Ever since I finally put together a decent home theater system, Mrs. Geek has remarked that she doesn't like all the different remotes we must use. True, the universal remote provided with the receiver/home theater decoder allows us to do about 80% of the things we want with the system. That remaining 20% includes some important stuff though, like setting the timer on the VCR. So, we keep about four different remotes on the coffee table in our living room and occasionally have to reach for more than one of them. Mrs. Geek occasionally remarks that this bothers her. She doesn't share my love affair with pushing lots of buttons, I guess.
So, I've been keeping half an eye peeled for a real universal remote that can run absolutely everything. Finding such a device is not an easy task. The thing I usually hate about universal remotes is the three digit codes. The maker of the remote provides a book of three digit codes describing sets of commands generated by one or more remotes produced a given component equipment manufacturer. These codes are often broken down by manufacturer only, so there is usually a list of half a dozen codes for large makers like Sony and Panasonic. You get to try each code in the list until you find one that works with your equipment. Of course, the term "works" means that there always a few buttons on your remote that don't work with your equipment, or buttons are missing that you really need.
I believe I found the remote I was looking for last week when I happened to spy the Harmony H659 Remote Control on the Circuit City web site. This remote has the virtue of bypassing the whole three digit code problem by allowing you to configure the remote over the Internet with a web browser. To do this, you log on to the manufacturer's web site. Once there, you answer a few questions about what equipment you have and how it is connected and then download the necessary configuration information onto the remote with a USB cable. This is possible because the manufacturer (now Logitech) maintains a regularly updated database of remote configurations for specific models of A/V equipment. If that is not good enough, the remote also has a learning sensor on the back that allows it to learn signals produced by your existing factory remote controls. Any codes the remote learns are uploaded into the manufacturer's database during the configuration transfer, where they can eventually be incorporated into the equipment database. Neat trick, don't you think?
This approach also has other advantages, as well. Chief among them is the ability to reconfigure the buttons on the remote pretty much any way you want. The thing has a small LCD screen with six function keys that allow you to create an arbitrary number of custom functions that aren't in the standard set of buttons on the remote. You can also re-map the functions of the regular keys the remote too. This is all done using a web interface that is far more intuitive than would be possible using the keys of the remote alone.
I ordered the remote from NewEgg last week and it arrived on Monday night. I then spent about three hours configuring the thing. Why three hours? Well, the basic configuration that allows you to "play a DVD", "watch TV", "play the VCR", or "listen to the radio" at the push of a single button worked in about 20 minutes. I just want the remote to do more than that... like adding functions to the "play the VCR" mode of the remote that allow you to set the timer. Given the (sometimes) bewildering number of choices in configuration that the remote offers, figuring out how to best do that took some time and a little experimentation. Logitech could also use some better documentation and a somewhat better online configuration application. A little written guidance saying "ok, this is probably how you want to setup the remote to do [X]" would have done wonders.
Still, I have to say that it all works. The remote and the software let me do everything I want, so far... and without much trouble. Mrs. Geek is the real acid test, though. Hopefully she will find the new remote to be easy to use. She sat down this morning and turned everything on to watch the news during breakfast without any trouble. That's a good sign.
on 2005-05-25 at 3:08 p.m.
The Wayback Machine - To Infinity And Beyond