Group Test: Universal Remote Controls
Why take ten remotes into the living room?
Round-up The idea of a single ‘universal’ remote control that will control your TV, cable or satellite box, music system, DVD player and any other device you happen to have cluttering up your front room has obvious attractions. Instead of scouring the living room to locate three of four different remotes, you can just press one button to turn everything on and start watching TV, play a DVD, or listen to music straight away.
So, to see if these universal controls fulfilled their promise, we tested a number of them with a selection of audio and video devices produced by a variety of different manufacturers. Most of these controls are pre-programmed with several sets of signal ‘codes’ that are used by different manufacturers. So, to control our Samsung TV, we could simply enter the manufacturer’s name and model number so that the remote knows which codes to use.
The problem arises when you have a device, such as our new Pioneer Blu-Ray player, for which the universal control doesn’t have a suitable code already programmed in. So the real test for these devices is how easily they can be updated or ‘trained’ to work with unfamiliar devices.
OneForAll Kameleon 5
The Kameleon is something of an oddity. It looks like it has touch-screen control system similar to that of Logitech’s Harmony 1000 (see below), but in fact the ‘screen’ is simply a plastic membrane laid over a fairly conventional set of buttons. A backlight shines through the membrane and illuminates each individual button, but it actually works and feels just like the other remotes from OneForAll, reducing the ‘screen’ effect to something of a gimmick.
The Kameleon controls five devices and, like the other universal remotes from OneForAll, it can quickly be programmed using the manufacturer codes printed in the manual. This meant that we were able to set it up to control our Samsung TV, Denon CD, and Sky+ box in no time at all but, once again, there was no code for the recently-released Pioneer Blu-Ray player. There is an option for updating the remote control by sending a signal down your ‘phone line but that didn’t seem to work for us, so once again we had to laboriously ‘train’ the Kameleon to control the Pioneer box ourselves.
Logitech Harmony 1000
The Harmony 1000 is Logitech’s top-of-the-range model, costing a fairly hefty £279. The price is explained by the 3.5in touch-sensitive colour screen that replaces the baffling array of buttons used by most remote controls.
It can control up to 15 different devices and, like the Harmony 525 (see below), is set up by connecting it to the Internet via a USB connection to your Mac or PC. This was a bit of a chore, but it was worth it as Logitech’s online database did allow us to quickly update the Harmony so that it could control our new Pioneer Blu-Ray player.
And, once it’s set up properly, the Harmony’s touch-screen control system works very well. Select a device, such as your TV, and the screen will display just the controls needed for that device. You can also set up ‘activities’ that allow you to control multiple devices simultaneously, such as the TV and DVD player for watching movies. Admittedly, the touch-screen is an expensive luxury – and needs two hands to hold – but it works well and will certainly impress your friends when they come round for Christmas dinner.
Next page: Sony RM-VL600T
I have a harmony 525, and it is fine, although I get the odd send a million signals burst from it, and lately the backlight has been on a lot more than it used to be (running the batteries down).
Sometimes the help button turns on my projector, which is the last thing I want to happen for a few seconds before I go to bed...
Programming it is quite painful - in fact, I've had mine for 3 years or more and I still find that I want to tweak it every now and again, and when I come to plug it into the PC, I somewhat lose the will to live.
You can get kits to control your PS3 via IR, but they seem to involve cannibalising a Sony bluetooth remote, and they don't work when the PS3 is in standby. But you can get them.
You have a very valid point, but you'd be suprised at the level of tactile feedback you get from the soft cuishony surface on the Mk1. You can feel the microswitch buttons just beneath the surface, which gives you some guidance on where to press, and the button area reserved for each is big enough for even the chubbiest of thumbs.
I could certainly understand that critisism applying to LCD touch screen devices though, which without visual stimuli, becomes just a flat sheet of glass
@ Peter Hewitt - Virgin Media
The One-For-All URC7556 (the stealth model shown) can talk to virgin media boxes using codes 1060 or 1068. Dunno about V+ boxes.
It can also control freeview boxes, but the site does not give any codes I could see.
Usually with these remotes if the box is over a year old and it's not too niche then it will work.
Feature set warning
Note that the cheaper Harmony reviewed here and the Harmony ONE that has been mentioned in the comments already both lack the red/green/yellow/blue buttons, used by Sky and Freeview and Xbox. Thus you have to assign these to other buttons which is lame. Instead try the 785 or others that have the coloured buttons built in.
Even if a remote existed with bluetooth, I think the Bluetooth used by the PS3 is a proprietary version, so wouldn't help. Useless. It's essentially forced people to have another remote lying around. Wish the 360's IR receiver was better too. Anyway, drifting off topic. Have had a Harmony for a year now and my wife thinks it's the best thing ever. Only one remote for all my countless pieces of kit and just has to press "Watch TV" or "Watch DVD" or "Stream music" etc. without having to understand anything. Even if it doesn't work because someone has walked past or pressed a button on the amp or whatever, she just presses HELP and it asks her what isn't working and fixes it. Genius.
Harmony Works for Some
It seems that users fo the Harmony 525 are in two camps - those who get it to work, and those who don't.
One benefit and drawback of the system is the upload of user learned "codes" (as in the reviewer's Blu Ray unit), however any errors or wrong keys that crop up in this procedure are then spread around future users like some virus - and as a result cause maddening frustration. Codes for totally different equipment to that named creep in this way, and some devices never work, and the only support consists of randomly uploading codes in the hope that something will work. "Support" is never ending, but eventually the pain of holding a phone for so many hours is the limiting factor.
The Logitech forums are not indexed on the Internet search engines, so the only time you become fully aware of the enormous number of frustrated potential users is when you get access to that, and it is soul destroying when you find that after many hours of trying, your particular kit is never going to work with it, as others have given up long before you.
This Logitech DON'T tell you, but you won't ever forget the experience: I won't make the mistake of ever buying Logitech products again.