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Universal remote control - recommendations?

Discussion in 'Audio Visual' started by Mottie, 25 Jan 2020.

  1. Mottie

    Mottie

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    I’m looking for one universal remote control to control just three appliances. A Panasonic telly, a Fire TV box and a Bose iphone dock. I was wondering if you could get one that switches from appliance to appliance so that I can use basic functions - volume, up, down, left, right, enter, select, back etc. Any recommendations? Anyone using one of the Logitech ones - they seem to look okay?
     
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  3. Lucid

    Lucid

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    Fire TV, if it's the same as my Firestick then you won't find a remote under £150 to do that. It's Bluetooth, not infra-red.

    I'll post more later.
    ____________

    Devices that use Bluetooth for control won't mate up with regular learning or programmable remotes. They use infrared, so the two systems aren't compatible.

    IR needs line of sight to work. That, or it can be used with IR repeaters for when stuff is in a cupboard or in some other way out of sight. Bluetooth can work through cupboard doors or when the remote isn't pointing at the device. The catch though is that BT isn't supported by learning remotes.

    Harmony (and some of the high-end home control companies) tackled that by developing a base station that sends out BT signals. In the case of Harmony, it's their £99 Hub.

    The Hub is preprogrammed with the individual button codes for devices such as the PS3 and PS4 and a range of the amazon Fire products. It also acts as an IR repeater. What happens then is certain Harmony remote with a built-in wireless function can link to the Hub, so you press a button and, depending on the device being controlled, the hub sends out either IR or BT signals.

    So far so good.

    Harmony remotes with this wireless link facility start off with the basic button-only Companion @ £70, and go up to the touch screen Harmony 950 @ £180. Those are the discounted prices on amazon. Add them to the discounted price of the Hub @ £80.

    Potentially then, for £150 with the Companion and Hub, your remote can control the Fire TV. What they don't mention is that you'll need to set this up before it will actually do anything.

    Now, before I continue, I'm going to put my cards on the table as a AV dealer and a user of AV gear in my own home. I saw Harmony at a trade show back in 2001 or 2002. At the time the company was just getting off the ground. The basic ideas were there: a handset that links to a computer for programming, and a comprehensive code base, and some online assistance to patch things when codes or functions were missing. The code base and the online patching were the two big differences to the main competitors in the market.

    With something like a Philips or Marantz touchscreen, you built everything from scratch. Codes were learned directly from the source remotes, and with the PC program you'd set up the flow of the remote and what buttons were on which screens and how it responded. It was very much a blank canvas and a bit of a steep learning curve for novice users.

    Harmony promised to make things far simpler, and I loved that idea because one of the big stumbling blocks for guys with families trying to get in to DVD and surround and home projection was always how many remotes were required. Wives hated that money was being spent on stuff that often they couldn't use. What was even better about Harmony was the price. It was less than a quarter of the cost of a Pronto 890 or Marantz RC5000.


    Coming back to getting a Harmony up and running with the Hub...

    There's going to be some physical set-up which is mostly going to be you fiddling with the position of the Hub itself so that IR hits the devices that need it. Then there's going to be the bit of set-up using a computer and Harmony's online wizard program to tell the remote what devices you have.

    This might sound like a daunting task, but plenty of folk have bought Harmony remotes and done this, so it's not a huge deal in itself. Here though is where the user experience starts to polarise in to two camps.

    In one camp you have the people who have never had a proper system remote. They're impressed that one button starts their system, and that another couple of presses turns some device off and switches another on so they've now changed an activity. These are very simple command strings called macros. You do more or less the same when you switch the TV from viewing say Freeview to the Fire TV. That's all a macro really is.

    The people in the 'I love Harmony' camp tend to be relatively easy to please because their needs are fairly simple, or they're happy to accept the way that Harmony does things, and they don't mind then pecking at the buttons to find where Harmony has put some function that they use regularly but the Harmony designers have buried. They've never seen or used a proper bespoke touchscreen remote to know that things could be a lot better.

    This brings us to the people in the "I hate Harmony" camp.

    They tend to be the people who have some IT experience or, maybe because of their job, they've used something at work or during professional presentations that controls a whole bunch of AV gear and the lighting and the air-con and the video conferencing and... and... and. I'm sure you get the picture. The point is that when they sit down to program a Harmony, they instantly recognise how dumbed-down and restrictive the wizards and online programming is.

    Simple stuff such as arranging a button layout on a screen is impossible. Say you have a sound system, and from time to time you'd like to change the surround sound mode from within the screen you're using to control the TV. The wizard doesn't want you to do that, so you end up with the remote where you have to change devices (the equivalent of picking up another remote) just to change an audio setting.

    There are other annoying traits such as the remote's insistence on turning things off when moving to a new activity. Anyone with a Sky box shared around the house will have come a cropper on that one. That brings us to the power toggle issue where some device that was already on gets switched off as the system starts up.

    Then there are the creature comfort issues. The remotes are black and the button text is small and unilluminated; and there are a hell of a lot of buttons. Also, the display screen is fairly small and there's no easy way to make the icons and text any larger. If you're getting on or need glasses for close-up reading, then just doing something simple might well involve putting a light on and donning some spectacles.

    Due to a career change, it was probably about three or four years later before I got my hands on a Harmony. I'd just installed a projector in a customer's home when they came and asked if I could help them set up their Harmony. By this time I was already doing some quite advanced programming on Prontos, so I thought that the Harmony would be a doddle.

    O....M....G. How wrong was I?

    I understood instantly why Harmony isn't aimed at the AV Installer crowd. It's just too limited. It's a end-user DIY install product because, in a lot of cases, these customers will give in when confronted with the difficulty of tailoring the remote to do what they want.
     
    Last edited: 25 Jan 2020
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  4. Lucid

    Lucid

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    I still programme Prontos and Nevo remotes for customers. Done correctly, there's very little that can touch the ease of use possible with them. I also have a couple of solutions to control Fire products. Everything comes down to money though. Where the budget is £100-£200, then I've got some solutions available. If it's just a few tens-of-pounds then it's going to be a basic learning remote with some simple macro commands.
     
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  5. ericmark

    ericmark

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    Again @Lucid seems to have answered well. For inferred the Flipper worked well with limited control, but that is true with many remotes, the Sky Q is both inferred and bluetooth but can't see it helping you.

    Also tried Nest Mini, ended telling it to stand in naughty corner, theroy may be OK, but practice they work well playing music but rubbish at controlling things.

    Likely best I have used is the smart phone, but you have to swap apps. Only use it when can't find the remote.

    My wife has a good remote control, it's me. She even phoned me at work to turn on the tumble drier.
     
  6. Mottie

    Mottie

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    Thanks @Lucid, you’ve convinced me that for what I need, it’s far too complicated for me! I was hoping perhaps a £50 learning remote would do. FWIW, I can control both my Panasonic TV and my fire TV through the relevant Panasonic and Fire TV apps on my Android phone. No such app for the Bose SoundDock 3 though which I find gives a much clearer so each sound for my ears than the TV speaker. I might have to look for a sound bar or speaker with an aux input that I can control through an app.

    Oh, and @ericmark, you confused me with inferred. I presume you mean infra-red?
     
    Last edited: 26 Jan 2020
  7. Lucid

    Lucid

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    Control via the TV remote by using CEC is one of the options available. For simple set-ups it can work remarkably well, but it is important to have a good understanding too about what enabling CEC (VieraLink in Panasonic lingo) might also do with other devices. In your case it would be fairly straightforward because - from what you've written - there's just the TV, Fire TV and Bose Sound dock. The latter item doesn't use HDMI so CEC won't have any effect.

    It wouldn't be difficult to build a controller around those items. That way you wouldn't have to go through the hassle of finding a soundbar and dealing with yet another remote control. It's just a question of money. Having anything built bespoke that does 100% of what you need will always cost more than picking something up off the shelf that tries to be a one-size-fits-all solution. :)
     
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  9. Gary_Funwick

    Gary_Funwick

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    FWIW the price that amazon quote for the companion remote includes the hub.

    I use five of them (four TVs, one music only). They do have some limitations but I get on with them pretty well. In my case they control the TVs, all sources and an hdbaset matrix pretty seamlessly (though I will hit the limit of number of devices controlled before all the matrix's input are used and if I wanted to add lighting control I would have to start using something serious - I use Rako).

    @Lucid - you are correct that Harmony's insistence on turning things off by default is annoying. There is a setting in the device configuration:
    "There are no power buttons on my original remote for ... "
    that will defeat it.
    (There is also an option "I want to keep the device powered on all the time" - but Harmony doesn't respect that, irritating).

    You can pretty much reconfigure all the buttons on the remote in the software. I used Prontos back in the day but I have to confess I like a physical button.
     
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  10. Lucid

    Lucid

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    I have to be honest, it's quite a while since I last played around with a Harmony. It's an end-user DIY product, so there's not much point for a specialist such as me. It's good to learn about the power-off defeat trick. Thanks for that.

    You're right about hard buttons. The old Pronto 950/960/970/980/990 had more than the original late-90s Prontos, but they were still more of a two-handed operation. They were still a bit geeky. I remember when the Nevo SL launched. It was sleek, had a colour screen without the obvious dithering of the Pronto 970, and, best of all, there was a full cursor keypad flanked by volume and channel +/- buttons. Here was a remote you could operate by touch alone for the most part, just like the Sky+ remote.

    It was always a bit of a puzzle to me how Philips could design the Sky remote and get the ergonomics so right, yet it took them until the mid 2000s to come up with the TSU9300 and 9400 remotes.

    Of course, all of these talk to Rako too. :)
     
  11. Gary_Funwick

    Gary_Funwick

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    @Lucid
    You are absolutely correct that it is a DIY product. Of course it's price as such. My 5 Harmony remotes cost a collective GBP300. I'm not pricing my own time of course (I am an inveterate fiddler).

    I will say that it handles controlling BT stuff extremely well (I have FireTV, NovTV and an nVidia shield). And its state awareness is leaps and bounds better than it used to be. Still I am rubbing against its limits (I would like it to be able to send UDP and TCP packets) and some stuff is a little clunky (I'm thinking of Sonos, though I think that Sonos is as much to blame). Its also lovely hardware. The "companion" remote has great ergonomics (and hand feel) and a one year battery life. In contrast the smartphone app sucks (but I have a hatred of smartphone apps for AV control - Sonos, I'm thinking of you again...).

    I guess that I am an edge case using Harmony to control an 8x8 matrix (even more edge case, 2 of its inputs are taken up by SageTV extenders).
     
  12. ericmark

    ericmark

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    It is down to expectation, if I think a 50 cc motor bike will do 25 MPH and it does 35 MPH I am over the moon, but if I thought it would do 70 and it does 35 I am rather disappointed.

    So wife asked will the Nest mini control the TV, answer only if you also get a chrome cast, so gets a chrome cast plugs them all in Christmas day says hey google play ITV 3 and it does nothing and she is disappointed even if since Christmas nearly all music in the house is played on the google mini.

    And the Energenie MiHome TRV heads are really nice bits of kit, but I prefer walking to my eQ-3 and just pressing the eco/comfort button, so much simpler than using the phone.

    So it does not take much for it to be easier to walk to TV which never gets lost down back of couch, and press the on button to using the remote. OK with 300 students you want a faultless change in slides and video displayed behind you, but at home very quickly a remote becomes pointless.

    I think 5 on the table should be more, three just turn lights on/off, so two for TV and Sky is not really that bad.
     
  13. Chud

    Chud

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    Broadlink Rm Pro+

    Not a remote that you pick up and carry around but worth looking at?
     
  14. JBR

    JBR

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    Just out of interest, I now have FIVE remote control units in a rotating carousel.
    Sony TV, Panasonic BD recorder, Humax PVR, Sony sound system, and amazon Firestick.
    I am becoming used to locating the correct one when I need it!
     
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