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Published: Friday, 2/18/2011 - Updated: 3 years ago

Seeking the answer to universal (remote) problem

BY BILL HUSTED
ATLANTA JOURNAL-CONSTITUTION


BLADE ILLUSTRATION/WES BOOHER Enlarge
ATLANTA — A few weeks ago a dinner guest’s face contorted into something between amazement and disgust as he looked at my coffee table and noted: “My gosh — you have six remotes.”

He was only partially correct. The coffee table in my den does have several remotes on it. There is one for the HDTV, another for the sound system, still another for the DVD player, one for the cable converter box. And there are a few more, worthless testaments to my inability to throw anything away. They are remotes for gadgets I no longer own.

Like a coward, I didn’t tell him that the cabinet near the TV held another two or three remote controls.

Unfortunately, at least four of my remotes are actually used every day to control the array of gadgets in the den. That’s why, until recently, the simple act of watching television often required more than the two hands that (I hope) are permanently attached to my arms.

While one or two of the remotes, including the one from the cable company, have the theoretical ability to control more than one device, getting them to do so is a losing battle. When you bump up against a task more difficult than changing the volume, these “universal” remotes are useless.

And attempting to program some of them involves tediously punching in code numbers for each gadget you own using the remote’s keypad. Others are programmed by placing two remotes so that they face each other — like some kind of weird, high-tech mating ceremony — and simultaneously punching buttons on both remotes.

Maybe there are people out there who are smart enough to do that and end up with a single satisfactory remote control. But none of those people live in my house.

Yet the need for a single remote is real. For instance, I often use the big TV to watch movies and other videos delivered online. Like a lot of you, I have a DVD player with the built-in ability to connect to Netflix, YouTube and other Internet sources and then stream that video to the HDTV.

But doing that adds the need for buttons to pause the streaming video, rewind it and scroll through the programming that’s available online. Then I need a way to tell the TV that I want it to switch from the cable box to the DVD player. And I need to be able to turn on and adjust the sound system.

So I often have two remotes in my hand and another in my lap, all that just to watch a movie or to catch an episode of a television series.

That awkwardness, along with my dinner guest’s remarks, set me off on an online shopping quest to find a single remote that could control everything.

Now all this may seem like small potatoes in a world crammed with more exotic gadgets. I realize that today’s column could offer helpful instructions on building a nuclear submarine in the basement, or constructing a PC using materials found at the hardware store.

So, I began my search for the perfect remote: something that could control every function of every gadget, yet easy enough to program so that even I could do it. I wanted all that at a price that would not trigger my wife’s reoccurring fear that we’ll end up living in a cardboard box under a bridge in the next year or two.

My first shock was price. I found remotes that seemed to fit all my criteria — at least based on the online descriptions — but many of them were priced near $500. For that kind of money, I was prepared to continue juggling multiple remotes.

The next shock was trying to understand (again based on online descriptions and reviews) how simple these things were to use. I remember one online reviewer’s comment about a particularly pricey remote. He said something like, “Within a few weeks I got the software for programming it working on my PC and was able to start programming the remote.”

I wasn’t looking for a new hobby as a programmer of remotes. I just wanted to be able to tame my gadgets.

Finally, as often happens, I turned to Cnet.com, one of my favorite Web sites for high-tech reviews. Once I reached this page — tinyurl.com/4lszz7x — I felt like an explorer who had finally found the city of gold.

Based on what I read there, remotes from Logitech seemed like the answer. And while some of the Logitech models were priced near the $500 mark, I found one that was affordable enough to forestall my wife’s box-under-the-bridge nightmare.

I ended up buying and using the Logitech Harmony 700 for just a bit over $100. I ordered mine from this site: tinyurl.com/4br7yyd. But you may be able to find one at a local store, or at another online site at a better price.

This remote is not perfect. For one thing, the rechargeable batteries it uses run down too quickly. And there are times when my far-sighted wife hands the thing to me because she has trouble viewing the device’s relatively small screen without her reading glasses.

You’ll find more details on the remote, along with other pluses and minuses, on the Cnet site at this Web page: tinyurl.com/4q23de2.

I’m convinced that there’s no perfect remote when balancing ease-of-use, features and price. But my Logitech does work. In fact, it works so well that one of these days I’m going to remove those other five or six remotes from my coffee table. But not today.



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