Remote Controls

Custom programmed remotes can turn a “monster” of an audio / video system into a sweet little kitten that everyone in the family loves dearly. An A/V system should be fun, not a constant source of aggravation. Unless you are the rare bird who loves to play with a half dozen or more remotes, a custom-programmed remote is the way to go.

Remotes run in levels and you have to consider the type and amount gear, its location, location relative to the display, obstacles to direct line of sight and lastly (though most importantly) the user(s). The former parts are easy enough – simple math. The simpler / lower cost the remote, the more tech-savvy the user must be to use it successfully. The more tech-challenged a user is, the more they need to spend on the control system and it is a system – a system interface that simplifies operation with “macro” commands – a string of commands, carefully programmed and timed to turn on devices, select inputs and change the screen to the device requested. The popular term is “activities”, such as “watch cable”, or “watch Netflix”, etc.

The first level to improving an AV system interface is a simple learning IR (Infrared) remote, such as this RCA (below) that we stock. It is fast for us to program, has a fairly decent code library on-board and a powerful IR emitter. If all of the gear, display included, are in very close proximity with no obstacles (direct line of sight from remote to every piece of gear) and the user is tech-savvy, this is a potential solution. I’d guess less than 10% of our customers would be happy with this method. The primary issues are 1) understanding their gear and 2) holding the remote in precisely the correct direction until it completes the entire macro procedure. If they wave it about (and most will), one or more pieces gets out of sync and now nothing seems to work. They have to turn everything off and then rinse and repeat the “all on” macro command. This is my personally preferred type of remote as it is “tactile”, with all hard-buttons, allowing use in the dark without looking at the remote and it’s also a one-hand remote. For the “head rat”, this is perfect. $29.99, plus programming

The next level is to add a remote repeater system. This turns the infrared light or “IR” (invisible form of light that does not pass through objects) into an electrical signal over wire to an “emitter” that then turns the electrical signal back into “Hex Codes” to operate the gear. The repeater offers a “target” that the remote is pointed at, allowing the gear to be out of line of sight or scattered apart – even remotely located. The repeater system also greatly enhances the effectiveness of the IR-based remote and reduces the chance of losing sync and customer frustration since the target is obvious. The user still has to hold the remote at the target until it ceases flashing (macro command completed).

Next is something a bit “sexier’, such as the Harmony 650. Mostly “hard” keys (function never changes per device), but with four “soft” keys and a tiny color display.  As with all Harmony remotes from the very beginning, it has the “help” key that walks the user through sync / input issues. It’s a decent unit that maintains sufficient tactile qualities as to allow single hand use and at least some “blind” use. It is IR-only and is best used with a repeater system – same as any other IR remote. $79.99, plus programming

Next up is an “RF-based” remote system that uses a base station with emitters at the equipment. The remote communicates with the base station via radio frequency or “RF”. That means the remote can be pointed anywhere, and even waived about and still work. This is when the interface begins to be more “bullet-proof” as well as techno-challenged approved.

We carry the URC Complete Control and Harmony lines. Entry level in URC is the MX900 and it is the “F150” of custom remotes. It’s the toughest physically and does not require re-charging. It’ll go about six months on lithium-ion batteries. Programming with all URC remotes is program-based. Files are saved on a per customer basis so when a remote is destroyed or dies, it takes only a few minutes to re-program. It is also easy to make changes when the customer changes ISPs or a piece of gear. This is my personal favorite RF remote, but then the head rat is fairly old school – I like simple and dependable – function over form every time. $349.99, plus programming

While the URC remotes can work with either IR or RF, they need always to be paired with an RF base station. The one that works the best is the MRF350 and it runs $199.99. It has a remote antenna six output ports, all of which are assignable and adjustable to allow the use of dual emitters for a total of 12 devices.

Then there is the Harmony RF-based remote, that comes as a kit, with the H950 remote paired with an RF base that allows the use of individual emitters for each piece of equipment. The 950 is an upgrade from the 650, but without the RF base or “hub” as they call it, still suffers from the same issue as an IR remote. The Pro kit runs $399.99, and is very popular, as it looks sexy. It’s not as powerful as the URCs and offers slightly less options, but overall, it’s a good selection for the techno-challenged in life (our core customer base and God Bless every one of them). It also offers app-based control from a smart device, which we all know is ever so popular these days. Both the Harmony pro and the high-end URC remotes are now compatible with Alexa devices. $399.99, plus programming

If you have questions regarding powerful, custom-programmed remotes, rather than poring over endless blogs and internet chatter from the “keyboard experts”, give us a call and we’ll simply make it happen.

Trey Dawson (head rat and license holder)