MX-450 Remote: Back to the Future?

The Short Form
$249 / UNIVERSALREMOTE.COM / 800-901-0800
Snapshot
The MX-450 is a complete professional remote control. A universal remote, the MX-450 goes completely PC-free (Mac too) when it comes to programming.
Plus
• Programs without a computer • Great macro creation/editing tool • Long battery life
Minus
• Reordering button layouts a pain • IR output not as powerful • Pricey for an entry-level model
Key Features
• Controls up to 18 devices, with 8 programmable pages per device • 2-inch Color LCD Screen (176 x 220 resolution) • Programs completely without a PC or Internet connection • MacroEdit allows quick and easy macro creation and editing • Radio frequency capable by adding RF base station

Possibly the only thing in the world outpacing China's population growth is the increased number of new remote controls. Thanks to exciting advances in home entertainment, nearly every family now owns a TV, a receiver (often even that of the surround variety), cable or satellite set top box, DVD or Blu-ray player, and a CD player. Beyond just the clutter of 3 or more remotes lying around, all those extra buttons and controls add to the complexity of operating and enjoying your system.

Fortunately, Universal Remote Control has the solution well in hand. In the past 10 years, they've sold more than 50 million remote controls, and the latest entry into their growing line-up of Complete Control professional remotes is the MX-450. However, unlike nearly every other fancy universal remote on the market, the MX-450 goes completely PC-free (Mac too) when it comes to programming. Having programmed my share of remotes, I was curious to find what compromises if any were needed when the computer was kicked to the curb.

SETUP

Several years ago, most universal remote commands were programmed directly on the unit itself. Programming and editing macros - where multiple commands are issued from a single button press - was often a tedious, time consuming, trial-and-error ordeal that often ended with the programmer wanting to kill someone. Now, most remotes rely on computers for programming, which can speed up the process for accomplished programmers. However, programming via computer can be intimidating for someone just starting out. And logistically, requiring a computer can also be difficult for installation companies, where not every crew carries around a laptop.

With their new MX-450, Universal has returned to the days of programming entirely by way of the remote. I'm not talking computer-optional; I mean no computer allowed. While this feels a bit like stepping back in time, their "back to the drawing board" approach offers many improvements and little of the frustration I remembered from before.

Even before opening the box, I couldn't help but notice the oversized, glaring red and yellow sticker that boldly proclaimed: "NOTICE: Professional installation and programming required. This package does NOT include Programming Software, Programming Guide or Technical Support. This product is designed and sold to be installed and programmed by an AV professional." Fortunately, I happen to be an AV professional, so I bravely pressed on. And, honestly, you should too. As you'll see, this remote might bluster about being only for a pro, but it really seems meant for a DIY install.

Pressing and holding the MAIN button for 3 seconds puts the remote into programming mode, where five options are available: Basic Setup, Advanced Setup, Favorite Channels, User Settings and Display Tips. Initial programming begins in Basic Setup where devices are added to the system. The remote has a built-in library of codes that will control "hundreds of thousands of model numbers" according to URC. You select your device type (TV, DVD, Cable, etc), choose an icon from 29 colorful graphics (or use a blank), type in a label, select component brand, then scroll through a list of codes until the piece turns off. It is all very straightforward, and takes only a few minutes. I would greatly prefer the ability to browse components by model number. My TV is a few years old, and while several of the Samsung codes would power the set on and off, it took a while to find the correct code set that had my TV's input commands. If you don't feel like hunting for your remote's code - or can't find it in the database - the remote also offers the ability to learn codes head-to-head.

While slower, learning this way does give you the ability to place every button exactly where you'd like - overcoming one of the remote's biggest programming limitations - once positioned, buttons cannot just be moved or swapped. If a command is linked to one button and you want it in another, you must delete and re-add it. This can add to a decent amount of extra work during the initial setup as buttons are deleted, relabeled, and relearned.

Advanced Setup gives you access to options like renaming buttons, hiding pages or buttons, setting up Radio Frequency control if using one of Universal Remote's optional RF extenders, setting up "punch-through" commands (where your receiver's volume commands work on every page, for instance) and adding or editing macros.

Universal Remote's new MacroEdit feature is where this remote really stands out among standalone programming models. MacroEdit allows the programmer to quickly set up and fine-tune macros. Each step - up to 255 of them per macro - is displayed on the remote's screen, and steps can be easily added, deleted or re-ordered, all without deleting any previous work. Since programming always involves several cycles of downloading, testing, and refining, not having to break out a computer for every little change and tweak was so nice. If I found a macro that needed a slightly longer delay or some other tweak, I just fixed it on the fly while lying on the couch. Sweet!

The programming wizard for setting up favorite channels is also really quick. Start by picking a logo - all the biggies are included, or just add a text label to a blank key - then pick the source that is controlled (cable box, satellite receiver, etc.) and type in the channel number. Up to 48 favorites (eight pages, with six Favs per page) can be programmed. Normally I never bother to add favorites because it's mildly inconvenient, but with this remote it was so fast and easy - again didn't require breaking out a computer to do - that I added a whole page of my HD channels.

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