Silicon Dust HD Prime 6 Tuner
Retails for: $499
Cost Per Tuner: $83.33
Interface: For six tuners you will need DUAL Gigabit Ethernet Connectivity, Dual Cable Cards, and 2 3-tuner supportive Tuning Adapters if your network requires them (most do)
I've long been a fan of how do I make the most out of my digital media center. A few months ago, I became one of the first to grab hold of a Ceton Cable Card Tuner device, having waited on a list for sometime. I'm glad I use two of them, which gives me 6 tuners to share around my house, manage recordings and see everything I want.
But with 8 Cable Card tuners provided by Ceton, why would I ever consider a Silicon Dust? The HD Prime, which is a cable card (non-QAM) network device provided by Silicon Dust duplicates the basic functionality of the Ceton, but it provides such outside of the box, which may prove to be a benefit for some.
As more and more people look for media centers that could best be considered "tiny", or Mini-ITX, the ability to shove a hot cable card tuner into your box isn't quite as friendly. And while the Ceton manages pooling of tuners for Media Center, the Silicon Dust promises to make that use seemless.
So, for people looking for small, easy to hide media centers that have full cable card support, the Silicon Dust HD Prime might fit the bill.
The install procedure is fairly straightforward. After installing the software provided, your media center connects to the device and enables it to be scanned within WMC. This procedure went without any major issue and was very straightforward.
That's a perk. In comparison to the setup on the Ceton, where for the first few months there were quite a few firmware upgrades, hardware upgrades, and software upgrades - the single installer package for Silicon Dust handled it all. This clean install was a piece of cake.
I should say that Ceton has really stabilized their drivers since it first hit the market, but the SiliconDust really comes out of the box with some decent support, and that's saying something.
Once cable channels were enumerated, I wanted to test the reason why you'd use a 6 tuner Ceton - it's ability to pool tuners amongst multiple machines.
After configuring up the Silicon Dust on two seperate media centers, I was able to tune and change channels on both, and record programming on both. In the end, the pooling worked exactly as I expected.
Some of the issues.
That isn't to say that there aren't issues. While the unit supports 100/1000 networking, I will tell you it's foolish to try and expect to run a 100Mb network and pull this off. In order to test this, I changed my network switch to a 100Mb off the rack generic (Trend) to see what happened with performance.
Degradation in picture was almost immediate; stumbles in audio and video, occasional drop outs, and the ability to tune went wonky. Even in dropping to a single machine connected, performance was notably worse.
This tells me that realistically you MUST have a gigabit network for reliable performance of this device if you expect to use it as intended.. at this point, gigabit networking is cheap enough it should be a requirement anyway, but if you intend on buying this device and your house is run on a cheap router as your only network switch, you will be very unhappy with how this works.
Compared to the Ceton, changing channels is also a clip slower. There is a notable pause, even in the best configuration when you switch from channel to channel that is not present with something like the Ceton tuner. More bothersome for some will be that a 1-2 second "time delay" exists coming off the silicon dust. This will sound ridiculous, but if you're watching sports in your house, do NOT allow someone else to watch the same game off of a Ceton or QAM in another room, because you will want to deck them very quickly as they react to plays you haven't seen yet.
The benefits to the Silicon Dust are obvious. The ability to share a tuner easily on a network, and because it runs seperate of a PC, you can have a slim line media center or generally reduce media center sizes. For some, this will be the only thing that matters. Imagine very small media center devices, Mac-Mini size, that could manage six tuners and stay out of the way.
Because devices like the Ceton are internal, SDV (Switched Digital Video) adapters must be near the PC so they can be connected via USB. Here, that isn't the case. This can significantly reduce cable clutter around your TV, by moving all Cable TV cables and tuning adapters out of your room if you desire, which is a great asset for WAF.
At $83 a tuner, the cost is higher then Ceton (4 tuners for $300, or about $75 a tuner), but again, you get 2 more tuners. The unit itself is big, and your cable requirements are high.
I found the unit to run quite warm, so if you plan on hiding it, don't hide it in a room with poor ventilation.
The Silicon Dust HD Prime fits into a pretty tight category. People who want Media Center functionality with cable card tuning, small boxes, and those who want all of the mess out of their living room.
On these, it does well. The slow tuning of channels will be a downside to some, just as the slight delay to each channel, but for many those will be overlooked - they won't have a mix and match of different systems in their home, and a 1 to 2 second lag will not be noticed.
It's hard to give the Silicon Dust a huge amount of praise because availability is very low, there is only one place to get them (NewEgg).
However, for what it does there really isn't a market competitor. The Ceton, which performs faster and changes channels quicker, still requires a PCI-E slot, which rules it out as an option for those wanting a micro build. So, the reason to grab a Silicon Dust is to lower your mess in the livingroom and to use a smaller media center.
If that's your goal, then this is what you buy. If, however, you are OK with a larger media center case and you like the more traditional HTPC look, then the Ceton is a better buy for the money; tuners per dollar is cheaper, performance is faster, and you don't worry about network traffic.
In the end, the two products really help bring the high end media center experience to Windows. And there is NOTHING wrong with that.
Video upcoming of performance differences between the Ceton and the Silicon Dust.