Philips recently announced that it is closing the doors on its Pronto remote control division. Distributors will be able to place orders through the end of November – or until inventory runs out – and Philips will honor all of its warranty obligations.
The Pronto remote certainly will continue to exist in the marketplace for a while among loyal integrators and programmers, but for all practical purposes, the line is dead. But instead of heaping dirt onto its grave, I want to eulogize this once great remote control platform and speculate on what went awry.
While the original Pronto – the TSU1000, if memory serves – didn’t invent the programmable touchscreen controller, it certainly revolutionized it. Up until the Pronto, if you wanted to have a remote whose CPU didn’t max out with basic head-to-head learning you needed to look at a seriously expensive – think Crestron or AMX – panel. Pronto changed that. Forever.
By introducing a remote retailing for under $500, the Pronto gave customers access to programming a remote via PC (just like the pros) with the Pronto Edit software that enabled programmers to change everything! Want to make a button a macro? How about any or every button a macro? Want a custom button with a page flip to your favorite page with channel icons? Done. Want to include a custom graphic of Austin Powers saying, “You make me horny, baby! Yeah!”? Done. Want to play a hidden game of Tetris? Why not? Sure, everything does that today, but back when Pronto was introduced this was a quantum leap.
Pronto Edit gave end-users a rare Golden Ticket to the crazy fun/lunatic fringe world of being a custom installer, allowing them to delve deep into programming in a manner that no other remote ever even considered. (Remember the Harman Kardon TC-1000 remote powered by Microsoft that came out around the exact same time? No? That’s right. That’s because the Pronto frickin’ buried it.)
And over the years, the Pronto continued to change and evolve. From 256 shades of sweet-sweet grey tone up to a screen with ALL the colors… embiggened screen real estate… higher resolution… drop-in driver support for Escient and Lutron products… Then there were more and more two-way drivers, and eventually IP control.
This year at CEDIA EXPO there was undeniable excitement in the Pronto booth, and with good reason. The company was launching a a new product segment, with its TSW9500 in-wall touchscreen controller, as well as the latest iteration of its programming software, the Pronto Edit Profession 3.
So what happened? In truth, it was probably a tsunami of several factors. First, the low end has gotten awfully good with Logitech’s Harmony products killing it in the sub-$150 market, many install companies moving downstream to these remotes, which also offer far quicker programming turnarounds. In the same vein, there’s the programming complexity. Granted programming a Pronto was not a CAIP (Crestron Authorized Independent Programmer)-level event, but it was certainly not something that you’d hand off to any member of the staff; a well configured and customized Pronto could take several – many several – hours to complete.
It’s also no surprise that the economy hasn’t been particularly kind to niche products like $1,000 remote controls. When times are tight, system prices constrict, and one item that stands out like a sore thumb in a $5,000 bid is a remote comprising 20 percent of the budget. Then there’s our good old friend the iPad. While I previously worried that that iPad was going to put me out of business, in actuality maybe it is putting others out of business. When you see companies like Savant and SpeakerCraft deciding to completely ditch their touchpanel division, then it might not be too surprising if a dedicated touchscreen company is undone by the $499 super remoticus maximus that – with apps from Control4, URC, Crestron, Savant, and many others – can do what Pronto can do and oh so much more.
So clear another spot in the pantheon of fallen industry greats. Next to Pioneer Kuro and Escient and Fujitsu and Snell and… Goodbye, Pronto, you shall be missed! (Lowers flag to half staff.)