Saturday, September 29, 2007

Radar Love

I'm clearly a big fan of TV, but I never seem to be able to find a universal remote that does the things I want it to do. We used a Crisp Solutions Ucommand learning remote that I bought some years ago, when $100 for something that had some configurability was a really good deal (the only other option was a bulky Sony unit). The remote worked to a certain extent, but when anyone else other than my wife and I needed to operate the AV stack the learning curve was killer.

A couple of months ago I discovered that our DVD remote didn't work anymore, which wasn't a huge deal as I typically only used it if I needed to change to a different disc in the carousel as that button wasn't mapped on the universal. So it was with a certain amount of concern that all of a sudden the Ucommand started eating batteries, and finally dumped all of it's programming and refused to relearn it. Given that it is *only* a learning remote (no codes or other way to learn data), that meant that suddenly we couldn't operate the DVD player unless the specific command had a button on the front panel. Which meant no navigating through menus, which means only the first episode of any TV series DVD was accessible.

I tried getting our Dish Network remote to learn the DVD, but none of the documented codes worked, and after 45 (really) attempts to find the right code using the brute force method I decided to give up. I went out and tried a couple of universal remotes, but the Philips unit from Costco (which looked like it would work well) did everything - but select an input source on the A/V receiver. Kind of a critical function, Philips. It's going back to Costco.

I'd heard good things about the Harmony series, which is from Logitech, but the units were typically very expensive ($300 and up!), and I don't usually think of Logitech as a particularly high quality company. However, I'm here to tell you that their low end model, the 550, is only about $100 and is programmable from my Mac. That's right, they support the Mac. You cannot believe how much more pleasant it is to program via a computer interface than push buttons and hope you got it right.

The other things I like - it functions as a learning remote, so if there's a function that doesn't seem to work you can always use that method. We have a new HD Dish Network DVR receiver that we really like, but the remote was controlling the old receiver after we programmed it initially. I gave it a couple of commands from the Dish remote, and it worked like a charm. Another good thing - it organizes macros as activities, then sets the controls for you given the activity. For example, if you want to watch TV, you push one button and it turns on the TV, the receiver, the Dish receiver, sets everything to the correct inputs, and then sets the buttons so that you can control the volume on the A/V receiver with the volume controls and the DVR functions with the transport controls.

The best part? If it doesn't work, you just change the button assignments. And the buttons are all discrete rubber buttons, no more virtual LCD "buttons" that don't give tactile feedback.

$100 may seem like a lot of money for a TV remote, but the programmability is so amazing (you can run *anything* that uses remotes, and the database of devices *and* the programming software is updated regularly) and it works so well that we use it for everything - we always used the Dish remote for those functions as we really liked the hard buttons. And every button is represented, even the Info, Guide, Menu, and Recall buttons. If you don't like the choices the program makes, you can set your own. And there is an LCD display that adds more functions - paged, so you can add a lot if you wish - if you want to go crazy.

And I swear to God it makes the HD look even better. Really. I've been waiting for a good universal remote that actually works for everything I own for years. I can even set this up to work with my iPod were I to buy a remote-capable dock.

I'll note that this is not a great remote if you aren't technically competent - you need to be able to figure out the somewhat less than intuitive computer program (it's not clear that when you add a button you should add it to an activity rather than to a device, which limits you to a single device's commands). Also, the remote does end to have a little delay when you press a button of about 100ms, but otherwise it's a winner. And we can turn everything on and everything off with single button presses, which was what sold my wife on it. Finally, my guests can figure out how to watch TV or a DVD without having a graduate course in configuration technology.

1 comment:

Eric said...

We picked up a Logitech 720 (I think that's the model) at Costco a few months back. (Jodie got me an AppleTV for Father's day, which led to a new LCD, which caused our existing remote to no longer be useful. Amazing how one purchase can trigger so many more...)

Anyway, I second your opinion. It's an amazing device. I have no regrets whatsoever about spending $120 on a remote.