back to article Group Test: Universal Remote Controls

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 …

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OneForAll Stealth URC 7556

for £13.00 ? Where: Seem to find a lot at £25.00 - lowest was Used on Amazon at £20.00.

Is it an old model ?

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Why the focus on such low end remotes

Why the focus on such low end products.

Certainly you could have thrown in a couple of models from URC or RTI in the mix to see how the others compared. It's hard to run a review without at least having a benchmark to set the standard. And any review with more than one Harmony is obviously a hobbyist view not worthy of the Reg.

There are MUCH better products out there, how about giving them a look?

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Dead Vulture

Summary?

Where's the last page summary gone?

If you will insist on artificially breaking these reviews across several files, then you could at least make it easy for us to get the executive summary.

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Microsoft Tax?

Generally a good article, although it would be nice to have a bit more detail. Details matter when you're looking at universal remotes. If the interface has any niggles then the whole thing is useless.

You failed to mention one item of great importance to your readership. Which OS's are supported by the 'PC' configurable devices?

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No Harmony One?

With a recent price cut (by some retailers) to roughly £79.99 the Harmony One might have made a worthy inclusion.

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The benefit of all-in-ones..

..is not that you can have one remote in your living room. It's so you can have 4 remotes in your living room that all do the same thing.

I hate it when people put the remote by the TV.

OH LOOK, YOU JUST NEGATED IT, GOOD JOB!

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Timely

Thanks for the timely review - I was just in the process of thinking of getting one and up pops this review. Personally I think it is good it concentrates on the realistically priced models and not the ones which cost as much as a new entertainment system

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Paris Hilton

Re: Why the focus on such low end remotes

The Harmony 1000 was £279. That's an astonishing amount of money for something that didn't get a 100% rating. You might as well hire someone to change the channel for you.

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Logitech Harmony 555

I've got one of these - excellent remote for a really great price!

The key feature you missed from your review is it's ability to run activities. To watch TV, I need to turn on my TV, cable box, surround sound amp, set the TV to AV3 and set the amp to TV. This is all achieved at the press of a button on the harmony. If I then want to watch a DVD, another button will also start up the DVD recorder, set the TV to HDMI and set the amp to DVD. Equally, I can turn everything off (well to standby) at the press of the power button.

Also, if for some reason something doesn't happen (e.g. if the infra-red signal was interrupted, or you've used the manual controls on the TV, etc.), the help button will guide non-techies (e.g. my wife!) on how to get it working..

The online setup is superb - no more entering pages of numbers and counting the LED flashes as you get on the One4All remotes!

The only downside was that my first remote failed after a couple of months. However, Logitech support were very good and sent out a replacement immediately. This one is still working well (and hopefully will continue to as it's now out of warranty!)

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Happy

Bit of a short list

I recently decided to automate up my house, and having had an old Philips Pronto from years ago (early 2000s iirc), I decided to go down a similar route. Having assessed what was on the market, Philips still seemed to have the best high end remotes and I went for a TSU9600. I now have one of the best set-ups I've ever seen in operation. I have a pretty complex set-up, but it all works highly integrated (so I don't even notice that I have a Harmon-Kardon receiver in the mix). I use IR blasters attached to a wireless box to mean I don't have to point the remote at things. This is pretty essential for macros or you spend your whole time sorting things out when one command in a macro fails. The best part of it is the set-up for my music where I use a Logitech Squeezebox connected to a server, and control the system off the remote where I can search through my entire music collection, set up playlists, and even see album covers of the current playing song, all on the touchscreen display. It took a lot of programming to set up, but now I'm really happy with it. I can even use it for controlling the squeezebox devices in other rooms in my house. Although, I also use the squeezebox controller in other rooms which is also a great device.

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Low end?

If £279 is low end, could you lend me a paltry sum of money please?

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Can they control Virgin Media boxes?

This is one snag I've found with all in ones, they seem unable to control virgin's range of boxes. Can these logitech ones control them with the web update facility?

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@Gav H

Where are you seeing the Harmony One for £79.99?

I can't find it below £99 or so.

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Logitech's Harmony Remotes - poorly made!

The Harmony 525 is a newer version of the 520, although I don't know what the difference is...

The 520 is a piece of crap. I've had to replace my remote several times because the hard plastic buttons "ACTIVITY", and the 4 activity select buttons just stopped working.

Considering I took really good care of the remote, always used good batteries, never dropping, impacting, scratching, spilling liquids, sitting on it or resting anything on it, or giving it to my 16 month old to use as a hammer, it should have lasted longer.

The very last 520 Logitech sent me lasted 6 months. I'm back to using separate remotes, because they work reliably.

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Boffin

Roll your own...

If you're prepared to spend serious time getting everything set up, a very nice solution is to use an iPod Touch and a network connected IR emitter, e.g. http://www.globalcache.com/products/gc-models.html

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My Favourite Remote

I've had a Pronto RU990 for donkey's years... and it's brilliant. It cost a fortune but it's completely programmable and I had hours of fun laying out my favourite TV channel logos on a custom screen.

There are flashier/more expensive models around but it's a true hand-held device rather than something you might imagine that could navigate The Enterprise.

http://www.pronto.philips.com/index.cfm?id=1206

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Would they work with Freeview boxes?

I have an old Panasonic Freeview box and am wondering whether these will be able to control it. The current remote is tiny and is really starting to wear down.

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Harmony remotes rock

I have had a Harmony 525 for a couple of years now. It completely blows off the water every other universal remote I've tried (including kameleon, philips, etc), mostly due to the activities.

Setting up the activities can be a bit of a pain but afterwards pretty much anyone can learn to use it easily. I bought one for my retired dad who needed about 2 minute instructions to use it. With my gf it was approximately the same. Again, setting up the remote will take a while.

Some other remotes allow you to set up sequences or macros which could do basically the same thing, but the harmony is built up around the concept and the set-up software does most of the work for you. Plus it has simple monochrome LCD display so you don't have to memorize that "red" button means "watch TV".

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Unhappy

I don't think so

Unless they can guarantee I won't lose the functionality of the original remote. I had (once) a SONY tv and my sprog broke the remote and the general remote I had didn't give me access to most of the functionality

of the "made for" remote....color, brightness, contrast, etc...all lost.

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Jobs Halo

Harmony Remotes & Macs

... do work! I'm very happy to say. I have a Harmony 895 and it has worked very well with a couple of different Macs I've used to program it.

The "Select" button did fall off at point, but Logitech happily replaced the entire remote, so I can't complain too much.

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Just picked up a couple of Harmony 555s

ibood.com had the 555s for EUR 39 last week. I'm glad I decided to grab 2 while they were available!

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Alien

But will they control a PS3 for DVD playback?

So do any of these also support Blutooth (not just IR) so they can also control a PS3 as the DVD/BluRay player in a home theatre system. I hate Sony for saving a dime per console and not including an IR port.

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Flame

IR only - what about RF?

I recently wanted to replace a few remotes, including a knackered RF Vista MC remote, with something that would have the ability to control everything and have a bit of WAF about it too. I settled on a Gyration remote as it also offered a "wave about" cursor and, supposedly, texting-like keyboard functionality.

The Gyration mousey bits work perfectly, but the (presumably) off-the-shelf learning IR solution is a dog and has already forgotten how to control the TV and hi-fi. Plus, Gyration's triple-tap patch that is meant to enable the entry of text outside of Media Center doesn't work and they have so far refused to respond to my email about this.

All this for £65, but it was about as cheap as an RF/IR remote comes, and they are not easy to track down. Solid information on availability (numpty at PC World told me Microsoft don't allow aftermarket supply of "green button" remotes - WTF?) and decent reviews are short on the ground when you enter this territory. Surely I can't be the only one in this situation?

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@Joe K

Amazon had them for under £80 recently, I've just checked though and they've gone back up :(

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MX-500 FTW

Originally had a Pronto, still using it now for the more unusual codes that I can d/l from the net. But I now use the MX-500 from Home Theater Master. A good mix of macros/hard moulded buttons/programmable slots/learning remote.

Wouldn't be without it now.

I control TV/HDDVD/BLuRay/Amp/V+/Tivo/Media PC all from the single remote.

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@Mad Hacker

No, that is Sony on a crusade to change everything....

You can buy an inexpensive IR dongle (£20) that fits in a USB port, that way you'll get basic control of most functions with the Harmony remotes.

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kameleon

I have a kameleon 6 in 1 (older than the reviewed 5 in 1) the best thing about it is its durability. Its over 2 years old now and my 16 month old HAS used it as a hammer for a good year now. It has been dropped in beer, had food spilt all over it. Trod on, dropped, kicked without any loss of functionality. The transformer inside it does make a louder whiney sound than it used to and the "guide" button doesnt backlight anymore but apart from that it is fantastic.

It can also do limited macros but I too have not been able to get the updates to work.

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Happy

When it comes to asthetic beauty...

I think AllForOne have never managed to top the kameleon Mk1 remote.

http://support.radioshack.com/support_tutorials/video/Kameleon/kam-screens.htm

It used a soft OLED surface which illuminated only those buttons that were needed for that device, with a suprising level of animation. The above link doesn't really do justice to the smoothness of the animation on this model.

When dormant, the soft blue surface is completely featureless until the motion sensor detects movement and the 'buttons' gentley faded in.

The strong bright blue of the OLED features is quite breath-taking in the dark, and has a very tron-esque ambiance, certainly triggering many comments from my heavy-handed friends who upon nudging the coffee table, are greeted by an interface that would not look out of place on a star trek console.

I think what really set it apart, and gave it that little spark of magic was that while dormant, there are no discernable features on the surface of the remote at all. Something that AllForOne changed on all latter models, and IMHO spoiled the effect.

Certainly, all the features you have described on this latest model are all available in the Mk1 (which on the high-end model, actually supported six devices) including the over-the-phone built-in modem. Yes, my old Mk1 too, has the 'magic' button, which makes the button-by-button programming quite easy, if still a rather labourios process.

Realistically, the only improvement in this latest model you reviewed I can discern is that the built-in library of supported devices will be more up to date. Shame it's not as pretty as its eldest sibling.

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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.

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@Psymon - flat surface remotes

Don't you think that the flat topped remotes are harder to use?

I found my pronto more frustrating to use in the end as I had to keep looking at the device to see where my finger was in relation to the button. One of the big selling points for me of the MX500 was that most of the buttons were moulded and therefore were useable without needing to look at what you were doing. The tactile response to the button press means, to me anyway, a less error prone operation.

The MK1 does look very nice though.

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Anonymous Coward

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.

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harmony

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.

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Happy

@ SteveC

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

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@ 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.

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