Being a user of a Ceton InfiniTV4 PCIx CableCARD tuner, I had a good idea of what I would find when I started my review of the company's USB device. Nevertheless, I came into the review with an open mind, wanting to put the newer form factor through it's paces. It's been a few weeks of use now and I can safely say that Ceton knows what they're doing when it comes to CableCARD, no matter what type of form factor they use.
When you receive the Ceton USB tuner, the first thing you'll notice is weight. As I've stated in previous reviews of other equipment, a product's weight isn't the best indication of quality, but it does give you an idea of how solidly built something is. The Ceton USB tuner is just that; a solid piece of equipment. It's a small package but it's packed full of four tuners of CableCARD goodness. The casing for the product is small and the brushed metal top will look good in your home theater if you choose to have the tuner visible in the room.
Connections on the back of the device are as expected. A USB port to connect the tuner to your PC, a CableCARD slot, an F-connector for attaching the cable from the wall and a power plug for the adapter that ships with the device. The tuner has one job and one job only so you won't need anything else.
As good as the hardware looks, the one thing I found lacking was any sort of indicator light that the tuner was powered. While not cluttering up the front of your device with a bunch of LEDs is a good thing, even a small light on the rear of the device to let me know it's working would have been nice to see. You can obviously tell the tuner is powered by using your PC, but Ceton's PCIx tuner is lighted in such a way as to let you know if there's a problem. (It can be seen from outside the case and it's helped me with troubleshooting on several occasions.) I doubt this is something that will be added later, but it's not required and certainly doesn't take away from the experience of using the device. The USB tuner is lighted in the same way as the PCIx device but it's difficult to see.
Like its PCIx cousin, the InfiniTV4 USB device uses drivers and diagnostic software provided by Ceton. In fact, it uses the exact same software as the internal solution. When you install the software, you'll end up seeing the same screens with either device. Using Ceton's software, there's never a question as to the status of your tuners. From CableCARD pairing, to channel decryption status, you can see everything.
The software also gives you the ability to view signal levels for each tuner and, if your cable company requires a tuning adapter, you can view the status of that device as well. This is all done through the company's excellent web interface which divides everything up nicely. Easy to read and, with the right knowledge, easy to understand.
The software also provides the ability to use Ceton's network tuner options in order to share tuners with other PCs in your home. While it's not something that we do in our home, I have used the ability in the past and it's easy to add a tuner to your laptop if you find yourself wanting to watch TV wherever you might keep it.
Since the software for the USB tuner is the same as for the PCIx, you can look back at that review and find out that I love it. You get all the information you need along with the ability to provide full PC diagnostics to Ceton should you run into any trouble. The company has excellent customer service and are always happy to help. The fact is however, you're very unlikely to run into any problems.
Like their PCIx device, Ceton has poured a lot of love and attention into their USB tuner. If you're a cable subscriber and and HTPC user, you owe it to yourself to look at all of the company's products and choose the form factor that works best for you. I've been using a PCIx tuner for almost a year now and have yet to have any issues. It's our "daily driver" in our home and being able to record pretty much anything we want, in HD, any time is wonderful. The USB tuner works no differently and performed flawlessly while connected to an Assassin Elite HTPC for the last few weeks.
While I personally still prefer an internal solution, products aren't made with my preferences in mind. If you're in need of, or simply want, an external solution for getting premium cable content into your HTPC, Ceton has produced a solid product with few, if any flaws. I never missed a recording or had an issue while using the USB tuner. Ceton's products can't be recommended highly enough if you're both a cable customer and an HTPC user.