When reviewing a new product, your friendly neighborhood technology writer basically has to choose between two wholly different ways to approach the evaluation. Does one compare it to some Platonic ideal, the image of what this device would be in his or her mind in a perfect world? Or does one judge it against the stated goals and intents of the manufacturer?
The Pro Control 24z remote in its charging cradle I very much fall into the latter camp, so before we start digging into what PRO Control’s Pro24.z remote and ProLink.z processor are, what they do, and how well they do it, let’s talk for a moment about why they exist to begin with.
PRO Control is a division of RTI. The division was developed to give integrators a more affordable control solution for smaller projects without devaluing the parent brand. Distribution of the lineup, which also includes a one-way RF remote and processor package, is also a little different from that of RTI’s core brand, as evidenced by the fact that the remotes can be found at Best Buy’s Magnolia locations. But really, in terms of look at feel, fit and finish, there’s nothing to indicate the PRO Control line’s status as the budget alternative. In virtually every way, the remotes themselves echo the exquisite build quality of RTI’s offerings.
The ProLink.z processor For this review, the company sent me its top-of-the-line Pro24.z remote and ProLink.z processor (MSRP $449 each), as well as its new Pro.rfz Transceiver Module (a two-way ZigBee repeater), and an iPro.8 companion remote, which can be used as a smaller zone-two control but is really intended to give hard-button wand-style support for customers who rely on PRO Control’s iOS app as their primary remote. The ProPanel app is free to download, but does require a license to unlock. Licenses can be purchased for one, two, or five iOS devices at a time, but don’t assume you can stock up on them; they’re specific to the platform (a license for one of the ZigBee controllers won’t work for one of the RF controllers) and in fact are locked to the individual MAC address of the controller, with no transfers, refunds, or exchanges available.
The company also set me up with dealer credentials, so I could download the PRO Control Studio programming software and peruse all of the dealer training videos hosted on the site. Since I already have an advanced automation system at home, I decided to install the PRO Control system at my dad’s house, replacing his existing one-room RF control solution. It’s been quite a few years since I programmed an RTI remote, but I don’t recall the software being anywhere near this easy and intuitive. PRO Control Studio is largely wizard-based, with pretty clear step-by-step instructions along the bottom of the screen. The handholding only stops when you start digging into more advanced programming, like voltage sensing, UI modifications, and other in-depth goodies of that nature.
All told, it took me about 10 minutes to program a pretty sophisticated, two-way, one-and-a-half-room control solution for my dad’s TV, surround receiver, AppleTV, cable box, and Blu-ray/HD DVD player, complete with direct, one-button access to the net radio/SiriusXM portal built into his receiver. Had I actually watched the training videos first, it would have gone much quicker than that. But even with a few self-imposed stumbles along the way, it took me almost as long to upload the programming to the remote and processor as it did to do the programming in the first place.
I also played around with lighting control for a bit, since the system comes with Lutron RadioRA 2 drivers, and found the programming to be just as intuitive. But, of course, the PRO Control system is really about easy control, not deep automation. You do have pretty painless access to things like scene creation, but the software isn’t really intended for the programming of more advanced features like button behavior, scheduled events, and more advanced automation routines.
My complaints about the programming software are few and minor, but the biggest is simply the current limitations of the code database. There are, for example, only two choices for Samsung TVs: “HLS Series Only (Older Models)” and “Most Models.” That’s true for most other brands and types of devices, as well.
Luckily, the codes all worked with my dad’s system because there’s some redundancy built into the drivers. And the only booboo I ran into as a result was quite easy to fix: once you get all of your devices set up in the system, the programming software does a pretty good job of predicting and setting up macros, so that when you press the Blu-ray button on the home screen, it turns on appropriate devices and selects appropriate inputs. In my dad’s case, though, it defaulted to the “BD” input on his Denon receiver, whereas his model only responds to the “Input BLU RAY” command. Once I figured this out, it took mere seconds to fix the issue; both commands were contained within the same driver. Incidentally, it’s pretty easy to create your own IR drivers, and you can also import your own RTI driver collection, as well. That’s another very nice touch.
With the programming done, I turned my attention to the Pro24.z remote itself. And as I indicated above, I found it to be a wholly gorgeous and well-built device. In fact, it’s as beautifully balanced, well laid-out, and luxurious-feeling as any of RTI’s more expensive controllers, which puts it in a class of its own as this price point. Even the charging cradle feels so luxurious that if you quoted me a $1,500 MSRP for the remote itself I wouldn’t bat an eye. The touchscreen is top notch and the five-way joystick (one of the few elements of the remote that you have to manually program) is absolutely a joy to use. The remote also made it through a full three days of heavy use without needing a charge, and once slid into its cradle, it fully charged in about 45 minutes. All in all, it truly is one of the nicest, most ergonomic handheld devices I’ve ever had the pleasure of using.
Overall, aside from a few hiccups in the programming, if I’m going to make any complaints about PRO Control’s new remote control system I need to break the rule laid out in my intro and wax philosophical about what I think the system should be, rather than what it’s designed to be. For the vast majority of applications, the remote is so easy to program that I find it a little difficult to justify its status as a custom-only control solution. And reviews on Best Buy’s website back this up (Magnolia is selling the remotes to customers without telling them that they have to be professionally programmed).
Given the distribution model, it may make more sense for RTI to bundle its PRO Control line with basic DIY programming software and point consumers in the direction of their local integrator for more advanced programming. Because really, the overall PRO Control experience is a lot like what you’d get with something like Harmony, just a little more intuitive, a lot more flexible, way more powerful, and infinitely better built.
The PRO Control Pro24.z remote is a luxurious, incredibly well-built device that could easily sell for three times its MSRP, offering RTI dealers a more affordable, much-easier- to-program solution for smaller control systems.
The system is so easy to program and so widely available that it becomes difficult to justify its status as a custom-only solution. I know dealers will dig the exclusivity, but from the point of view of the end-user, the vast majority of PRO Control installations could probably be self-programmed if the software didn’t require dealer credentials.
• Programmable 5-way joystick
• RF frequency: Bidirectional Zigbee (2.4 GHz)
• Recharging cradle
• Full color TFT LCD touchscreen
• Lithium-Ion Battery
• Number of programmable hard buttons: 48
• IR Frequency Range: 0-460KHz
• Supported remote control: Pro24.z or iPro.8
• Support for iPad, iPhone, iPod touch app
• Support for 2-way feedback from compatible device
• Two integrated RS232 ports
• Ethernet control
• Adjustable IR output strength
• Six integrated IR routing ports
• Two voltage-sensing inputs
• Bidirectional Zigbee (2.4 GHz)