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Gift Guide for Geeks 2003: Remote

Volume Number: 19 (2003)
Issue Number: 11
Column Tag: Review

Gift Guide for Geeks 2003: Remote

by Dave Mark

Dave becomes the couch potato we all wish we could be

The November issue of MacTech is always one of my favorites. It's our annual Gift Guide issue and there's always something unusual, something cool, something I can circle in red crayon and leave around the house for my faithful family to find and buy for me!

To start things off this year, we've got a humdinger of a gift. A bit pricey, but oh will you want one.

Buzz on over to http://www.harmonyremote.com and check out the ultimate in remote controls, the SST-76. The list price is $299, but http://www.devdepot.com has it for less than that. I'm a gadget junkie and, without a doubt, this is the best universal remote I've ever seen. In my opinion, head and shoulders better than its closest competition.

What makes this remote so great? In a nutshell, it's so easy to use. I've got a reasonably complex setup, with a VCR, DVD player, video receiver, large screen TV, and satellite controller. Each of those components has an associated remote control. With a fair amount of work, I've been able to program 2 of my remotes to control most of what I do with my system. And even with all that work, there are still situations where I find myself digging out the original remote (such as, changing the screen format on my TV from 4:3 to 16:9, or changing the options on my satellite dish).

And when it comes time to change the programming on my universal remote, I find myself having to relearn the "learning" mechanism. Lord help me if I ever have to swap out one of my components.

The SST-768, from Intrigue Technologies, changed all that. When you open the box, you get a remote, a USB cable, and an installation CD, compatible with Mac OS X and Windows. I ran the installer, then ran the newly installed Harmony Remote app. I opened the preferences and set the download folder to match my Safari download folder (this turned out to be very important) and checked the Watch download folder and Cleanup downloaded files checkboxes.


Figure 1. The SST-768 in red, silver, and blue.

Next, I went onto http://www.harmonyremote.com and clicked the New User Login link. I filled out a short form, then logged in. Next, I went through a sequence of easy steps to specify all my components. The web site knew every single one of my components, even though some of them are pretty old.

Then came the important part. Now that it knew my components, the site asked me to pick from a list of activities I wanted programmed into my remote. I picked, Watch a DVD, Watch Television, Watch the VCR, and Listen to the Radio. I also went through the channel listings for my satellite setup and selected the channels I wanted on my remote. Once that was done, I plugged the USB cable into the remote and clicked the link that said Update My Remote.

When I unplugged the remote, I used the scroll wheel to select my activity. For example, Figure 2 shows the remote scrolled to Watch a DVD. The scroll wheel is also a button. Once you scroll to the activity you want, press the button and voila! The remote switches all the components to the correct settings.


Figure 2. Close up shot of the silver SST-768

There is a lot more to this remote. The web site is an incredible resource. On it, you can customize your settings, even edit the XML assigned to each button. You can create a list of favorite stations that you can scroll through using the scroll wheel. There's a zap button that you can press whenever something of interest is on the screen. The remote remembers what you were watching when you zapped and saves that info for you the next time you connect the remote to your computer. For now, your zap list is strictly made up of the shows you were watching when you zapped, but eventually, the capability to search the net for products whose commercials you zapped could be added.

You can download program listings onto your remote in case you don't have an on-screen guide. And all this is saved to non-volatile flash memory, so even if you lose your batteries, you won't lose your settings.

If there is a down-side to this remote, it is the problem common to all macro-driven remotes. It is fairly simple to get out-of-sync with your components. Usually, this is caused when you press a button on the remote, then turn away or put the remote down before the macro has finished each of its steps. After a while, you learn to keep the remote pointed at your components until the macro completes all of the steps. If you do get out of sync, you can use the mode button on the side of the remote to address individual components. Amazingly, you can use this feature to issue just about every imaginable command the original remote was capable of. All-in-all, an amazing leap forward for all couch potatoes!

Intrigue Technologies is in Mississauga, Ontario. You can reach them at 866-291-1505 or at www.harmonyremotes.com.

Harmony Remotes are available at DevDepot!

http://www.devdepot.com/harmony

 
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