Wednesday, May 23, 2007

One more remote will unify your life

With the installation of a new home theatre processor, and docks for the iPod and XM Radio I now have seven remotes to control the media system in one room.

This does not include the two alleged 'universal' remotes which turn out to control some but not all of the functions of the system and have 'learning' capabilities that are distinctly more limited than the manufacturer alleges.

My first attempt at a universal remote was a Sony RM-AV2100, a huge wedge shaped box that nobody would use. In the days before lithium ion batteries and cheap flash Rom the universal remote concept was simply not ready for prime time. The box has to be reprogrammed every few months and so is useless as a replacement for a remote that has been broken (besides being tedious).

A few years later I bought another Sony, a RM-VL1000. This time they got the form factor right but it simply does not have enough hard buttons. In particular there are no buttons for jump forward and jump back, the two buttons used most often on a DVR. also no cancel button for getting out of a menu.

The problem with the Sony is that it is developed by a consumer electronics company and is designed by people who have a particular idea as to the way the product should work. Sony does not make a DVR so there is nobody to push for the DVR buttons. The menus on Sony systems work in a particular way and their universal remote reflects the same philosophy.

Consumer electronics companies don't want to make it easy for people to connect to other brands of equipment. They all want to lock the consumer into their own brand of equipment. The fact that Sony's TV does not work particularly well using the remote supplied with their DVD recorder/VCR combo is overlooked. In fact even the universal Sony remotes are not complete replacements.

This is why I have become interested in the Logitech Harmony remotes and have an 880 on order. The Logitech people are computer people, not consumer electronics people and they are comming to the problem from a computer people point of view. Instead of poking about trying to program the remote from the remote the Harmony plugs into a USB port for programming. Instead of comming with a fixed memory of pre-programmed codes the logitech connects to a database of tens of thousands of codes. And they use the distributed collaboration technique of allowing one customer who has programmed a new device to share the codes they have programmed in with other users.

It should be interesting to see whether expectations are met or whether the logitech will prove to be yet another universal remote that ends up being one button short of a full set.

What really needs to happen of course is that the consumer electronics companies need to get a clue and start building consumer electronics that work well together as a system regardless of who built the parts.

I don't expect this to happen of course but I do note that Dell and Gateway are both selling own brand TVs. The collision between the consumer electronics world and the computer manufacturing world is almost upon us. If sony and the incumbents do not get a clue quickly they will find themselves facing a disruptive change.

1 comment:

Rael said...

I think you nailed it by choosing Logitech. Other great brands include the One for All, Philips, Universal electronics. ConsumerSearch and CNet themselves gave them these remotes and their rivals their blessings!