Ceton InfiniTV 4 USB Review: Adapter Offers Four TV Tuners, Crisp Image Quality
At a Glance
For over a year I’ve been enjoying the internal version of the Ceton InfiniTV 4--an almost flawless TV tuner card marred only by its need for a PCI slot. Its new USB sibling, aptly named the InfiniTV 4 USB ($299 as of October 25, 2011), brings the same four-tuner goodness to laptops, slot-challenged desktops, and pretty much every other PC. True, you can get the same kind of universal compatibility from the Hauppauge WinTV-DCR-2650, but that product has only two tuners.
Ceton’s setup instructions are straightforward. After sliding your CableCard (from your cable provider) into the back of the unit and connecting the coax cable, you plug the InfiniTV into a USB port on your computer. Then, you download Ceton’s installation utility (a minor hassle; whatever happened to software CDs?), and run through Windows Media Center’s TV-signal setup. On my HP desktop, all of these steps came off without a hitch; I was watching and recording shows inside of 15 minutes (not including a CableCard activation call to Comcast, which I’d done previously).
The analog PC-TV tuners of the past limited you to standard-definition broadcasts, while most modern digital tuners can pull down only over-the-air channels. The InfiniTV 4 USB, like Hauppauge’s adapter and the SiliconDust HDHomeRun Prime, supports digital, high-definition signals on regular and premium channels alike--but it can handle four of them, simultaneously.
That sounds as if it would require considerable PC horsepower, and perhaps more bandwidth than a USB 2.0 port could handle. My aforementioned HP machine sports a quad-core CPU and 6GB of RAM (far beyond Ceton’s minimum recommended requirements), and it barely broke a sweat when recording four channels at once. And judging from what I saw of those recordings, USB has no trouble accommodating four streams’ worth of HD video. Everything looked crisp and smooth, without a hint of image degradation.
More good news: The device had no trouble “surviving” sleep mode, which sometimes wreaks havoc with USB devices. Upon waking from standby, my HP computer reconnected to the InfiniTV 4 USB without incident.
Although the InfiniTV 4 USB plugs into a single PC, it can share its tuners with other Windows 7 systems in your house--so long as the host PC has a wired ethernet connection to your router and remains on around the clock. (If those are deal-breakers, check out the HDHomeRun Prime, which doesn’t require a host PC. It plugs directly into a router.)
One thing to keep in mind: With this setup, you’re not actually “sharing” tuners so much as diverting one or more to other PCs. Once you’ve designated, say, two tuners for sharing, that leaves only two available for the host system (though you can always undo the arrangement if you desire). Also, on my fairly mainstream HP desktop, the default network card drivers weren’t “stable” enough (according to Ceton) for good-quality sharing, so I wasn’t able to put it to the test. If you want to buy the InfiniTV 4 USB, and you intend to share tuners, check with Ceton’s tech support first to make sure your host system earns a passing grade.
Although it’s the priciest CableCard adapter on the market, the Ceton InfiniTV 4 USB ranks as the top choice, simply by virtue of offering the most tuners and working exactly as advertised.