WATCHING AND RECORDING digital cable TV on your PC should be simple. Modern CPUs and videocards pack considerably more processing power than what you’ll find in even the highest-end DVR your cable company provides; and hard drives—while temporarily pricey, due to the flooding in Thailand—offer plenty of recording capacity.
In short, there is no technical reason why every interested TV viewer shouldn’t be able to enjoy this harmonious technological convergence. Ceton’s InfiniTV 4 USB certainly does its part, rendering the process as easy as can be, considering DRM issues restrict you to using Windows 7 (Linux users need not apply) and subscribing to your local cable company (satellite TV viewers need not apply).
In an ideal world, hardware like this would work seamlessly. You’d buy a multistream CableCard from your favorite retailer, plug it into your InfiniTV, connect the InfiniTV to your coax cable and to your PC’s USB port, and—bam!—your PC would be transformed into a four-tuner DVR vastly superior to anything any cable company offers today. In reality, the process is nowhere near that simple.
You might suffer through a few installation headaches, but Ceton’s InfiniTV is the best way we know of to record cable TV .
First, you’ll need to visit your cable company’s office, because that’s the only way to acquire a CableCard. Second, you’ll need to schedule an appointment during which your service provider will either install and configure the card for you, or work with you over the phone while you do it yourself. Your service must be configured through the company’s main office, and CableCard installations can be tricky—especially if the customer-service rep isn’t familiar with the process. The cable companies don’t like CableCard and would like to see the technology dry up and blow away.
Be that as it may, it was at this step that the InfiniTV impressed us most. Ceton provides a software utility that performs a comprehensive diagnostic test on the cable connection, including detailed suggestions as to what problem might be preventing the card from working properly. We relayed this useful advice to the cable companies’ tech support during our self-install and were able to set up the device with only two calls.
The process of configuring Windows Media Center didn’t go as smoothly. We needed to uninstall and reinstall the software and edit the registry in order to get Microsoft’s PlayReady DRM to function properly. We also encountered headaches getting video to play on an external TV. After those hiccups, we had a good experience. Ceton recommends using a PC with at least a 2GHz dual- or quad-core processor and 4GB of RAM, which is relatively modest by today’s standards. We didn’t notice any substantial slowdown while testing with such a system, even while recording four HD television shows simultaneously. Video quality was excellent, and you can stream live or pre-recorded video to other Windows 7 PCs or an Xbox 360 over your home network.
The InfiniTV 4 USB is a solid product bound by restrictions—no Linux support, restrictions on what you can do with recordings, and so on—that are beyond Ceton’s control. Our installation experience was less than perfect, but yours might be better. If you have a home-theater PC and hate renting inferior equipment from your cable company, this is the best alternative out there.
Ceton InfiniTV 4 USB
Records four HD channels simultaneously; eliminates equipment leases; excellent configuration utility.
Difficult to install; requires Windows 7 Home Premium or above.