UNIVERSAL REMOTE & ACCESSORY REVIEWS

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Darryl Wilkinson Posted: Oct 02, 2014 0 comments
It’s disappointing to note that, already well into the second decade of the 21st century, the smartest component of most people’s homes is a programmable thermostat—and chances are, it hasn’t been programmed since it was installed (if at all). But you can’t really blame homeowners for not rushing in droves to embrace home automation or, as it’s more often called, the “smart home.” Neither the high cost of reliable systems nor the low reliability of cheap systems has been all that enticing.
Darryl Wilkinson Posted: Oct 02, 2014 0 comments

Performance
Features
Ergonomics
Value
PRICE $99

AT A GLANCE
Plus
Z-Wave and ZigBee radios built in
In-app live chat support
Supports multiple third-party devices and services
Minus
Doesn’t support Insteon
No tablet-specific app layout

THE VERDICT
The SmartThings Hub offers an impressive range of support, its app is powerful and smartly designed, and it’s a great value.

As with all up-and-coming DIY home automation systems, the SmartThings Hub is intended to make your life a living nirvana, bringing peace, love, and, yes, even rock ’n’ roll (grunge or otherwise) into your smart home. The $99 price—with a free app and no monthly subscription fees—is certainly a tasty enticement for someone with a sweet tooth for home automation on the cheap. But the big question is whether there’s enough meaty substance to the SmartThings system to satisfy a homeowner’s long-term automation hunger. Or does SmartThings give nothing more than a sugar high that inevitably leads to a disappointing crash later on?

Darryl Wilkinson Posted: Oct 02, 2014 0 comments
Performance
Features
Ergonomics
Value
PRICE $299

AT A GLANCE
Plus
Seven radios built in
Extremely easy initial setup
Minus
Pricey next to other DIY automation hubs
Lacks some advanced programming features

THE VERDICT
The Revolv Hub is a powerhouse that looks to be relatively future-proof from a hardware standpoint. A great choice for a newbie.

Humble isn’t a word anyone would associate with Revolv and their distinctive, teardrop-shaped, little red smart-home controller—which the company calls, with uncharacteristic restraint, the Hub. In fact, this device is easily the flashiest and most recognizable of all the smart home gadgets around today.

John Sciacca Posted: Oct 16, 2012 0 comments

App is a word that was barely even part of the public lexicon a few years ago, but now has become such an entrenched part of it that even my mom — quite possibly the least technologically inclined person on the planet — drops the phrase, “There’s probably an app for that.”

Kim Wilson Posted: Aug 21, 2012 5 comments

Performance
Build Quality
Value
Price: $70 At a Glance: Universal remote control system for iPhone/iPad/iPod touch • Controls all IR devices in multiple rooms • Extensive customization

The VooMote Zapper from zero1.tv is another universal remote control app/hardware solution for the iPhone. It’s unique among a batch of such apps as it doesn’t require an external device that you have to place near your A/V gear. Instead, there’s a small dongle that plugs into the iPhone’s 30-pin port. The dongle costs $70, a full $30 less than most other iPhone universal control systems, and it interfaces with a free app that you can download from the iTunes App Store.

Brent Butterworth Posted: Jul 17, 2012 0 comments

There’s some debate among vinylphiles about whether USB phono preamps need to exist, but I for one am glad they do. When I bring home my latest haul of vinyl from Amoeba Records, I love being able to plug a laptop straight into my NAD PP 3 to make quick MP3s of albums I like so I can listen to them on my smartphone. (Sacrilege!) It’s easier than making an analog connection, and it bypasses the lousy analog-to-digital converter built into my laptop.

With the Zphono-USB, Parasound brings new versatility and features to the USB phono pre concept.

David Vaughn Posted: Jul 05, 2012 0 comments
Do wireless HDMI kits really work? We test three to find out.

In late 2003, HDMI-equipped consumer-electronic devices started to appear on the market. Unfortunately, the transition to digital has been anything but smooth. Although HDMI was a vast improvement over DVI (Digital Visual Interface) in its ability to carry both audio and video in one cable, it came with its own set of issues.

John Sciacca Posted: Jun 06, 2012 0 comments

Summer’s arrival means it’s time to peel your pasty self off of the couch and head outside for a little sunshine and fresh air. But just because you’re stepping outside the indoor A/V sanctuary doesn’t mean you have to go all Trappist monk with your entertainment. And I’m not talking about dragging an iPod and headphones or (heaven forbid) some relic of a boombox outside.

Bob Ankosko Posted: May 29, 2012 0 comments
Performance
Features
Ergonomics
Value
Price: $129 At a Glance: Turns any HDTV into a videophone • Easy-to-use onscreen interface • Simple set-up—usually

Don’t be fooled by the name and calligraphic logo. You won’t find this Biscotti at Starbucks or the local pastry shop, but it does pop up on Amazon.com when you search “Biscotti TV Phone” (“Biscotti” alone leads you to an excellent selection of the scrumptious Italian biscuits). Although video chatting on computers has been around for years, business-style video conferencing on a big screen is still rare among everyday consumers—something Biscotti Inc. hopes to change with its tiny Biscotti-shaped TV phone.

Kim Wilson Posted: Apr 30, 2012 3 comments

Performance
Features
Ergonomics
Value
Price: $99 At A Glance: Control A/V gear from an iOS device or Android smartphones • Access to Logitech Harmony’s vast database of IR codes • Simplified setup of complex macro commands • Exclusive iPad feature offers logo-based TV guide

There are plenty of universal remotes to choose from, but my favorite has always been the Harmony line of remotes from Logitech. Their seamless integration with an online database offers fast and simple end-user programming. Knowing this, I was really looking forward to reviewing the Harmony Link, which provides the same simple programming as all other Harmony remotes. The big difference: Instead of programming an actual remote, the Harmony Link accesses your home Wi-Fi network to allow control of your A/V gear with an iOS device (iPhone, iPad, or iPod touch running iOS 4.0 or later) or Android smartphone (running OS 2.0 to 2.3.4; not tablets, yet).

Brent Butterworth Posted: Mar 15, 2011 0 comments
A product that functions imperfectly yet possesses a singular character can be as enjoyable to own as one that delivers unassailable performance. Before you argue the point, know that millions of Harley owners stand ready to back me up.
Kim Wilson Posted: Mar 08, 2011 1 comments
Apps for the home theater enthusiast.

I’m still amused by the naysayers who said the iPad was inconsequential: a product with limited use that no one asked for. Fast-forward to 2011, and it’s one of the hottest mobile devices ever, creating a new product category much in the way Apple did with the iPod and iPhone. It’s more than a giant iPhone, as some like to call it. In fact, many of the things you liked about the iPhone, you’ll appreciate more with the iPad. One such category is A/V control apps. Many manufacturers have adopted the Apple iOS platform—first the iPhone and now the iPad—with dedicated interfaces for controlling their products and systems.

John Sciacca Posted: Jan 14, 2011 0 comments

There are so many Pow! Bang! Ka-chow! buzzwords thrown out by the consumer electronics industry's marketing war chariots that smaller, more important things often get lost or completely overwhelmed in the ground clutter.

Darryl Wilkinson Posted: Jan 26, 2009 0 comments
Price: $400 At A Glance: Access to news, sports, weather, and Amazon Top 10 lists • Many components are not available in the built-in database • Electronic Program Guide updates via home Wi-Fi network

High Wi-Fi (Not Wifey)

Acceptance Factor
From the waist down, Acoustic Research’s ARRU449 looks like the stereotypical universal remote control with a symmetrically arranged layout of small, backlit buttons. From the waist up, though, there’s a bright and colorful LCD screen that quickly catches your attention. Invisible to the eye is the remote’s other distinguishing feature: Wi-Fi connectivity. This allows the remote to access the Internet through your wireless network in order to download Electronic Program Guide (EPG) information along with news and weather highlights. In addition, the ARRU449 can periodically download software updates as they become available. Even though the ARRU449 can access the Internet, it doesn’t include a Web browser. That means you can’t go online directly. Instead, the remote uses something called click365 technology to download the EPG and other data—including news, weather, and sports stories—in the background.

Darryl Wilkinson Posted: Jan 26, 2009 0 comments
Price: $250 At A Glance: Exceptionally intuitive • Web-based setup procedure • Help function uses questions and answers to fix system problems • Programmable power-on, inter-key, inter-device delays

Pretty and Pretty Smart

I don’t know what they put in the water cooler at Logitech, but I want to start drinking it. The Harmony One is another in its long list of affordable universal remote controls. It looks great, is easy to program, and is sweetly simple to use. The Harmony One is as narrow as most single-device remotes, but it’s thinner and surprisingly light. It’s even easier to hold and use. At the business end is a bright 1.25-by-1.5-inch color touchscreen with enough resolution that you can easily recognize the tiny DVD logo on the DVD player icon. The backlit hard keys are distinctly grouped together by function (transport, numeric keypad, etc.). Although the individual keys are only slightly larger than those on an average remote, each has its own unique shape and is spaced far enough apart so that you can easily use the remote for basic operations without looking at it. The Harmony One includes a built-in motion sensor that’s supposed to wake the remote when you pick it up. It’s not super sensitive, though, so sometimes you’ll need to give the remote a quick shake to bring it to life. To recharge the battery, just place the remote in its horizontal charging cradle. My older Harmony 890 is sometimes finicky and refuses to make contact—and therefore doesn’t charge—when resting in its cradle. This one has a deeper well that ensures a solid connection between the contact points on the remote and the charging cradle. By the way, the rechargeable battery is removable and replaceable, much like a cordless phone’s battery. This makes it environmentally friendly, and it won’t force you to buy a new remote when the battery finally expires.

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