Is the iPhone the Ultimate AV Remote Control?

Stand-alone touch screen controllers and universal remotes have a new rival in the quest to eliminate coffee table clutter… the Apple iPhone. There is now a wide array of applications with solutions for your home entertainment needs, whether it is setting your DVR, streaming whole-house audio, or having access to all the electronic devices in your home. All iPhone apps are downloaded from the iTunes App store and in most cases can also be used on the iPod Touch.

Ever leave home and forget to set your DVR? It's certainly frustrating if it's the season finale of your favorite show. The actual name of the app has been bolded and italicized, so you can easily search the App store.

If you are a DirecTV subscriber, the free app comes in handy during such lapses of memory. You can search for your favorite shows (title or channel) up to two weeks in advance and set them to record once, or even the entire season. It's possible to even record pay-per-view movies.

The DVR Remote manages TiVo Series 3, TiVo HD and TiVo HD XL DVRs. Not only can you record your favorite shows from where ever you are, the app also includes a control screen with Play, Pause, Fast Forward and Rewind buttons, which legitimizes the $2.99 price tag. You can browse and search for shows and movies by actor, title, director, Daily Recommendations and Most Popular. The app also features Amazon Video on Demand and YouTube. The free "lite" version of the app has fewer navigation buttons and has considerable browsing limitations.

If you are Slingbox owner, you'll love the SlingPlayer Mobile that allows you to watch or control your Slingbox SOLO, PRO, or PRO-HD directly from your iPhone/Touch. Change channels, control your DVR and watch your favorite shows either at home or on the go. There are no monthly fees, just the cost of the app ($29.99). This app could be the reason to finally get yourself a Sling Media product. According to the company, it only functions with WiFi at Apple's request.

The iPhone ships with a simple Remote app that controls the iTunes music library on your computer or Apple TV over WiFi. You can do many of the same things you would do in iTunes, such as scan your artwork and create/edit playlists.

Controlling music seems to be a natural for the iPhone with several apps designed to control specific music streaming systems. The first such app that caught my attention comes from Sonos. This free app turns your iPhone into a fully operational Sonos Controller (a $400 value). For what you save on the stand-alone controller, you can buy more zone players. From the iPhone you pick a zone, then chose a playlist or a song to play. You can group zones together, in any combination, for complete whole-house audio.

If you are using Logitech's Squeezebox player and the Squeeze Center server, download iPeng from Penguin Loves Music, Inc. Sync multiple Squeezebox players (just like grouping zone players with the Sonos system) and play the same music in several locations. Manage your playlists and listen to Internet music and music services such as Rhapsody. The app sells for $9.99.

If you've connected the Roku Soundbridge to your home network, the $2.99 RokuRemote allows you to select Internet stations, make individual selections by artist, album, or song. You can change the volume, pause, advance, or repeat a song, even select repeat, and shuffle for playback of the current playlist.

Taking it up a few notches, ReQuest, provides comprehensive IP-based music and movie server systems. While they have keypads and touch screen panels, there is also the ReQuest app that provides the same level of control for any of their N, F or S Media servers. (It is not compatible with their IQ system.) You can quickly find a song by artist or genre, play entire albums or playlists, even search, and sort your collection.

Many key manufacturers of home automation systems offer an iPhone app to control their IP-based systems ( need an Internet connection) including Crestron, Control4, Savant Systems, Lifeware, and HomeLogic. All the apps are free, except one.

It's important to note that you can't do anything with these apps if you don't have a system installed in your home. Savant Systems even makes sure you think twice before downloading with an eye-popping $199 purchase price. The only home automation system and media server built on the Mac OS, Savant's ROSIE Home Automation system allows customers to control all their AV gear, and other subsystems such as lighting, security and climate control from a highly sophisticated iPhone interface.

Crestron, the company whose name is synonymous with revolutionary touchscreen controllers and fascinating graphic user interfaces (GUI) also brings fully integrated control to the iPhone. When you launch the Crestron app, communication is automatically established between the mobile device and the Crestron control system. The iPhone will display the Crestron GUI and seamlessly control and manage all of your home entertainment and environmental systems just like you would from a dedicated Crestron touchpanel.

Displaying Control4's standard interface, the app Control4 My House works exclusively with home automation systems using the company's Director version 1.7 or later. A Mobile Navigator License is required to begin operation. Use the iPhone app to view the feeds from your security cameras, control the climate, lighting, and AV devices in any room of the house.

An elegant and inexpensive alternative to their touch panels, Lifeware controls playback of stored media, AV equipment, and all other installed subsystems. Since Lifeware works with Microsoft Windows XP Media Center you can even view and record content right on your Media Center PC. Who said Apple and Microsoft can't co-exist?

Like all the other apps, the HomeLogic app lets you control all your home systems when using HomeLogic solutions. However, this is the only app that offers a live demo so you can see what an iPhone controlled system can do. The HomeLogic demo allows you to navigate through the individual screens and make adjustments to see how the app functions. When you get to the screen that controls your TV and see how easy it is to pick your favorite stations just by their unique icons, you'll be searching for your local HomeLogic dealer. Smart sales tool, guys.

A few companies provide iPhone apps to control their gadgets such as the free VUDU Movie Catalog app that allows subscribers of the service to browse and search the catalog (as long as there is WIFI). Find what you want, and then rent or purchase your movie and it will be waiting for you to watch at your leisure. I sure wish Apple would do this for the Apple TV's movie rental functions. Duh!

Remotescape is designed for controlling all of their highly acclaimed Kaleidescape Music Players. The iPhone interface is designed for one handed-operation, allowing you to browse and play music from any room in the house without sitting in front of a TV monitor. Use iPhone's 'flick' gestures to scroll through albums, by artist, genre, and track or scan the details of a particular film. Remote control buttons – fast forward, reverse, pause, stop, and play – are also provided. For all this functionality and a lot more, the app was priced at $59.99.

If you have a lot of Z-wave compatible home automation gear you should download Melloware’s $9.99 ZWave Commander app, allowing complete control of your ZWave devices from anywhere in the world. You'll need a ControlThink USB ThinkStick connected to your PC (Windows only) for the ZWave Commander to communicate with your gear. Unlike other apps that need WiFi, the ZWave Commander also works on 3G and Edge networks. It also uses the iPhone's unique scroll wheel for easy selections.

A relatively new company, ThinkFlood, is releasing the RedEye system, which will be the first universal remote for the iPhone. As of press time, the app was not yet available in the iTunes App store but I had to include it in my roundup. The app itself will be free for download in September, however, the associated hardware will run $149.00, pretty much what you would expect to spend on a highly adaptive universal remote anyway. The RedEye hub uses Wi-Fi, which means no line of sight is required. The hub receives the iPhone’s commands and sends out infrared signals to control your devices. It will be possible to control almost an infinite number of components and multiple iPhones can be set up, allowing everyone in the household to have their own remote. The Hub's built-in iPod dock also serves as a charger.

With only a couple of years into its development, the iPhone/Touch is proving to be the ultimate gadget with a solution for just about everything. Even as I was wrapping up this rather extensive round up, I heard that Denon is considering an app to work with the Enhanced Web Browser functionality in their networked AVRs. I think it's safe to say, this is only the beginning, and there will be a lot more exciting and intriguing apps in the months and years to come.