of all this is not intended to be a tutorial on any given remote, but rather a
discussion on the different types of programmable remotes and the capabilities available to
help you know what to look for in choosing a remote. This first
installment is going to cover the handheld conventional style programmable remotes that
primarily use buttons, some combined with small LCD displays, and the touch
screen type will be covered at a later date as I wanted to concentrate on the
more affordable and popular types first.
several makers of fully programmable remotes and to go through in detail how to
exactly program each would be a truly lengthy document, so this essay will
concentrate on a single remote, the Home Theater Master by Universal Remote
Controls, Inc. model MX-850.
I prefer the
MX-850 or the Logitech Harmony 880 style remotes because they are a very nice
blend of LCD display technology with a full function programmable remote.
I prefer this style over the touch screen type remotes, like the Philips Pronto
or the Home Theater Master 3000 series, because they have the necessary basic
groups of buttons that is needed to operate most every piece of equipment you
will have in your system. The MX-850 has the basic VOLume
up/down, MUTE, CHannel
up/down and PREV CH as well as the numeric buttons
in the Device Basic Control Group, complete transport buttons and menu navigation
buttons. Buttons for these basic functions being present on the remote as
opposed to buried on some touch screen I have found to be the primary strength
of the MX-850 over the touch screen types.
Now don't get me
wrong, the touch screen style remotes have their place, but all in all the
MX-850 style overall is a better application for most people. First of all
they are less costly than the touch screen and also the presence of the buttons
not only make the remote easier to use, (hard to operate a lot of touch screens
without a stylus due to fat fingers) but also better mimic the remotes people
are used to using.
I have found
that many people, especially women, have memorized their channel numbers for the
particular programming service they use and would really rather just punch in a
channel number to switch channels rather than having to find the channel icon in
a series of touch screen displays, or having to switch to a numeric keypad
screen to enter a channel number. I have yet found a person that prefers a
touch screen's tactile feel to a real button as well.
is shown to the right. It features a pair of power buttons - one for
ON and one for OFF
along with the display group of buttons in the top portion of the remote.
display group of buttons feature 10 buttons arraigned 5 on each side of
the display and the idea behind these buttons is the display serves as the
label for the button. In the example to the right, the button to the
right of the display labeled TV would switch
the system to the TV page when pressed. Same for the other
buttons. This is a critical feature required to have a truly
universal programmable remote. Without the ability to both change
the function and the label of some buttons will restrict a remote to only
being able to perform the operations furnished by the remote manufacturer,
so bear this in mind when choosing a remote.
great about the MX-850 is it features enough buttons to be able to perform
most of the operations each device requires for the basic control, volume,
channel change, mute, play, fast forward, rewind, pause, etc, just like
the non programmable universal remotes.
MX-850 Programmable Remote
will go into the design thought process that should be gone through when
designing your system. Issues that should be paramount are those
that relate to how you will use the system rather than the individual
components within the system. Too many times a MX-850 remote is set
up with the components only in mind and not much thought as to how the
system will be used. What you end up with often is a remote that
requires unnecessary switching from one device to another to control your
system and not much better in operation than a good non-programmable
universal remote control would provide.
point it should be explained the difference between a device oriented
remote and an activity oriented remote. The device oriented
remotes only perform the necessary functions for the device selected
whereas the activity oriented remotes control the system for the activity
selected. The difference being when a given activity is selected the
various groups of buttons will actually control different
components. For example, if we choose to watch a DVD as an activity,
the transport keys would operate the DVD, but the volume controls would
operate the TV or surround amplifier. Many non-programmable
universal remotes will have a certain degree of this capability in their
setup, but they don't have the flexibility to cover all of the bases as
will be covered as we go along.
style remotes can be either, but are much more powerful if programmed to
do both. The following is a sample programming session for a
MX-850. The software for using a personal computer to program a
MX-850 can be downloaded from the www.universalremote.com
site or using these links:
After you have installed MX
Editor, please use the "Live Update" feature to ensure you
have the latest version.
download the software and make a configuration without having to buy a
MX-850 to see if it is something you feel comfortable with.
The software will operate as an emulator as far as changing from page to
page. Also if you want to download the sample configuration used in
this essay click: Sample
Basic Philosophy The philosophy
of the MX-850 style remotes is to use the display group buttons to select
either a device to be controlled, or to select an activity that the system
is to perform, like the display group shown to the right. When the DVD
button is selected, the remote could be transformed into a clone of the
remote that came with the DVD, or the remote buttons can be programmed to operate
all of the devices required to watch DVDs.
Basic Setup The starting point for the MX-850
is the MAIN page. Anytime the MAIN PAGE 1 can be called up by
pressing the MAIN button located just below the LCD display. There can
be up to 2 MAIN pages and the MAIN
PAGE 2 is accessed by pressing the PAGE
button just to the left of the MAIN
button. I like to put all of the devices on MAIN
PAGE 2 rather than having any devices on MAIN
PAGE 1. This allows the MAIN PAGE 1
of to be used for the selection of the activities of your
system. Following this method will allow up to a total of up to10
activities on MAIN PAGE 1 and up to 10 devices
(components) on page 2. In order to accommodate this setup, an empty
(no devices) configuration is started with rather than starting with any
devices because if you select any devices they will be placed on MAIN
PAGE 1 by default. It is easy enough to configure the
remote from scratch, so there is nothing particularly to be gained by
selecting to add the devices during setup anyway.
configuration will have only a single page on the MAIN PAGE, so we want to
go ahead and add the second page for adding our devices. Next go to MAIN
PAGE 1 and enter the activities you want your system to be able
to perform. For this sample configuration I have chosen these 10
- Watch OTA HDTV
- Watch satellite TV
- Watch a DVD
- Watch A video tape
- Listen to XM satellite radio
- Listen to AM radio
- Listen to FM radio
- Listen to CDs
- Watch from DVR
- Watch camcorder
As you add the button labels you will notice there is a page created for
that button also. Every active button on the main pages will have a
page that the remote will jump to when the button is pressed.
Then go to MAIN
PAGE 2 and enter the
components in your system. For the devices I have chosen these:
AUDIO - Bose Lifestyle 18
CD - Pioneer 5 CD changer
DVD - Zenith XBV-343
VCR - Zenith XBV-343
SAT - Zenith HD-SAT-520
DVR - Cyberhome DVD burner
TV - Zenith Plasma
ATSC - LG tuner
SAT2 - Hughes GAEB0 for XM
To select the devices once entered in the button name box, go to the Program>2
IR Database menu selection and find/select your manufacturer and
model in the menu for each device.
Now when you choose the IR
database for your devices you will notice there are one or more pages added
to the configuration. These pages will contain all of the buttons
required to correspond to every button on the remote for that device.
Any buttons that are not a dedicated purpose button, those being the
dedicated buttons on the MX-850, will be placed on the LCD display.
For example, since the MX-850 does not have a set of disc select buttons,
the disc select buttons for the CD changer in the sample configuration we
are discussing would be added as display buttons in this case on page 2 of
the CD device pages:
Notice the only buttons that are
located on the LCD display button area are those that are not already on the
remote. For the stop, play, pause functions you would use the
dedicated buttons on the MX-850 in the transport area for those purposes.
I have created the terms activity
pages and device pages to denote a difference between pages that will hold
the device button IR codes and pages that will be used to control an
activity. These terms are not used in the MX-850 documentation.
Now it is possible to place the
device buttons on the MAIN
PAGE 1 but if you do so you will jump to the device pages rather
than an activity page. I prefer to create activity pages where I can
put activity related functions on the display buttons. Also it allows
the activity pages to be less complicated than the device pages usually
are. It also allows the buttons that may be wanted from the devices to
be more easily arraigned to where you would like them. Using the CD
changer device screens shown above as an example, we may wish to have only
the DISC1 through
DISC5 buttons on our activity display and on PAGE
1 rather than PAGE 2. Now it
is true that the buttons could be rearranged on the device screens to
accomplish this, but it is a complicated process to move buttons around
between pages. Sort of like working a Rubiks Cube. Besides I
like to shield the wife from buttons she may never need when I know I can
get to them through MAIN PAGE 2.
Now we have the activity and device pages configured we need to allow control of
the selected devices on the activity pages. The limits, by the way,
are 2 pages for the MAIN and up to 4 pages for
page groups accessed from the MAIN pages.
Then there are 5 pages available by pressing the FAV
button that is located to the right of the MAIN
button. Here is a block diagram - flow chart of our sample
device will have a different number of pages as they have as many as needed
to cover all of the buttons required by the device.
Programming In order to be able to fully control your system, the
MX-850 has the ability for most buttons to be programmed with a macro.
Macros are a series of IR commands and/or other operations required to make
the button perform as needed. An example of a macro program for a
button would be the buttons on the MAIN PAGE 1
or activities page. Each button when pushed will output a series of
commands in order to set up your system to operate for that activity.
Picking the button that is labeled DVD. When that button is pushed the
remote is programmed to perform the following steps:
the TV input to the DVD
the DVD player is on. (if it is on, it will stay on)
the DVD/VCR player to output DVD
the surround system to the DVD input
the aspect ratio to 16:9 on the TV
to the DVD activity page.
Once on an
activity page, that page's buttons should be mapped to operate the devices
as needed. For the DVD activity the following would be mapped:
volume group would be mapped to control the surround system.
transport group would be mapped to control the DVD player.
special buttons you use frequently are mapped into the display
buttons. This might be buttons such as ZOOM,
ANGLE, SEARCH, etc.
buttons that may be used on the activity pages might be for favorite
channels. Quite often I will use the PAGE 2
through PAGE 4 for favorite channels associated
with this particular source.
the other activity page buttons would be programmed with the appropriate
steps required to place the system into the required state to view that
particular activity in a similar manner.
this essay was helpful in conveying the basic approaches to setting up a
programmable remote and will give you some things to look for both in
buying a remote and programming a remote.