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Doing the job of a dozen ‘remotes’

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SMART REMOTE: The Harmony 1000 can control up to 15 home entertainment devices in the room via Infra Red.
SMART REMOTE: The Harmony 1000 can control up to 15 home entertainment devices in the room via Infra Red.

Anand Parthasarathy

Multiple TV-DVD-music controls in a single device

Bangalore: Those old enough to have been around when television first came to most parts of India in the early 1980s will remember the envy unleashed by the few, whose pricier sets came with a ‘remote.’ While the rest of us jumped up and down, adjusting volume and making a selection of among the two or three channels available, the lucky ones remotely operated their TV, from the comfort of their sofa.... thanks to a new technology called Infra Red.

Remotes had been around from 1957 — but the old technology used ordinary light or sound — leading to many false operations.

What has changed, 25 years later, is the number of separate remotes you have to handle — if like many homes these days, your drawing room includes a TV, a VCR or DVD player, a music or home theatre system. Most family members except the resident geek, just can’t be bothered to manage the complex controls, let alone tell one remote from another.

Enter the Universal Remote: A canny solution that promises to combine the functions of multiple remotes in one device. The grey market in most Indian metros offers dozens of these gadgets — most of them unbranded — that cost anything from Rs. 2000-Rs. 5000. But customers find that they are not truly universal and may not work with all the entertainment boxes one already owns.

A sort of Rolls Royce among universal remotes launched worldwide earlier this year, by Logitech, has just come to India. It is the Harmony 1000 — the name comes from a U.S. maker of remotes, that Logitech has acquired. The Hindu has tried out the “Harmony 1000 Advanced Universal Remote” — and it is as close as one can get to a truly universal point-and-control device. About the size of a small cassette player, it weighs just 160 gm, and comes with a 9-cm diagonal touch screen whose basic menu allows you to choose between, “Watch TV,” “Watch DVD,” “Record video,” “Listen to music,” “Play a game,” etc. It has a built-in mobile phone-type battery and sits on a charger-cum-docking station when not in use.

The unit has to be ‘trained’ to work with all your entertainment equipment before it can replace their remotes. For this you have to connect the console to a PC or laptop via a USB cable (provided), install the software provided on a CD and then select the names and model numbers of your TV, DVD player or whatever from a list that includes over 5000 manufacturers and 175,000 device numbers. The Harmony can control a maximum of 15 devices.

It takes time and patience to programme the Harmony 1000 to work with your systems — you must tell it how you normally operate: do you use the volume control on your TV or the DVD player. This “breaking in” could take a couple of hours — but it is a one-time task. After that the Harmony takes over. If you say “see DVD movie,” it will perform the sequence of manual tasks like shifting the TV channel to “AV,” turning on and linking the DVD player; even adjusting the aspect ratio of the film.

The Harmony 1000 might seem to be a costly solution — at Rs. 27,995. But these days many homes boast LCD or plasma TV or home theatre systems, Bose sound units, and maybe soon, high definition Blu Ray or HD-DVD players. When you have blown Rs.1 or 2 lakh on such set-ups, the Harmony 1000 might seem a reasonable additional price to pay for never having to negotiate the “remote” jungle ever again.

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