remote control re home theatre: controls components, X10 devices with a universal learning unit

home theatre: universal remote control learns all your component and x10 functions.
Using a universal remote control: review by Adrian Biffen, Software For Homes Home Theater Remote Control: 
eliminate your coffee table clutter

by Adrian Biffen 
Systems Administrator
AeroHOST Web Systems
April 6, 2004
  Bulletin: RollerTrol™ Automation Systems is Launched!  
  • We have been busy making and selling roller blinds and projector screens for some time, and we have decided to start selling the components at so others can do the same.
  • Take a look at our online store for tubular motors and other associated products - make your own custom shade or screen size that fits your room perfectly! We also have special motor kits that work with x10 automation systems.
  • While you're at it, check out our tubular motors with built-in radio controllers. When used with our multi-channel remotes, you can control the screen AND blackout blinds with a single remote!
  End Bulletin: RollerTrol™ Automation Systems  

If you have been following the saga of my quest for a dream home theater system, you'll know that in the first HDTV review article, we covered a lot of the definitions and terminology used in the HDTV home theatre field, as well as some interesting announcements from the CES 2004 show in Las Vegas in the second article. This article is about my remote control findings.


This series of articles is designed to help you get through the complicated process of choosing and setting up an HDTV home theater system. It is part of our overall website, which is about the X10 home automation system that uses the A/C wiring in your home - you don't need to run any wires. (for complementary home automation products such as lighting control and motorized blinds and shades, see our home automation DIY kit article) Here's a brief topic summary of these home theater articles, with direct links:
Article# Topic
1 HDTV Definitions and terminology used in home theatre systems
2 HDTV news from Jan 2005 Las Vegas CES show
3 HDTV remote control consolidation issues
4 DLP projector decision: My reasons for purchasing
5 BenQ DLP 6200 review -projector setup process
6 HTPC: using home theater PC for DVD display
7 DVD software player review: watch DVD on your PC
8 Upsampling DVD player vs HTPC - comparison with Zenith DVB 318
9 Sony HDRHC1 Handycam review: widescreen high definition 1080i camcorder
10 Wireless video sender solves the 'extra tv' problem
11 SED Toshiba-Canon HDTV display review - the flat panel HDTV race heats up!
12 Canon SX 50 Realis LCoS projector review - first 3 chip LCoS projector under $5,000
13 Optoma H78DC3 'DarkChip3' DLP projector review - first 'Dark Chip3' DLP projector under $4,000
14 Xbox 360 review: best buy for game play online? - Windows Media Center Extender
15 Play Station 3 vs Xbox 360 - Sony and Microsoft Compete for gaming market
16 SXRD vs SED vs DLP - Sony raises the HDTV bar with Qualia and Grand Wega series
17 LED DLP light engine from Samsung vs SXRD, SED - 1080p resolution arrives
18 HD DVD vs Blu-ray: We review the new Toshiba HD DVD players (HD-XA1 and HD-A1)
19 H.264 AVC: High Definition advanced codec for movie downloads and HDTV Online


It seems that we all suffer from the YADR (Yet Another Dang Remote) problem, so I've decided to dedicate the third article to this problem. I'm still waiting to see the new crop of DLP and LCoS projectors before I make my HDTV big screen decision; hopefully, that will be next.

The process of finding a universal remote that met all my requirements turned out to be a complicated challenge, and I'm sure many of you have already run into the limitations of many remote control units out on the shelves.

Here is my list of desired features my ultimate remote should have:

 -must be easy to use and program
 -must have good signal range
 -must provide single button access to main functions (TV, DVD, VCR, etc.)
 -must provide single button action to turn all components on/off
 -push buttons to be tactile, backlit at night, and labels easy to read
 -remote control body must be comfortable with ergonomic placement of buttons
 -has to be able to learn any other remote IR (InfraRed) signals
 -has to have X10 capability for controlling lights, drapes, fireplace, etc.

I didn't think that was a very stringent list of features, probably no more than anyone else might desire - but, I was surprised at how hard it was to find a remote unit that could satisfy all the criteria. I tried remotes from Harmony, Sony, RCA, etc. and some were close, but none of them did what I really needed.

I tried units with LCD and electroluminescent touch screens, but many were hard to see and provided no tactile feedback - not being able to feel the buttons means you always have to look at it. If you have as many pairs of reading glasses scattered strategically around the room as we do, you'll also understand why it's nice to be able to read large lettering for the labels when you do need to look at it. I also found that many had a very convoluted setup procedure, which can waste away many hours if you have even an average home theatre system. 

I'm trying to provide a 'one button' solution to score high in the WAF (Wife Approval Factor), and it was interesting to find that many remotes simply cannot do this. If the desired command involved switching audio and video inputs and assigning 'punch through' capabilities (using the tuner in your VCR to watch TV on your screen), it was way beyond the capabilities of many of these units. The ability to assign macros to a button became one of the most important requirements for one button operation (a macro is just a series of control steps, programmed in sequence).


Some remotes had a much more limited range, which meant I always had to aim the controlMX-500 universal learning remote control from Universal Remote Control directly at the component being activated. If the coffee table or some other obstruction interrupted the line of sight, it meant I had to shift positions to activate functions (not great if I'm in couch potato mode). This weakness can also cause de-synchronization of the system, if not all the components can "see" a global command, such as "all power on" and "all power off". The WAF rating falls dramatically when this occurs.

And, if I found one that just about did what I wanted, I would then discover that it couldn't learn all the codes from the remotes of some of my components. It turns out there are some remotes that are much better than others in this area, mostly to do with frequency range and bit waveform capabilities.
So I spent a frustrating week testing numerous units, finding some that were better than others, but none that quite fit the bill. If you are going to do this, make sure you keep your receipts and find out what the return policy is; I had a credit card statement about a mile long!

Finally, I tried the MX-500 from Universal Remote Control, Inc. in New York and, bingo, it did it all. It was easy to configure, easy to see under all lighting conditions (without reading glasses, fully backlit in the dark), and comfortable to hold with buttons placed exactly where you expect them (the LCD labels are also programmable). I was able to assign "one button" access to my various media activities, switching video and audio inputs, as well as single button power up/power down. It has no problem understanding that you want to use your VCR tuner when you watch regular TV (i.e. "punch through" capability), and that the Sony digital receiver needs to be switched to the "TV" input. It learned every single code that was beamed at it, even the difficult ones that caused other remotes to turn a blind eye. The IR beam had excellent reach and I didn't even have to aim it for the commands to get through. 

I send signals from it to the x10 IR Command Console, which converts IR signals into the X10 power line protocol, allowing me to control 16 different devices in my home, including the ability to activate and dim my home theatre room lighting, turn the fireplace on, etc. When you load the 183 x10 code matrix from the AUX code table, the remote defaults to device 1 on whatever house code the x10 IR unit is set to. Various buttons are assigned as "dim" (volume) and "on/off" (channel). You just enter the device number on the keypad to select different devices to control. Please see the rest of this website for more x10 information.

The entire home theatre environment can be set up with a macro for one button operation. A typical scenario might be drapes closing, lights on with 75% dim, gas fireplace on, all home theater  components on, motorized projector screen deployed, popcorn machine on ... now that's what I call remote control!

Author's Note: I later upgraded to the MX-800; it is the same as the MX-500, but uses RF (Radio Frequencies) to augment the IR system. This means you never have to point it at your equipment, and you can actually walk around the house controlling things through walls. Truly the ultimate!

This was a happy ending to a long, complicated journey through the land of remote controls - I highly recommend this unit; it will save you lots of time and frustration!

*  *  *  *  *

Stay tuned as we add to this article series - more to come soon. (The projector decision was made, see the next article)

For the sake of clarity, here are some acronym and terminology definitions relating to the various display technologies, used in the other table below to compare the various screen types:
TLA Three Letter Acronym
HDTV High Definition Television. The highest quality video picture available in Digital TV. In the U.S., the 1080i and 720p resolution formats in a 16:9 aspect ratio are the two acceptable HDTV formats. Regular NTSC analog TV is 480i.
HTPC Home Theater Personal Computer. The use of a PC as a processing and source control platform for a home theater system.
RPTV Rear Projection TV. The type of home theater screen system where the image is projected onto the back of the screen. Can be DLP, LCD, CRT projection technology.
Lumens An ANSI Lumen is a measurement of light radiation or brightness. A 3,000 Lumen projector creates a brighter picture than a 2,000 Lumen unit. The ANSI prefix is a standards designation (American National Standards Institute).
Nits Plasma and LCD manufacturers use this term to define the brightness of their screens. Another term for Nits is Candelas per square meter (Cd/m2). One nit = 0.2919 foot-lambert. Nits includes an area definition, unlike lumens, so you can't simply divide by Watts to establish a Nits/watt spec.
480i 720p 1080p resolution measurement in lines, p for "progressive scan", i for "interlaced scan". Conventional TV (e.g. 480i) is interlaced whereby the screen is scanned twice by alternate lines that are interleaved (interlaced), whereas HDTV (e.g. 720p) can scan all lines sequentially (consecutively or progressively).
DVI HDCP Digital Visual Interface technology with High-bandwidth Digital Content Protection. Developed by Intel Corporation, HDCP is a specification to protect digital entertainment content through the DVI interface. The HDCP specification provides a transparent method for transmitting and receiving digital entertainment content to DVI-compliant digital displays. Some products, such as set-top boxes and DVD burners will require this connector. Even if you have a HDTV set-top box, if it lacks the DVI, your signal may be degraded.
HDMI High Definition Multimedia Interface. Like DVI, HDMI is another digital interface, and from what we saw at CES 2005, it may become the universal standard. Developed by Sony, Hitachi, Thomson (RCA), Philips, Matsushita (Panasonic), Toshiba and Silicon Image, the High-Definition Multimedia Interface (HDMI) has emerged as the connection standard for HDTV and the consumer electronics market. HDMI is the first digital interface to combine uncompressed high-definition video, multi-channel audio and intelligent format and command data in a single digital interface.
SACD Super Audio CD uses a new recording technology called Direct Stream Digital. DSD records a one bit digital signal at a sample rate of 2.8 million times per second, 64 times higher than conventional CD's. 
NTSC Existing color TV standard developed in the U.S. in 1953 by the National Television System Committee. NTSC vertical line resolution is 525 lines/frame and the vertical frequency is 60Hz. The NTSC frame rate is 29.97 frames/sec.
CRT Cathode Ray Tube - venerable old style picture tube
PDP Plasma Display Panel, plasma is a physics term for an electrically charged gas
LCD Liquid Crystal Display, same as laptop screens
TFT Thin Film Technology, a type of LCD
DLP Digital Light Processor, a reflective light switch chip developed by TI. Has a very fast response time - no motion lag
TI Texas Instruments Corp., original manufacturer of DMD's and DLP's
DMD Digital Micro-mirror Device - chip for DLP technology by TI
DNIe Digital Natural Image enhancement - chip for optimizing video picture quality, by Samsung (used in their DLP units)
LCoS Liquid Crystal on Silicon, reflective light switch
SXRD projection Silicon X-tal Reflective Display: Sony's incarnation of LCoS technology. Sharp picture, no pixelation, very high resolution, reflective system won't burn out picture element, "no moving parts" design usually incorporates 3 imaging chips for primary colors, instead of color wheel.
SED Surface conduction Electron emitter Display by Toshiba/Canon
FED Field Emission Display: New technology from Sony
OLED Organic Light Emitting Diode display: new technology from Seiko-Epson
D-iLA Direct Drive Image Light Amplifier, LCoS chip developed by JVC
QXGA high screen resolution of 2048 x 1536, attained by D-iLA chip
DCDi Directional Correlation Deinterlacing (a de-interlacing method to eliminate jagged edges (jaggies) along diagonal lines caused by interpolation, developed by Faroudja corp. An important feature to look for, this Emmy® award winning technology was once only available in products costing $20,000 or more, and is now available in numerous products costing well below $2,000
aspect ratio ratio of screen width to height. An aspect ratio of 4:3 is conventional TV and 16:9 is HDTV (and film)
3-2 pulldown a method of film-to-video conversion
twitter and judder   terms describing film conversion related artifacts
anamorphic lens   a special lens that compresses the pixels of a 4:3 screen into a 16:9 format, and allows a projector to use the full brightness of the display, without black bars above and below the image. Must normally be removed for regular 4:3 viewing.
SDE  Screen Door Effect is a term used to refer to the visible pixel structure on a screen.
YADR! Yet Another Dang Remote! A common exclamation heard from people who just bought their third or fourth home audio/video component. And then there are further unmentionable expletives when you find out a component isn't supported, or it's just too complicated to program everything in?? Maybe it's time to read about our experience in the remote control review article.

The following table provides a quick comparison of the display types; "pixelation" refers to the ability to see individual picture elements (pixels) at normal viewing distances (note that all the types below can contribute to the YADR index). Please note that these products are being constantly improved and not all manufacturer's models may be subject to the disadvantages listed below:

CRT conventional
picture tube
Cathode Ray Tube: very sharp and bright, high contrast ratio, good picture view from side, low cost, handles regular analog NTSC channels well, no moving parts heavy and bulky, limited in size to about 36", picture can fade 
CRT projection
low cost, large screens possible, no moving parts heavy and bulky, limited viewing angles, visible raster lines, mis-convergence can be a problem, picture can fade over time 
LCD flat screen panel Liquid Crystal Display: bright, sharp picture, light and compact, can hang on wall, solid state, no moving parts picture can fade over time
LCD projection fairly bright, large screens possible, sharp picture, no moving parts display can fade due to heat damage to organic compounds that some manufacturers use in the LCD, projector bulb can fail
PDP Plasma flat screen panel Plasma Display Panel: bright picture, light and compact, can hang on wall, wide viewing angle, no moving parts, handles fast motion really well expensive, some pixelation, display can burn out.
DLP projection Digital Light Processor: bright, sharp picture, high contrast, no  pixelation, reflective system won't burn out picture element, very fast response time - no motion lag. possible visual "rainbow" artifacts on single chip versions caused by spinning color wheel, projector bulb can fail
LCoS projection Liquid Crystal on Silicon: bright, sharp picture, no pixelation, very high resolution, reflective system won't burn out picture element, "no moving parts" design usually incorporates 3 imaging chips for primary colors, instead of color wheel. projector bulb can fail
SXRD projection Silicon X-tal Reflective Display: Sony's incarnation of LCoS technology. Sharp picture, no pixelation, very high resolution, reflective system won't burn out picture element, "no moving parts" design usually incorporates 3 imaging chips for primary colors, instead of color wheel. projector bulb can fail
SED panel display Surface conduction Electron emitter Display: very bright picture, very high resolution, can hang on wall, very high contrast ratio, can be viewed from any angle, no moving parts, handles fast motion really well expensive at first, not available yet
FED panel display Field Emission Display: New technology from Sony, properties are similar to SED expensive at first, not available yet
OLED panel display Organic Light Emitting Diode display: new technology from Seiko-Epson expensive at first, not available yet


For high speed database hosting, visit our sister our sister company AeroHOST

Home | What Is x10 | Activehome Pro | x10 Software | Lighting | Appliances 
 SmartPhones | Home Theatre | Heating | Water | Security | Audio/VideoContact

Copyright © 2001-2013 Software For Homes