Do you want control over all your home theatre components … well it is time to get personal because when it comes to home theatre remote controls there is something for everyone. This is the space in the home theatre remote control article where we write the obligatory lead about all the remotes cluttering our coffee tables and how we can never find the one we want.
Well, forget about that. Oh, sure, the line about having too many remotes is true; you’re reading this article, aren’t you?
But that’s not the only reason to get a device with which you can actually control everything in your home theatre system. You get it because you want it, just like you bought all that home theatre gear when you couldn’t afford it.
And you don’t have to buy just any home theatre remote control. There are so many available, you can find the one most suited to your unique personality. As long as you’re not an ogre, or course.
When it comes to home theatre remote controls, there are two kinds of people: those who want fancy touchscreens and those who prefer the tactile assurance of hard buttons, which usually aren’t very hard at all but are of the semi-soft, rubbery variety. Oh, and there are those who like lots of buttons to control virtually everything on the starship Enterprise, and those who want, say, two buttons and may get confused about which one does what. And don’t forget there are those who like to program their own remote controls, down to the graphical interfaces on their fancy touchscreens, and those who believe those kinds of people require therapy.
Okay, so there are several kinds of people when it comes to home theatre remote controls. But there really are some requirements everyone wants for a home theatre remote control. They are:
1. That it works: Don’t laugh. Some don’t, at least not all of the time. You’re being condemned eternally for having too many electronic components in the first place, and you know it. But seriously, you want a home theatre remote control to work every time you press a button.
2. Backlighting: These are the little lights in the remote that highlight the buttons or touchscreen for you. This important feature protects you from situations such as embarrassing yourself in front of your date by having to turn on the lights manually just to find the right button to ‘create the mood’.
Other features are really a matter of taste, or money, or both. IR (infrared) remotes require a line of sight between remote controller and device, versus RF (radio frequency) remotes, which do not and are generally more expensive, especially when you add in the RF receiver or ‘extender’ required, usually at an added cost. Several home theatre remotes today come with both IR and RF capabilities.
Learning remotes can read the IR commands of your existing remotes if you place them head to head and press all the buttons you want programmed. This can be time-consuming, and in some cases the commands may not be captured.
Several remotes today come with both pre-programmed and learning capabilities, and in some cases they can hook up to your computer so you can retrieve IR commands and updates via the Internet.
Most remotes have the capacity and flexibility to program and use macros: commands that make several things happen at once, such as fire up the big screen and amplifiers and turn on the DVD player, all from one little button. Some remotes can also dim the lights, close the drapes, etc. Again, it depends on just how much you want the controller to do, and just how much you want to spend.
A general rule of thumb: If you plan simple macros, such as turning on the A/V controller, DVD player, and TV, a lower-cost remote with macro capabilities should suffice. If you desire more complicated automation involving lights and screens and projectors, look into a higher-cost solution that requires some software programming but unless you’re a serious hobbyist you will need the help of a home electronics professional.
Also keep in mind that when controlling a macro, with many IR remotes, not only must you point the remote at all the devices you wish to control, you often must hold down the button until the sequence is complete.
Here’s another really good feature to watch for: the ability to detect whether a TV or other device is on or off, before switching it the other way. On many electronic components, the ‘on’ and ‘off’ functions respond to the same command, so if you hit a button on your remote that turns everything on and the component is already on, the remote can mistakenly turn it off, forcing you once again to turn on the lights and embarrass yourself in front of your date. If this on/off conundrum shocks you, welcome to the wonderful world of home electronics, where sometimes on is off and off is on and a service call is required to know the difference. It may not seem like an important feature if you’re just starting to research this, but believe me, it is. By the way, you’ll generally find the ability to identify on/off only on the more expensive, custom-installed remote control systems, with prices that end in several zeroes.
On that happy note, here’s an outline of home theatre remote controls to look for if you’re one of the following personality types, as officially categorised by the SmartHouse Department of Lunatics, Psychopaths and Reprobates.
For those who have everything but still want more
They probably don’t have this: A wireless six-inch colour AMX ViewPoint touchpanel with four programmable hard buttons, two on each side, that can be used for common commands such as channels, volume control, lights, etc. The ViewPoint can send commands in RF. The two-way models are intended for control of systems beyond the home theatre and for AMX’s Internet Inside applications that allow for email, news and stock reports, MP3 downloads, maintaining a CD library, and other things. The ViewPoint is used with a powerful control system, such as an AMX NetLinx controller, which is capable of whole-house control, from lights to drapes to heating and ventilation. Because of that, the programming is complex, and must be installed by a professional. AMX ViewPoint touchpanels start at around $5000 but expect to pay extra to program one room and more, more, more.
Similarly priced whole-house solutions have been offered by Crestron, with its popular STI-1550C colour touchscreen remote for $2990 with accompanying powerful automation systems. Now the company has a wireless STI-1700C touchpanel for $4190, among others, with 10 programmable hard buttons flanking the LCD screen, and is packaging them in more affordable Cinema ControlPAKs. The wired versions of the 1700 and 1550 touchscreens come with Crestron’s new MP2 one-room control solution, in MP2PAKs for $5000 and $6300 respectively, before programming costs. The MP2E control system adds an Ethernet card for networking with a computer or routing video and audio to other parts of the home. The wireless ST-1700C comes with an older ST-CP processor in a package for $6300, before programming.
Lighting and home control company Vantage has even gotten into the act with its TheatrePoint controller that integrates everything from screens, motors, lifts and window treatments to all A/V equipment such as projectors, receivers, tuners and DVD players. It can be used with a Vantage remote control or a touchscreen from AMX or Crestron. TheatrePoint is affordable without the remote, but it must be used with a larger Vantage whole-house system, which will run you into the thousands.
Want it all but can’t afford it?
This is a huge market, which is why Crestron is trying to offer more affordable home theatre control. But a company that is set to storm the market is Niles, with its aptly named IntelliControl.
The IntelliControl was recently launched at the CEDIA conference on the Gold Coast and received a phenomenal response.
According to Nick Papadatos, Product Manager for Niles at Audio Products, the IntelliControl is an affordable product designed to fill a gap in the market.
With the IntelliControl you can have just about all of the functions of a Crestron, AMX, or Vantage system. The only drawback is that this is a one-room-only system, but after all, that’s what we’re trying to cover here, right?
Don’t expect a sleek, fancy touchscreen. The IntelliControl is laid out in a logical pattern with 10 programmable function keys. on the left and 32 function keys including the numeric, menu, play, mute, volume, and channel keys. Like the top-drawer systems, it has the ability to control lights, curtains and movie screens. It can also detect whether an electronic device in your system is on or off several different ways so it doesn’t mistakenly shut something off when it’s supposed to turn it on. Remember how we said this was a good feature to have? It also has an ‘automation bypass’ feature that allows the tweaker in the family to mess around with the levels of presets in the master keys, without messing up the system for everyone else.
The IntelliControl will be available in mid to late July and will retail for $3499.
Elan’s Via! comes in at around this price range as well. Elan also offer one of the best bets for home theatre use. It is the handsome Desktop Valet touchscreen unit that comes with a wood finish and round pedestal. The colour touchscreen can be programmed to your needs by an installer, and is wired to Elan’s SR-1 controller. Figure on about $4999 for the touchscreen with the SR-1 and programming. A new SC-4 adds control for projectors, security and lighting systems, and other devices that use RS-232 connectors for an additional $2499.
Are you a control freak?
Then you need a Philips Pronto. The Pronto family of remotes are universal and learning controls about the size of a PDA, with a large touchscreen to match.
Two Philips Pronto remotes are available in Australia, the SBCRU940 and the SBCRU950. The Philips Pronto remotes have touchscreen buttons and hard buttons on the bottom and side. It comes with the commands for over 500 brands built in, can operate via IR or RF and, best of all, you can download the comprehensive software package, ProntoEdit, to customise your Pronto: create original buttons, pictures, arrange panels, buttons and devices, learn codes, save multiple setups and load in other users’ configurations. Simply plug it into your USB port, and configure the touchscreen, import your own graphics and customise to your heart’s content.
There’s the high-powered Marantz RC9200 colour touchscreen learning remote with 14 programmable hard buttons, 8MB of flash memory, a recharging dock, software to input your own graphics and an RX-77 RF extender to control devices in other rooms. It comes with the accompanying high price of $2699; the monochrome RC5200 does about the same with 2MB of memory for $1199 and the RF extender optional, for another $299.
Don’t like a lot of buttons? Try Universal Remote Control’s Home Theatre Master MX-700 with its SideKick remote for $1000, which makes complicated home theatre set-ups easy to use for the non-technical, featuring just a few necessary buttons arranged in a logical, intuitive fashion. The Master MX-700 remote is an IR learning remote that can automate up to 20 different home theatre components and perform over 900 macros. It’s intended for sale through custom electronics installers for about $1000. Another affordable option is the MX500 with IR for only $500.
Varying shades of cool
And for those who want their remote control to look even more like a PDA, the iPaq H3950 comes with Universal Electronics’ Nevo software that allows it to control your home theatre, for $949. Other software for electronics control via PDAs has met with mixed reviews, and ProntoLite software can be added to your PDA to control both your home theatre and your life, just by visiting www.pronto.philips.com.
Another funky product is the iPronto Web-pad-size device that can control not only a home theatre, but the entire house, and double as an Internet device. It can hook up to a wireless network, but can’t network with a computer unless that computer is used as a Web server.
The product is not yet available in Australia but according to David Wolf, Corporate Communications Manager at Philips Electronics Australia, if there is sufficient demand then the iPronto may very well be available on the Australian market. Expect to pay the price for being cool, the iPronto retails in the US for a cool $1700 US so expect double the price down under.
Button labelled ‘affordable’
Something for everyone
With home theatre remote control, you basically get what you pay for. There are some tremendous bargins in the mid-price range if you are just seeking basic control over a few components without very complicated macros. But if you want the works, to control a projection screen, lights, drapes and more complicated machinery, seek a system sold through a custom electronics installation company. You’ll pay more, but it will be able to control more without the hassle of programming it yourself.
Then again, if you like programming …