Monster Cable Monster Central Control AVL300

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Universal remotes: Some we love, some we hate. But either way, we know we need them. Attempting to control a modern day A/V system without one is a fool's errand. If you don't believe me, just wait until your significant other calls in a rage because she can't get the Dora the Explorer DVD playing to quiet your screaming child.

Now, if you're an electronics manufacturer looking to fill this need by offering a smart remote control, you've got a couple of choices. You can design and build one from scratch, but why reinvent the wheel when Logitech's Harmony brand has already done such a great job? Wouldn't it be easier to just license their interface, not to mention their library of thousands of command codes encompassing nearly every piece of gear on the planet? Exactly. Which is what cable giant Monster Cable has done with its new Monster Central Control AVL300. With one move, Monster has catapulted itself into the remote business. But why buy a Monster?

SETUP Nearly as important as how well a universal remote control works is how easily it programs. Whether you're a user or an installer who works on many remotes each week, programming should be simple and straightforward. The Monster AVL300 uses a modified version of Harmony's well-respected programming software - specifically, the version 6 software used for Harmony 890 remotes - which they have relabeled "Monster Central Control."

The modifications include some key changes that really differentiate the AVL300: the ability to add lighting control, as well as to control multiple systems throughout a home. (The multisystem functionality is limited by the fact that the remote can support no more than 15 devices, so if you have two full-blown theaters, you'll likely be out of luck.)

Harmony's version 6 software is definitely more tedious and time-consuming than version 5, and Monster's modifications make the programming slightly more time-consuming by adding multiple rooms to the equation. You're asked to wade through different screens before you can get to the adjustment you want to make: Select the room, select the activity, select the device. A simple change on my cable box takes ten mouse-clicks and nearly as many screens. And since each page you program is transmitted over the Internet, you are often w-a-i-t-i-n-g for screens to load. This detailed process might be helpful or even necessary for the novice programmer, but professionals like me will find themselves hankering for quicker access to programming changes. (This dig is not aimed specifically at the Monster software, but at the Harmony version 6 software interface in general.)

During programming, you indicate whether you want each device to be controlled by the remote itself (infrared) or through the supplied OmniLink RF (radio frequency) extender. The OmniLink has four IR outputs that are individually assignable, as well as a "blaster" that can flood a cabinet with infrared commands. Individual assignability won't be important for most systems but will be welcome in those with multiple identical components such as CD players, DSS receivers, or XM tuners.