You’ve heard the rave reviews about the Logitech Harmony line’s computer-programmable remote controls. Some consumers, however, are understandably turned off by using a computer interface to do anything—especially if it requires downloading software. On a bad day, it can be a real pain. Thankfully, Universal Remote Control offers a remote with similar functionality to Logitech’s models with their new URC Digital R50. The major difference is that all the codes you need to ensure compatibility with the various components in your system are already programmed into the device, obviating the need for computer as middleman. In a word: Woo-hoo!
This midrange model features a bright, 2-inch color LCD screen, which doubles as your interface for setting up the remote. The R50 is backlit, so it’s easy to use in the dark. On its right side, there is a button labeled “Light” that you can feel by hand that, when pressed, causes the remote’s buttons to glow a warm red.
As far as ergonomics go, this is a very pleasing unit, with a hefty feel in the hand and nice feedback from the rubber buttons. It’s 9 inches long by 2.25 inches wide, and takes 4 AA batteries. We also like the remote’s tapered black waist, which makes finding the channel, volume, and much-used DVR buttons very easy.
Unlike some remotes on which keys all look the same, this wand has a sort of sectional feel to it. The top is devoted to the aforementioned LCD screen and below that, you have the Main button, which helps you set up and configure the remote. Farther down, a four-way toggle button gets you through all your components’ various menu systems. At the very bottom, you’ll find the video functions and a numeric keypad. The remote can control up to 18 devices, which is plenty for most users.
The URC R50 is one of the easiest remotes we’ve ever attempted set up, which is a large part of its appeal—especially for the non-technically inclined. The packaging includes a one-sheet guide to help you get started, but you really don’t even need that. Why? An intuitive setup wizard is ready to take you through the simple steps to get your gear up and running and consolidate your remote controls. (If it should fail to launch, just hit the Main button for a few seconds, and away you go.) We successfully programmed a DirecTV receiver, Oppo Digital DVD player, Sony receiver and Panasonic TV in minutes. The only component we had trouble with was our PlayStation 3, but more on that later.
You’ll start by completing the Basic Setup, which must be finished before you move on to more advanced features. Once you select Basic Setup on the LCD, the remote will ask you if you want to Search the Database, which is the most straightforward way to find your component’s codes. Choose this option, and the LCD will display labels for the six buttons surrounding it that will eventually correspond to your gear. Afterwards, merely select “Add a New Device,” pick the type of device you are adding (i.e. “TV”), highlight a manufacturer, and toggle through the codes until the remote successfully turns on your TV. Once it does, you know you have found the right code and can move on to your next piece of equipment. Configuring your remote like this takes no time flat.
Furthermore, if you can’t find your model, you can simply choose to have the R50 learn the device’s code. Just go back to the Setup menu, toggle down to Learn, and follow the prompts. Basically, you will need to point the device’s dedicated remote control at the R50 and hold down the power button until the screen says you are good to go. The ability to learn new devices keeps the R50 from becoming obsolete as its codes become outdated.
Learning a new code, however, is where we did run into a little trouble. We couldn’t find the ubiquitous Sony PlayStation 3 in the R50’s database, which was a bit baffling. Then, when we tried to teach the R50 the PlayStation’s code via the learning feature, it didn’t work. As it turns out, the R50 is strictly infrared, and will not work with a Bluetooth remote, hence the problem. Therefore you’d need a RF remote and an RF-to-Bluetooth dongle to control the system.
When it comes to watching TV, you can also input 48 of your favorite channels into the six buttons surrounding the LCD. The R50 has a database of 60 often-used logos—like HBO and CNN—for corresponding channels, making your GUI a little more interesting.
Once you are set up with basic functionality for your various components, you are ready to explore the R50’s advanced features. Cheerfully, as we discovered, you can program macros—which perform sequences of events in rapid succession—with ease. You simply start the Macro recorder then physically perform the actions you want the remote to do for you in the desired sequence. For example, if you want to watch a movie, you’d power on the TV, select the appropriate input, power on the receiver and switch it to the appropriate input, power on the DVD player, and then hit play. When the macro has recorded these events, the R50 will do all this for you at the press of just one button. It’s shockingly simple, and a system that works with surprising reliability.
Another cool feature is the R50’s Sofa Mode, which means that if you accidentally sit on the remote, the R50 will prevent battery drain if a button is pressed for too long. It’s a handy feature considering how often remotes get lost in couch cushions.
Overall, the URC Digital R50 is a refreshing change of pace. It’s nice to be able to find everything you need already preprogrammed into the remote control, rather than having to drag out your laptop, or worse, dragging the R50 to your desktop (which may or may not be located near your home entertainment system) to find each component’s operating code. Beyond ease of setup, the gizmo’s also a pleasure to use on a daily basis. Most importantly though, it will help consolidate the clutter adorning your coffee table, ensuring that any home theater buff will find the unit a welcome viewing companion.
• No computer needed for set up
• Easy to navigate button layout
• Great build quality
• Quick, painless set up through remote’s LCD screen
• Doesn’t work with Bluetooth devices, such as Sony PS3