A basic home theater system often requires the integration of a half dozen A/V products, along with their requisite set of remote controls.
And, now, as products become more easily integrated, homeowners can expect to see even more remotes clutter the scene. While custom-programmed touch panels are the solution for some homeowners, others with more modest budgets have to shop for a different answer.
Fortunately for these A/V consumers, electronics manufacturers have been busy developing new product designs to address their needs. One such vendor is marketing an “ultimate solution” remote control, and custom installers are taking notice.
The Pronto Pro TSU6000, Philips Electronics’ new programmable learning remote control, took top honors at the Custom Electronic Design Installation Association (CEDIA) EXPO 2001. The TSU6000 won CEDIA’s Best User Interface award, a prize given to the product that best displays innovation in interface development and ease of use. It also won the Best of Show–Accessories accolade at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in 2001.
The TSU6000 is the third-generation Pronto Pro remote to hit the accessories market, and the first color touch screen addition to the Pronto Pro line-up. The TSU6000 has built a cult following since it began shipping in March 2001, with Internet sites such as www.prontoedit.com and www.remotecentral.com offering places for Pronto owners to share programming secrets and learn new tricks. The TSU6000 provides 256 high-resolution colors, has 8 MB of memory for storage, and is IR/RF-capable with a database of infrared codes for more 500 brands in 17 product categories. It retails for $999. According to Marc Harmsen, marketing manager of Philips’ Pronto Pro division, it was the dearth of capable learning remotes that gave Philips the impetus to join the remote control fray.
“A couple of years ago when we thought about developing the Pronto, we looked at the remotes on the market,” Harmsen said. “Even models that claimed to be ‘universal remotes’ were extremely complex to set up, and in the end, would control only three or four of the components in the home.”
Harmsen contends that the ineffective programming some remotes required contributed to further confusions. “Users had to learn that one button performed a function in CD mode, but the same button did something different when in TV mode. It was too complex.” Therefore, Philips developed an entirely new concept for a universal remote while addressing “ease of use,” and also establishing an open programming design so users can configure the remote exactly how they want.
“We decided to go with the touch screen design for our remote control,” Harmsen said. “And after we developed the actual concept of Pronto, the second part was designing a software user interface that was totally open for the consumer to completely customize the touch screen area to his/her needs.”
The Philips engineers hoped to use this new design to give people the option of customizing the unit to their exact needs. If they wanted to use the remote two-handed or single-handed, they could layout the buttons on the screen wherever they desired. Users could also size their own buttons.
“This type of open design also brings the best out of the products,” Harmsen said. “Consumers have several thousands of dollars of investment in their homes, and the products are being optimized to their best potential. Sometimes it is only one person in the household who can operate the equipment. Now, with the Pronto Pro, you are able to layout one button on the remote for movie mode, and all you have to do it is touch that one button and the remote control will execute all the commands behind the icon for anyone that walks into that room.”
The flagship in the Pronto line was the TS1000, equipped with 1 MB of memory and a black-and-white touch screen. The TS1000 was very well received, and has also built an Internet cult because it is easy to use and customizable. “People began sharing the ways they laid out their remote controls with each other, and how they interfaced with their home theaters,” Harmsen said. Working with the feedback from the TS1000 users and dealers gave the Philips engineers a clearer direction for the advancement of the product.
“We got a tremendous amount of feedback from dealers and on the Internet, especially from the online user groups. We also did a lot of training and traveling to dealers to see how people were interacting with the remote control. From all of this we saw what we had to for the next model,” Harmsen said. Philips also ascertained from the TS1000’s feedback from that there were two types of customers. One user completely embraced the product and optimized it, and one user enjoyed it, but hardly used the 1 MB of memory.
It was the first user archetype–the high-end oriented user who utilized all aspects of the product–which really enjoyed the open and simple programming of the Pronto. This proved to Harmsen that more memory was needed for a more inclusive remote control. “Some TS1000 users began to create configuration files that were extremely large. The creativity of the people was amazing. They decided to scan in the titles of hundreds of CDs for one-touch access to song titles,” Harmsen said.
Philips therefore tripled the memory for its next generation Pronto Pro, the TSU2000, which was released in November 2000. “We added two more megabytes to the TSU2000 because the operating system was still used part of that one MB, and the storage needed to be enhance. Increasing the MB made it simpler for the user to take it out of the box,” Harmsen said.
The TS1000 had a learning eye on the bottom so users could teach in their old remote controls into the new one. Also, connectivity on the TSU2000 was enhanced so users could connect to their PCs.
“We also added a universal database to the TSU2000 (hence the addition of the U in the product name) so the first time that you take the unit out of the box Philips codes are loaded for all components,” Harmsen said. “It is an intuitive graphical interface that takes under five minutes to set up. So you do not have to teach, one by one, the buttons from your old remote control.
Realizing that the touch screen was successful, and more memory could only improve customizability, Philips launched the TSU6000 in March 2001.
Among the various improvements, Harmsen asserts that the Radio Frequency control and the color touch screen are among the most innovative. “TSU6000’s radio frequency capability introduced multi-room control, so users are no longer limited to the IR eye,” Harmsen said.
The addition of a color screen allows users to utilize their creativity by customizing button colors, channel icons and even background color. A pick-up sensor, which activates the LCD screen upon lifting the remote, is another new feature for the Pronto. With the popularity of Pronto and the development of home automation custom configuration files (CCF), Philips included eight MB of memory to give its users the ability to expand their files.
Pronto Edit Software is now included in both Pronto TSU2000 and Pronto Pro TSU6000 boxes. By synching the unit to a PC, individuals can program their Pronto, import graphics such as channel icons or pictures of their A/V components. The software also allows for easy creation and editing of macro commands, customizable menus and layout. Pronto Edit software can be downloaded from www.pronto.philips.com into a PC and then connected by a RS232 serial cable to a Pronto remote.
The Pronto Pro TSU6000 also has a new design with a silver casing and comes with a recharging dock.
Though there are other players in the touch screen remote control arena, like Marantz America, who recently released its next-generation RC3200 color touch screen learning remote control, Harmsen believes that, “There is currently no one able to offer the features of the TSU6000 for this price point,” Harmsen said.
“We have done so many studies, and we’ve not only found that the average American now has six remote controls on their table, but that there are more and more products coming into the home that will need to be interfaced,” Harmsen said. “That is where the Pronto comes in; it gets rid of that clutter and simplifies the entire process.”
Margot Douaihy is the managing editor of Residential Systems.