two extenders (Xbox 360s), and it did indeed work as advertised. But it also failed on some occasions, requiring a power cycle of the tuner and tuning adapter. Tuner pooling, although “not ready for prime time” (pun intended), is a great feature that Ceton owners can look forward to once it’s stable.

Performance

In terms of video quality, the Ceton performed as expected. Once a channel stream has started, there is no difference in video or audio quality compared to other networked streaming devices, such as the HDHomeRun Prime, or internal PCI Express-based devices, such as Ceton’s own InfiniTV 4 PCIe. There is a slight delay at the start of each stream, however. Those who have used WMC extenders will recognize it: the audio starts almost immediately while the video appears frozen for about one second, then the video “speeds up” to catch up with the audio.

This delay is not ideal, but we quickly adjusted to it. It also only affects new channel streams; if your tuner is already recording a certain channel in the background, you won’t see the delay when switching to a live or recorded point in that stream. It’s also worth noting that this delay seems to be inherent to networked tuners. Our HDHomeRun Prime also exhibits the same behavior.

Ceton InfiniTV 6 ETH Review

Turning now to network performance, the InfiniTV 6 ETH is equipped with gigabit Ethernet, although we never topped 100Mbps in our testing. While recording six channels simultaneously to a single PC, we measured average speeds between 75 and 85Mbps, with an occasional maximum of just under 95Mbps. While gigabit Ethernet provides an appreciated level of headroom, those with slower wired networks may still squeeze by on a 100Mbps connection. It’s important to point out, however, that Ceton sets a gigabit requirement for the optimal user experience.

The InfiniTV 6 also works via Wi-Fi. Our Windows 8 laptop was able to receive up to two streams simultaneously via 802.11n as we wandered around the office, although dropouts in the signal required us to close and then restart Media Center. Our experience leads us to recommend that users stick with a wired PC for their main Media Center hub while relying on wireless devices for occasional use.

Ceton InfiniTV 6 ETH Review

The Ceton Echo Media Extender

Finally, as we mentioned earlier, the InfiniTV 6 worked great with our Media Center Extenders. There was the expected brief delay when starting a new stream, but quality and performance were exactly the same as our former PCI Express tuner. While we used Xbox 360s as our extenders, Ceton also offers its own extender, the Echo, although we have yet to test one. The InfiniTV 6 ETH should work fine with both, although you’ll need to be running Windows 7 if you use the Echo, as Microsoft removed third party extender support from Windows 8.

Wishes & Conclusions

The InfiniTV 6 ETH and its six tuners make watching and recording television a great experience, but we wish that Ceton could find a way to support over-the-air ATSC tuners on the device as well. Many cable companies highly compress their HD channels and the over-the-air broadcasts of national networks are, in many areas, of a higher quality than the feed provided by the cable company. While there are many inexpensive ways to add an additional over-the-air tuner to your HTPC setup, having everything in one device would be ideal.

Another concern is heat. The InfiniTV 6 gets quite warm, especially when all six tuners are in use. We measured about 60 degrees Celsius from the tuner’s own diagnostics and a surface temperature of about 48 degrees Celsius. Our tuner was kept with our networking equipment on an open mesh shelf with an ambient room temperature of 23°C (about 74°F). Despite the high temperatures, the tuner performed flawlessly over several days, although we would be wary of installing the unit in an enclosed and non-ventilated space.

Ceton InfiniTV 6 ETH Review

While we wish we could say that HTPC tuner cards were great for every user, the fact remains that simply plugging in a cable box is still an easier process. We have no hesitation in recommending the InfiniTV 6 ETH to users with even moderate technical experience, but this isn’t something we’d recommend for less technically savvy users. Dealing with CableCARD activation issues alone may be enough to turn some users away.

But at the end of the day, a TV tuner and Windows Media Center offer a far more customizable, powerful, and often cheaper solution for premium television enjoyment compared to leased cable boxes. With only a few minutes of setup, the InfiniTV 6 ETH granted us the ability to watch and record TV on all of our Windows PCs and extenders, without the fear of running out of tuners.

There are several options when it comes to CableCARD tuners, but the InfiniTV 6 ETH offers the best combination of features and performance. Its minor flaws are far outweighed by the benefits it provides, and we’re confident that once you upgrade to six tuners, you’ll never go back.

The Ceton InfiniTV 6 ETH is available now for $299. The company also has a six tuner update to its PCI Express line coming soon at the same price.

 

Ceton InfiniTV 6 ETH ReviewInfiniTV 6 ETH
Manufacturer:
Ceton
Model: 5504-DCT06EX-ETH
Price: $299
Requirements: Windows 7 SP1 or Windows 8 with Media Center | HDCP-Compliant GPU and Display | Wired Ethernet Network (Gigabit Recommended) | Multi-Stream CableCARD and Tuning Adapter
Release Date: May 2013

One thought on “Review: Ceton Takes HTPCs To a New Level With the InfiniTV 6 ETH”

Ken R says:
Ceton has a habit of saying they will help with issue one may have with there Cable Co I have had a Ceton InfiniTV 4 PCIe for almost a year now and have not seen the discounts the FCC has made Law because my Provider just does not care about this Law!!! I also have a FCC complaint filed against my Cable Co that is 8-9 months old and nothing has been done the Cable operator said they will not give me the discount and they basically ignored the FCC refusing to respond to their Emails and Letters! Ceton from time to time calls me or emails me asking if I have heard anything from the FCC and the answer is always No! Ceton told me they have contacts with/in the FCC and each time they contact me they say the same thing We (Ceton) will reach out to them (FCC) again! I am done with this I did not save a dime on my Cable bill as this was the main reason for setting up a HTPC and getting 3 4 gig Xbox 360’s as extenders, the Echo was not available at the time! I am glad I got the Xbox’s since they have resale value, also the Ceton InfiniTV 4 PCIe card malfunctioned and it was RMA’d this cost me a $25 or $35 cross shipping fee if I did not cross ship I would have been with out a Tuner until Ceton got the bad card back and shipped a replacement! or I kept the bad card that still worked but had a Memory issue that kept it from updating the firmware, and hoped it continued to work! bottom line you may not get the discounts Ceton says you will depending on your Cable provider I have ABB I do not know if any other operators are refusing to abide by the FCC laws but ABB covers mostly small city’s and Miami Fl! I will be going to A Directv since they have receivers that can do more than Media Center also M$ seems to be trying to fade out Media Center! another issue I have with Ceton they have told me several times they have a close relationship with Microsoft but yet they had no idea M$ was going to offer media center ala cart in W8 if they did they kept it to themselves! good by Ceton it was a interesting trip that cost me $$$$ and saved me nothing!
Reply
TekRevue says:
Wow, Ken. I’m sorry to hear about your experience. The CableCARD stuff can indeed be headache-inducing. Also, you’re right about Microsoft and Media Center; I’m not sure where the company plans to take the feature. Hopefully third parties can step in and offer a better solution before Microsoft kills it off or stops supporting it entirely.
Reply
Ken R says:
It started off great until My Cable Co put up a Brick Wall when I at first asked to my legal discount then I had to demand it! that got me nowhere then I had to get the FCC involved so far that has been a stalemate Ceton assured me they had Contacts with the FCC but all I ever get is a Email asking word for word did you hear from the FCC yet and when I respond no their exact response is we will reach out to the FCC again? they have no comment on what their “contact” has done! it’s to late to return the card the FCC complaint will be a year old in July I feel Ceton has led me on to keep me as a customer now I have to eat the cost of all the equipment I purchased to set this up! was it worth it? no!! I am not a newbie I have been building PC’s since 1984 and I had plans of selling systems to people in my area that are tired of paying the Rental fees from my PC Repair Company I had people waiting for me to tell them this issue was taken care of but after a year I doubt anything will change! the whole ordeal was like beating a dead horse, Ceton knows who I am and at this point I don’t care if they don’t like what I post it’s all true! this cable Co is mostly a rural small city company with the exception of Miami Florida I don’t know if they obey the rules in Florida since they have a large customer base there, but even Atlantic Broad Band is deceptive in their claims as the 12th largest Cable operator in the USA they are far from it no one has even heard of them outside their service area! I used to live in Ft Lauderdale and never heard of them! I have tried to get the word out for customers to stand up to them since even Tivo customers are being ripped of the same as I am! I have a face to face with the regional VP and was told he only wanted to see my face because he did not like what I said about them on DSL reports and that they do not interpret the FCC law the same as myself and anyone who wishes to get the FCC involved, he even said to my face that they will not respond to any FCC requests so far after a year he has lived up to this promise, so until someone with some kind of pull political or otherwise bangs on their door they are not going to change. since this all started the company was sold to a Canadian Company (on Jul 18, 2012 · Cogeco Cable Inc. (CCA), a Montreal-based cable-television company, agreed to buy Atlantic Broadband for $1.36 billion) the only changes made since is outrageous end of promo rates for their service like the 40/3 meg max service is jumping from the $50.00 range to almost $90.00 a month this is a anti promo hopping tactic they were using in Canada, so on the end I am being forced to go to a slow DSL 3m/512k service and Directv until someone else come into our area like Google Fiber, Fios or Comcast but the likelihood of this is about 0! The cable card was not the Headache indusing issue the disregard for the Law and the Fcc dragging their feet also Ceton claiming they have all these contacts that I doubt are much of anything like I said I think they just wanted to lead me on to keep me as a customer and can’t do anything they said they could to help this was a test for me from a business standpoint and I have to cut my losses and continue on.

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