Personal Technology: Push My Buttons

<< Back to Robb Report, September 2002
  • Deedra Allison

Operating a full-featured home theater, complete with electric drapes, ceiling fans, and enough electronic equipment to heat a sauna, could require as many as 10 remote controls. The wireless remote is undoubtedly one of the best inventions of the 20th century, but its value is negated when you fumble for the remote that controls the stereo volume and can find only the ones that open the curtains and retract the screen. The solution is to replace the various battery-powered remotes cluttering the coffee table and hiding under the cushions with an all-in-one, programmable rechargeable controller.

With these controllers, you can push the “movie” button, and the doors to the projector cabinet open, the curtain recedes to expose the screen, the DVD player engages, the drapes close, and the lights dim. Controllers not only integrate the functions of all the other remotes; they also greatly simplify the processes and are easy to use. Philips’ Pronto TSU6000, for example, features an unlimited number of programmable macros that allow you to execute a sequence of commands with one button.

The obvious advantage to these controllers is their lack of buttons. Manufacturers have realized that remotes featuring one button for each action are unnecessarily bulky and can be a source of frustration when you have to turn on the light every time you want to find the mute button. Instead, when you activate the DVD player with a controller, for instance, the screen will display buttons applicable to the DVD player only.

The best of these controllers are similar to PDAs in terms of memory and functionality. The Marantz RC2900 and Pronto TSU6000 have 8 MB of memory and color icons and displays, and both are capable of controlling infrared and radio frequency audio/video products. Fourteen of the 16 buttons on the Marantz controller can be programmed to operate specific products or execute certain functions, and software updates are available at the company’s web site.

Unlike the remotes that come with each component, these controllers must be programmed to operate specific brands and models. Some remotes, however, are preprogrammed—such as Onkyo’s CHAD, which recognizes more than 500 brands—and require only that you enter the code numbers that correspond to the components. Other ways to program the controllers include loading software from a computer and using the “learn” function, in which you press a button on the original remote and assign that function to a button on the controller. Rotel’s RR-1090 controller includes a cloning feature that enables you to duplicate every programmed command in one step on a second remote in case the first one is damaged. Because the controllers aren’t product-specific, you can program new devices as you upgrade components or add to your audio/video system.

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