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Steiger Dynamics Maven Core HTPC Review: GTX 980 and CableCARD

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Subject: Systems
Manufacturer: Steiger Dynamics

Overview

Often times, one of the suggestions of what to do with older PC components is to dedicate it to a Home Theater PC. While in concept this might seem like a great idea, you can do a lot of things with full control over the box hooked up to your TV, I think it's a flawed concept.

With a HTPC, some of the most desired traits include low power consumption, quiet operation, all while maintaining a high performance level so you can do things like transcode video quickly. Older components that you have outgrown don't tend to be nearly as efficient as newer components. To have a good HTPC experience, you really want to pick components from the ground up, which is why I was excited to take a look at the Steiger Dynamics Maven Core HTPC.

As it was shipped to us, our Maven Core is equipped with an Intel Core i5-4690K and an NVIDIA GTX 980. By utilizing two of the most power efficient architectures available, Intel's Haswell and NVIDIA's Maxwell, the Maven should be able to sip power while maintaining low temperature and noise. While a GTX 980 might be overkill for just HTPC applications, it opens up a lot of possibilities for couch-style PC gaming with things like Steam Big Picture mode.

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From the outside, the hand-brushed aluminum Steiger Dynamics system takes the form of traditional high-end home theater gear. At 6.85-in tall, or almost 4U if you are comfortable with that measurement system, the Maven Core is a large device, but does not stand out in a collection of AV equipment. Additionally, when you consider the standard Blu-Ray drive and available Ceton InfiniTV Quad PCIe CableCARD tuner giving this system the capability of replacing both a cable set top box and dedicated Blu-Ray player all together, the size becomes easier to deal with.

Digging deeper into the hardware specs of the Maven Core we find some familiar components. The Intel Core i5-4690K sits in an ASUS Z97-A motherboard along with 8GB of Corsair DDR3-1866 memory. For storage we have a 250GB Samsung 840 EVO SSD paired with a Western Digital 3TB Hard Drive for mass storage of your media.

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Cooling for the CPU is provided by a Corsair H90 with a single Phanteks fan to help keep the noise down. Steiger Dynamics shipped our system with a Seasonic Platinum-series 650W power supply, including their custom cabling option. For $100, they will ship your system with custom, individually sleeved Power Supply and SATA drive cables. The sleeving and cable management are impressive, but $100 would be a difficult upsell of a PC that you are likely never going to see the inside of.

As we mentioned earlier, this machine also shipped with a Ceton InfiniTV 4 PCIe CableCARD tuner. While CableCARD is a much maligned technology that never really took off, when you get it working it can be impressive. Our impressions of the InfiniTV can be found later in this review.

Continue reading our review of the Steiger Dynamics Maven Core HTPC!

Video News


October 29, 2014 | 05:41 PM - Posted by TheBradyReport

Nice write up. I'm curious if someone can use the cablecard on an ongoing basis and see how it does. My card with Comcast has to be reconfigured at least 1-2 times a month, which makes it too much of a pain to use. I use a HDHomeRun instead and pull in OTA channels which does the trick.

The box looks amazing and gaming would be great, but that price tag is what made HTPC's fail in the first place. You can get a Lenovo Q190 and a HDHomeRun for less than $1000 and mount it behind your TV. Or buy a Chromecast or Fire Stick. Sure, they don't get your TV (yet) but there is no reason my InstaTV app I use on my Note II shouldn't run on a Fire Stick (or next get droid based streamer).

I've been one of those people chasing the HTPC for 15 years and if you have the cash, this looks like a sweet rig. The fact that WMC is the only real game in town for TV viewing AND they really don't support it is a non-starter for me.

Forget the TV part and just use it as a gaming/plex box for your big screen and you have a winner!

October 29, 2014 | 05:50 PM - Posted by Ken Addison

Allyn just recieved his InifiniTV 6 in the mail, so we'll see how it works out in the long run!

October 29, 2014 | 07:37 PM - Posted by Tim Verry

Sorry to hear about your CableCARD woes, Comcast really does not like supporting them. With that said, I did not ever have to get my card reactivated, once it was (finally) activated the first time, it just worked. I'll try to prod Allyn to keep us updated on the TWC experience :P. 

Note that there is software besides WMC that supports CableCARD, it's just that it does not support Copy Once flagged content due to licensing BS :-/. It is sad that Microsoft has effectively abandoned one of their great pieces of software, but we may see a resurgence in the future.

October 29, 2014 | 08:06 PM - Posted by Allyn Malventano

Yeah the 'pause' in the setup process I mentioned in the video was actually an hour long back and forth with them on the phone. In the end it all boiled down to them not knowing how to properly enter the card ID into their system. Once they corrected it, it was less than 3 seconds between be hearing them press enter on their keyboard to me getting live video on the system.

October 30, 2014 | 04:56 PM - Posted by CrankyDave

Weird, I use a SiliconDust Homerun Prime with my basic Comcast service and have had zero issues. And when I helped a friend set up her own, similar combo a few months back, the Comcast rep I talked to had a checklist specifically for the Homerun Prime. We got it up and running in minutes.

October 29, 2014 | 08:12 PM - Posted by Allyn Malventano

There are other alternatives to WMC, but they are more complicated to set up, but do support cablecard tuners (steep learning curve mostly). I'll likely experiment with them once I've got my own home setup going.

October 30, 2014 | 05:04 PM - Posted by CrankyDave

What Windows Media Center alternatives support CableCard? I was under the impression that it was the only software that was approved to descramble non-ClearQAM cable (OTA isn't an option for me, sadly, and Comcast scrambles everything now). As much as I love my WMC, it's clear that Microsoft has no interest in continuing it (stripping it out of Win8 and forcing you to pay $100 to get it back is a not-so-subtle hint). Heck, I just bought an OEM copy of Win7 for $80 from NewEgg today just so I'd have a spare.

October 29, 2014 | 11:02 PM - Posted by Dennis (not verified)

I used a InifiniTV 4 for 6 years on Time Warner and had almost no problems. I had a few issues when they introduced SDV, but they worked out and usually just involved a reboot of the tuning resolver. I loved using cable card and would be still using it if I hadn't moved. The small rural cable company I am on uses IPTV.

October 29, 2014 | 11:34 PM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

The case probably is an OEM case form Origen AE. The case has similar design language as cases from Origen AE.

October 30, 2014 | 12:11 AM - Posted by Brian Hoyt (not verified)

Not to be picky, but the InfiniTV 4 only came out in summer 2010, so 4.5 years at most. Just like Ceton though I am not sure why anyone is investing in WMC product development now? Windows 8(.1) basically allowed WMC to limp along and it is very unclear if Windows 10 will officially include WMC or not. It is in test build out now but there are claims it was just left in since when you install it Windows changes version number to 8.1. I loved my WMC + Xbox 360 combo with auto commercial skipping and such but it is over. The only real cable card device that may live on a little longer is TiVo. The only hope is Microsoft keeps updating guide data since in theory it is same stuff for Xbox One OneGuide.

October 30, 2014 | 12:32 AM - Posted by brisa117

I'll put my two cents in here about the whole cableCARD setup. I've been using a Ceton InfiniTV 4 in my home built HTPC for nearly two years now. I'm a subscriber to Charter cable and have to say that the review's experience with setting up the cableCARD is very typical. The people on the phone NEVER know what they're talking about with cableCARD set-ups, and the people they send out to your house are even worse!

I would definitely say that your best choice is to get someone from customer service in an online chat, if your company has that option. The online chat support has been able to help me every time! In fact, I beg them to not just send someone out, because the local technicians are 100% useless. Apparently all the information they get before coming to my house is that I need help with a cableCARD, and they assume it's a TiVo. In fact, the first guy that came out asked me where my TiVo was even after I showed him that the cableCARD was in my computer. BLEW HIS MIND! He then called his supervisor who told us that they stopped supporting cableCARDs in HTPCs a few years ago because they were too much of a hassle (a statement which ended up being both false and illegal -- FCC Rule 76.1205 (http://fcc.us/1q1hSoZ)). That's when the guy left and said his supervisor would call me. Surprise! Never received that call...

After getting back with the online help, I was able to get my cableCARD activated and channels coming through. In my experience, it took some time for all of channels to show up. Probably as much as 30 minutes. But after I finished the initial set-up, I have rarely had any problems. The only two times were when I decided to reinstall Windows on my HTPC -- just had to reactivate the cableCARD -- and when Charter switched to all digital cable -- the channels were messed up for a few days.

Overall it's a worthwhile endeavor. I get $6 shaved off my bill every month and I don't have to pay $20 each month for Charter's 2-channel DVR. So in my mind I'm saving $26 each month and getting two extra channels that I can record, plus the nerd credit of having an HTPC. Keep in mind that your cable company may send you home with an additional device if they use switched digital video (SDV) to cram in more channels into the same bandwidth. It's super easy to set up, just plug-and-play USB, but it is another box (and not very pretty either).

Like anything super out-of-the-ordinary techy, most tech support won't be able to help with your issues. You'll be relegated to the forums to figure out your issues (but we geeks are used to that, right?). But seriously, it's totally worth it in the end. The ability to switch from recorded or live TV over to YouTube, Netflix, Spotify, Hulu.... well, it's the best of both worlds -- TV and internet content! And of course, I hooked up an Xbox 360 controller for some Steam Games! Big Picture Mode is awesome (when your game supports it). So do your research, and then dive in!

P.S. I totally recommend the Logitech K400 keyboard/touchpad combo, here: http://amzn.to/1DzQxQX (remember to use the PCPer affiliate code!)

P.P.S. While I'm not confident that Microsoft will continue to develop Media Center in the long run, I do have faith that cable on HTPCs will survive. There are lots of alternative programs out there for watching cable on your TV (although admittedly WMC is the best). Additionally, Ceton just recently revised the InfiniTV line to now support 6 channels at once. So I'm staying optimistic. I can't imagine going back!

October 30, 2014 | 01:14 AM - Posted by Ed Zucker (not verified)

I have been running a multi-room HTPC system for a few years. I have been impressed with the relative ease of use. It is even fairly wife proof. I am using silicon dust (HD Home Run) network attached tuners. I have nothing but good things to say about the tuners.

I think everyone has too much fun getting the cable cards working. Charter has this concept of switched digital video that adds another layer of confusion and an unreliable box to the mix.

I have built my own HTPCs based on AMD A4 and A6 APUs. These are more than powerful enough for what I do with them (no gaming or trans-coding).

October 30, 2014 | 08:43 AM - Posted by Ken M (not verified)

I have been using a cable card system for several years and find it much better than the old DVR box I got from Time Warner. I use the Silicon Dust HD Homrun Prime to support the cable card and that allows me to stash it and the tuning adapter in the basement and connect any WMC pc via my home network. Things occasionally require a reboot but that is not uncommon in the computing realm. One minor annoyance is the fact that TW sets the copy once flag on ALL programming so once I DVR something it can only be replayed on the computer it was originally recorded on. I could use media extenders to work around this but haven't invested in any yet.

October 30, 2014 | 02:40 PM - Posted by brisa117

Sounds like we have similar setups. I initially built my HTPC to be a home server, but it morphed into my HTPC built on an A8-3870K and a Zotac mini-itx board.

Also, I agree. I think most of my missing channel issues could easily be attributed to the SDV box. Glad to hear I'm not the only one dealing with it. haha.

October 30, 2014 | 03:24 PM - Posted by ButtonPuncher (not verified)

Why did they only put a Ceton InfiniTV 4 PCIe in it when the Ceton InfiniTV 6 for a while?

At least with Time Warner, the Cisco 1520 tuning adapters have been able to support 8 streams for two years now. So that's 8 streams per card worth of potential.

I'm currently running WMC with two Ceton InfiniTV 4 PCIe cards and it works pretty well. I reboot it weekly to keep it perfectly stable. More than a week and I get tuner errors. But I'm running it on old P35, Core 2 Quad mobo so that could be part of it.

Also, TWC cablecard setup is easy if you know the national cablecard phone number (do an internet search for it). Don't talk to the local people, they are clueless.

October 30, 2014 | 05:28 PM - Posted by BBMan (not verified)

"Often times, one of the suggestions of what to do with older PC components is to dedicate it to a Home Theater PC. While in concept this might seem like a great idea, you can do a lot of things with full control over the box hooked up to your TV, I think it's a flawed concept.

With a HTPC, some of the most desired traits include low power consumption, quiet operation, all while maintaining a high performance level so you can do things like transcode video quickly."

I'll tell you what I find a flawed concept is this:

"As we received the Maven Core, including a i5-4690k, GTX 980, and InfiniTV CableCARD Tuner, it comes in at $2,988. Pricing out the closest possible configuration with just individual components we came up with a cost of just around $2250, meaning that the cost of labor and markup of the Maven Core sits somewhere around $700."

This sounds familiar: Buying $20,000 of more efficient and higher performing devices for your car to save on gas over five years. Go with something like this: You won't even come close to breaking even- but you'll have more fun getting there.

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