March 3rd, 2008
Nothing is sweeter than having a nice home theater (along with a nice phone). However it’s a pain when you have to locate four different remotes before you can watch a movie. This is where a universal remote comes in handy. Problem is, most universal remotes are pretty basic and have virtually no customizability.
In my opinion the ideal setup would be a remote that you can connect to your computer to program. The programming software would be powerful enough to let you customize every button plus it would let you create custom macros and so on.
Universal Remote Control makes remotes such as the MX900 that fit this description. Is it any good? Read on.
The MX900 is not a small remote. Then again most universal remotes are quite large. The top and bottom of theMX900 are coated with rubberized paint.
The shape is such that the buttons are split into four different sections which makes buttons easy to find without looking. The button sections include the LCD and soft keys at the top, volume and menu related buttons, the navpad and the play related and number buttons.
Button feel is pretty average; the mx900 has the typical mushy remote buttons. They stick out and are easy to feel. One nice feature is that the buttons beep when you press them.
I would like to see the rewind and fast forward buttons (REW and FF) to the left and right of the navpad instead of next to the play button. Then again having those two buttons somewhere else allows for a large navpad which is a good thing.
The -SKIP and +SKIP buttons are great since they can be used to skip 30 seconds (the length of most commercials).
There is a backlight button on the right side of the remote. The MX900 LCD and buttons are backlit with a blue light.
Power is supplied by four AAA batteries. Personally I prefer a remote that has a cradle where you can recharge it. Then again, I guess AAA’s make the remote easier to use since you don’t have to return it to the cradle. What I dislike about AAA batteries is when they die while you’re watching TV.
I can’t say for sure but my Sanyo Eneloop NiMH rechargable batteries last about 2 or 3 months before they have to be recharged. When the batteries do run out, the MX900 will say battery on the LCD screen and you won’t be able to use it till you’ve put new ones in. When you’re taking batteries out you’ll find that the MX900 is a really tight fit so that they’re slightly difficult to remove.
Here’s the paradigm of the MX900. At the top is an LCD screen with buttons next to them. Each slot on the LCD screen can handle words of up to x characters in length. The LCD screen indicates the function of the buttons next to them. You can create pages of buttons. The page buttons will take you to the next pages.
Underneath the screen are ‘Watch’ and ‘Listen’ buttons each of which take you to a sort of home screen. From the home screen you can see a list of devices on the LCD your remote is setup to command. When you press the appropriate device, the MX900 can control it.
Like Universal Remote Control’s other PC programmable remotes, you have to connect the MX900 to your computer in order to program it before you can use it. Unlike Logitech’s Harmony remotes, the MX900′s program doesn’t use a wizard to make things easier. Some may find this intimidating but really the MX900 is not hard to program. While the Logitech Harmony’s don’t allow for much customization, you can customize every button on the MX900 if you want. If you’re the type of person who doesn’t like programming things, the MX900 is probably not for you. While I found programming to be a snap you’ll probably need to program it a few more times to get it just like you want.
First up is setting up the devices. What I like to do is use the built-in remote codes for my devices and then customize the functions of the buttons next to the screen so that my most frequently used buttons appear on as few screens as possible. I usually also remove some of the extra pages of buttons since I don’t generally need every single one.
Once you’ve added all your devices to the MX900, you’ll probably want to setup some macros. First thing is the power on macro – I suggest programming it so pressing the power button from the watch or listen screens sends the power on command to all your devices. If you have higher end equipment, your devices probably have separate on and off remote commands. Then setup the off macro the same way.
Chances are you’re either using the speakers built into your TV or your receiver. You can use the ‘punch through’ feature so that the volume buttons for each device control your TV or Receiver. This way you don’t have to have the TV/Receiver selected to change the volume.
Next up you probably want to make it so that the video and audio switch automatically when you switch sources. For this you’ll probably want to setup a ‘press and hold’ macro. Normally when you’re at the watch screen and press DVD, the remote will switch to your DVD player. If you press and hold DVD for a second (the duration is customizable) you can make it so the TV will switch to the input the DVD is on and do the same on your AV receiver.Some people with inexpensive TV’s may lack remote commands to jump to a specific input. With these ones you usually have to press input x number of times. In this case you can do something like select a channel on the TV (send the ’3′ command) – this will tell the TV to switch to the cable input, then you just need to know the number of times to send the ‘input’ command to switch to a specific one. If you’re TV is really slow you can vary the length of time you press a button as well as the pause between presses.
You can create whatever macros you want. For example let’s say you have to press ‘stop’, ‘right’ five times, ‘select’, ‘right’, ‘select’ to delete a video on your PVR. You can create a macro to execute all these commands.
Now that the MX900 is setup you connect it to your PC using a mini USB cable (the same kind you’ll find on many phones, digital cameras, etc.) and send the setup to the remote.
Now one problem with many universal remotes is what happens if not all the remote commands make it to your device successfully. In this case you’ll have to press ‘listen’ (or ‘watch’), select the device you want to control, send the command and then switch back.
If you find this happens a lot there is support for RF base stations. RF base stations receive a RF signal from the remote and then send them to your devices using RF extenders. This is useful if your devices are far away, if there are objects in front of your devices (such as a door or a wall), if you have a wife who always cleans stuff in front of the TV, that sort of stuff. You can have multiple base stations and depending on the model you can assign each base station a unique ID. So if you have three devices of the same model in different rooms, you can make sure the command is only sent to the appropriate base station instead of turning all three of them on at the same time.
I used the Universal Remote’s MRF-260 base station. I’ll talk about it more in a future review.
I’ll be honest. While the Mx900 is no where near as cool as my MX3000, it’s perfect if you don’t have tons of equipment to control. The buttons mean you don’t have to look at the remote every time you want to use it plus the shape means you can use it easily with one hand. The RF support is a plus though you probably won’t need it if you live in a small space like a condo.
The software is extremely easy to use once you understand how the MX900 works (this won’t take long).
My only complaints are that I wish the MX900 had rechargeable batteries built-in with a charging cradle.
Entry Filed under: Home Theater