Niles IC2 Home Theater Automation & Control System

The Short Form
$999 / NILESAUDIO.COM / 800-289-4434
A home theater controller that's simple enough for anyone to use, but its eight activity cutoff might prove limiting with some systems
• Incredibly simple system operation • RS-232 control • Terrific wireless range • Reliable source status sensing
• Only eight Master Keys • Large compared to many remotes
Key Features
• Two-piece system consisting of iC2 handheld remote and HT-MSU • Wireless two-way operation using ZigBee RF technology • One-touch system control with eight master keys • (8) IR and RS-232 outputs • (3) Status sense inputs intelligently monitor source power • Long-life rechargeable lithium-ion battery

Home theater systems have become so insanely complicated to operate in recent years that universal remote controls are now practically standard fare. But even with a universal remote, many systems are still too complex for everyone in the family to easily use.

Niles first tackled this problem 12 years ago with their IntelliControl remote. At the time of its introduction, that model offered many unique control features and was a big hit among custom installers and users alike. But the IntelliControl has started to show its age and limitations in recent years. It was finally time to put the IntelliControl out to pasture and bring in a new stud.

Cue the iC2 Home Theater Automation & Control System. Like its predecessor, this remote is designed to prevent you from thinking about how your system works and let you get back to actually enjoying it. But many other remotes also promise simple operation, so I wondered if the iC2 could actually deliver.


The iC2 is actually a two-part control system consisting of a hand-held remote controller and an HT-MSU (Home Theater Main System Unit) that sits near your electronics, and which you will probably never have reason to touch. The remote communicates with the HT-MSU using 2-way ZigBee radio frequency (RF) signals, meaning you don't need to "point" it at anything. This also means that it works through walls and will control your components even if they are located in a closet, in another room, or behind closed cabinet doors. The ZigBee signals work in the 2.4-Gigahertz frequency range and offer much greater range and resistance to interference than the original IntelliControl remote's one-way, 416-Megahertz signals.

Like all universal remote controls, the iC2 requires programming before it can learn the particular nuances of your system and actually function . However, unlike many remote controls, the iC2 must be programmed using special Niles hardware that is only available to trained Niles dealers. While this makes professional programming an absolute must, you'll never have to wonder if the remote was programmed correctly.

Even though your daily interaction will be with the iC2 remote itself, that unit actually requires very little setup. You first select from the 511 preprinted tags to label the eight "Master Keys." Niles provides a huge array of tags, from source names like CD, DVD, and Blu-ray, to activities Movies, Games, and Music, etc., along with program genres and channel IDs. You should have no problem customizing it to your liking.

The iC2's business end is the HT-MSU. This is where the programming gets loaded and stored, and where all physical connections are made to your components. Niles did a really nice job redesigning the HT-MSU from the previous version. It's roughly the size of a small hardback book and only 1-inch thick, meaning it can be mounted or placed practically anywhere.

Since the HT-MSU is the liaison between the iC2 remote and your electronics, it features a variety of connections to make sure everything behaves. Each of its 8 sources features both IR (Infrared) and RS-232 output. The RS-232 outputs are one-way only, meaning the HT-MSU can't receive any communication back from the component. However, RS-232 control is still preferable to IR for a few reasons. First, it's a hard-wired solution opposed to those emitters that get affixed to the front of the unit and are prone to falling off. Second, there are often RS-232 codes and commands that aren't available when using IR. Finally, components respond quicker and more reliably to RS-232 than to IR.

The HT-MSU has three assignable contact closure relays and three assignable 12-volt outputs for automation tasks like lowering video screens or triggering power amplifiers. And there's also an IR input for connecting an external IR target to the system and a global "all" IR output. Connections needed by the installer include a USB port for diagnostic testing, an RF Test port that shows whether the unit is receiving and sending commands, and an RJ-45 jack for system downloads.

Finally, the HT-MSU provides "status inputs" for each source that are used to determine whether a particular component is on or off. Since this concept is slightly arcane, it requires a bit of explanation. Most remote controls simply issue "dumb" macro commands. For instance, if you tell it in programming that your TV needs to be on when you watch a DVD, it will issue a power command every time you start that activity. But if your TV doesn't have discrete commands for power on and power off, the remote might actually turn the TV off . By sensing the power status of each device, the iC2 can use intelligence to determine whether or not to send a power command, ensuring that devices get turned on when they should be. And since each device has its own unique sense input, Niles also offers a host of sensors to monitor factors like current draw or light output.

Since any programming changes require a service call from your installer, I'd suggest you ask for a follow-up "tweaking" visit when you purchase the remote. After you've had a chance to live with it for a bit, you'll likely think of some minor changes that would make the remote exactly to your liking.