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Controlling Your Home Theater? There’s an iPhone App for That

Anyone who owns an iPhone or iPod touch likely knows how many quality applications (“apps”) are available at Apple’s App Store (part of iTunes).

Whether you’re searching for dinner recipes, learning about astronomy, playing games or streaming online music, the App Store now boasts more than 150,000 downloadable apps — and counting.

But what about those who prefer spending time in their home theater opposed to on-the-go entertainment seekers? Yep, there are apps for them, too. And plenty of them.

The following is a look at what’s new and newsworthy for iPhone and iPod touch owners.

NewKinetix Rē Universal iPhone Remote Control

Remote possibilities

A handful of apps can turn your iPhone into a universal remote capable of controlling your HDTV and other home theater components.

The NewKinetix Rē Universal iPhone Remote Control (newkinetix.com), for example, communicates with all your AV equipment via infrared (IR) — by either “learning” from the original remote or taking advantage of its extensive database of device codes. The app is free, but the IR dongle that snaps into the dock connector is $69.95.

ThinkFlood’s new RedEye Mini (thinkflood.com), on the other hand, is a universal remote solution that doesn’t require the iPhone or iPod touch’s dock connector, therefore you could charge it up at the same time. Instead, the small antenna plugs into the headphone jack and lets you control your gear up to 30 feet away. The $50 hardware should be available this spring (to replace the previous RedEye dongle, which sells for $188) and the free app is currently available at the App Store. With this download you can customize the user-interface in a number of ways, including support for multi-touch, accelerometer and custom macro commands.

Another contender — the L5 Remote (l5remote.com) — should be available this May and also requires a snap-in dongle.

Sound investment

“Speaker docks” are a popular accessory to an iPod or iPhone, but there are a few obvious limitations: you might want your iPod or iPhone to surf the web, read email or play games while listening to music; you can only hear tunes if you’re near the speaker; and you probably have a much bigger music collection on your computer’s hard drive.

Sonos iPhone App

The Sonos ZonePlayer S5 (sonos.com), however, addresses all three of these issues. While it resembles a large white and grey speaker dock, this premium speaker system ($399 per room) wirelessly streams music over your WiFi network, granting you access to everything on your PC (or external hard drive), as well as pooling from thousands of online radio stations that broadcast music or talk.

In fact, thanks to a free downloadable app, simply pull out your iPhone or iPod touch and use your fingertip to select songs from your entire collection — searchable by artist, song, album, and so forth — and you can even queue songs to play in the order you like. Or tap to access online music stations from around the world, covering all genres, and with the ability to bookmark your favourites.

You can place a Sonos ZonePlayer 5 in any room in your home (or on a backyard deck) and hear something different in each room, if you like, or synchronize them all to play the same tune at the same time.

The sound quality is also top-notch, even rivaling (nay, outperforming) the impressive Bose SoundDock products. Each unit houses a 5-driver speaker for well-balanced and powerful audio. Volume can be controlled on the Sonos speaker or via the iPod touch or iPhone.

If desired, you can also connect other devices to any ZonePlayer, such as a regular iPod or CD player, and have that audio streamed around the home, too.

Aside from the relatively steep price tag, the only other downside to the Sonos ZonePlayer 5 system is that one needs to be wired to your high-speed modem or router (Ethernet cable included), but then all the rest can be wireless. Or if you own a previous Sonos bridge, that’ll do the trick, too.