Teaching The Remote
Once packages are ripped open and batteries are loaded, the first step for universal remotes is setting them up to control the equipment in a home theater. The most common method of adding components is the familiar use of 3-5 digit codes provided by the manual. The method is cheap to manufacture, but is annoying and repetitive. It also does not handle unique function keys, off-brand components, and components newer than the remote. Note that all the major cable companies ship a basic code based remote with their cable boxes usually capable of handling 2 or 3 extra components.
Rather than utilize codes to load IR commands, this method learns the IR commands directly from the original remote. The process is even more annoying and lengthy because it requires the systematic pressing and confirmation of every single button on all the original remotes one by one. While this addresses the problems associated with programming codes, it is painfully time consuming and of no help to those looking to replace a lost or broken remote.
Luckily, makers of universal remotes recognized early on that the best way to make the most people happy was to combine these two features. All but the cheapest remotes on the market today are both pre-programmed and learning remotes.
A macro is the automatic execution of a set of pre-programmed steps or instructions to avoid the hassle of performing the steps manually (it is an old computing term from the 60’s). As home theaters became as complex and as difficult to turn on as a 1960’s era computer, remote makers started including macro capability into their remotes.
Macro programming on simple remotes involves setting the macro button to ‘record’ and then pressing all the buttons on the remote in the order desired and then stop the recording. This works for most basic systems, but multiple macros can interfere with each other and often the timing of the commands is an issue.
Remote Meets PC
One of the reasons for Logitech’s supremacy is they simplified and popularized the use of software to program and configure a remote control. Doing so eliminated several of the annoyances of setting up remote controls. Pre-programmed codes disappeared and commands could be downloaded into the remote. A software ‘wizard’ configured macros automatically but still allowed manual tweaking. Onboard logic ensured macros didn’t work against each other. Obscure functions and devices could be learned and programmed to specific buttons as well as into macros. Logitech effectively delivered remote control nirvana.
The inclusion of LCD touchscreens further advances remote functionality by allowing an infinite number of buttons, customized labeling and interactive help functions. Some remotes are dominated by the touchscreen like the Logitech Harmony 1100 and the URC MX-3000. Be warned that these remotes start to become fairly large, unwieldy, and harder to use by sense of touch. Albeit the convenience of programmable LCD touchscreen remotes, these negative factors can be surprisingly annoying.
If the heady power of reigning over a home theater via remote is not enough, then start browsing through the rest of the product lines from URC or check out what is possible from companies like Crestron or AMX. Entire households can be manipulated via remote control as if it were a giant plywood and plaster marionette. While the perfect universal remote may not exist yet, there is certainly a wide enough variety currently on the market to suit anyone’s home theater needs.
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