I had very nearly given up. In the quest to find the right remote control solution for my dad, I’ve been through just about every custom-installed solution you can think of. Some involved touchscreens that quit working after a few years. Some relied on proprietary chargers that stopped working for reasons I can’t explain. Most proved to be less than ideal because Pop and his housecleaner simply cannot comprehend the function of an IR extender cable and the need to keep them affixed to those mysterious black boxes under his TV, which invariably caused panicked calls late in the evening about how his entire home theater system just “up and quit working.”
Simply put, the quest to find a workable control solution for my dad’s home theater has been one big never-ending truck roll for me. So when the old man texted me a few weeks ago asking what I thought about the Ray Super Remote, I’ll admit that I rolled my eyes. But when editor Jeremy Glowacki emailed me a few days later asking if I wanted to review one, I figured what the heck? At least we wouldn’t be out any money if this proved to be another unworkable solution.
That pessimism shouldn’t be seen as a slight against the Ray Super Remote, mind you. It’s just that I had started to assume it would take a minor miracle to find the right remote control. So I guess that makes Ray something of a minor miracle. Or maybe a major one.
If you aren’t hip to the hoopla yet, the Ray Super Remote is a tall, skinny, handheld touchscreen universal remote control that looks a bit like three-quarters of a smartphone, with a slick, scrolling, horizontal user interface and a handful of handy hard buttons on the side. That in itself puts it in a category of its own (at least as far as remotes available to the consumer market), but what’s really special about the Ray, in my opinion, is its setup process.
With the Ray Super Remote, everything is done on the remote itself, from account creation to device connections.
Everything is done on the remote itself, from account creation to device connections. When you pull the Ray out of its box and turn it on, the first step is to enter your email address and name, which triggers an email that allows you to set your password. Once that’s done, you really don’t need any other devices to set the remote up (except, perhaps, for the remotes for the devices you intend to set up).
From there, the remote asks you for your location and cable or satellite service provider, as well as your preferred genres for movies and TV shows (documentaries, action, drama, comedy, news, and weather, etc.), all of which may seem like odd things for a remote to need to know, but it actually powers one of Ray’s coolest features, which we’ll dig into in a sec.
Next up, the Ray asks you, one at a time, which devices you might have connected to your system and the brand of each device. Then it fires a series of IR codes until one sticks. Usually this is all that it takes to set up a device’s IR codes, but sometimes it requires a little more work. In the case of my dad’s cable box, the first code toggled power just fine, but wouldn’t work other functions. The second code it tried operated other functions, but wouldn’t toggle the power. The third time turned out to be the charm.
After that, the only thing left to do is assign inputs when prompted, and tell the remote which device is responsible for volume control. And that’s it. That’s the entire setup process. Assuming, that is, the setup process ever really ends.
By that I mean that it’s very simple to add custom buttons anytime, and you don’t even have to dig into the setup menus to do so. For the most part, the Ray operates like you would expect an activity-based universal remote to operate: if you want to watch TV, you press the TV button; if you want to watch your Apple TV, you press the Apple TV button. When you do, you’re taken to a screen that gives you the basic buttons you need to control that activity, along with a sliding touchpad that you can use to change channels, etc. When in TV mode, for example, you simply slip your finger up the screen to change the channel up. This design feature eliminates an enormous amount of the frustration normally associated with touchscreen-only remote controls.
But say, for example, you have a unique situation that requires some special programming. In my dad’s case, HDMI-CEC shenanigans cause his receiver to switch to the TV input automatically when his system is fired up, even if he wants it on the cable/sat input. All that was required to fix this was the addition of a custom button, which I added by pressing the + button at the bottom of the screen. On the one hand, that’s pretty awesome. On the other hand, it’s pretty scary. I’ve already gotten a couple of calls from my dad when he added buttons he didn’t want by accident.
I said above that the Ray Super Remote acts like a normal activity-based remote “for the most part.” The biggest difference is that the remote is network-connected and provides tons of content on its own. For instance, when you press the TV button (instead of the separate DVR button), the screen is filled with an up-to-date, personalized content guide that recommends shows or movies airing right now that you might want to watch–screens’ worth of recommendations, grouped by genre, that you can scroll through. And adding channels to your favorites list is as simple as searching for them by name. Because the remote knows your location and content provider, you don’t even have to know channel numbers.
And at this point you may be saying, “That all sounds great, Dennis, but why on earth would I sell a consumer-based universal remote?” The folks at Ray realized this, too, and are introducing a new Pro Partner Program that will offer “custom product features and tools, professional pricing and terms, VIP technical and customer support, and customer referrals.”
When you get right down to it, is the Ray Super Remote right for everyone? No. Heck, it isn’t even the right remote for me. But if you have clients with basic home entertainment systems (plus perhaps Hue lighting and a Nest thermostat), who don’t need an advanced control solution with a centralized control hub and IR repeaters, it may be perfect for them.
I called my dad as I was wrapping up this review just to get his final word on how well it was working for him. “This is the first remote control I’ve used that I didn’t hate,” he said. So there you have it.
The Ray Super Remote is not only incredibly easy to set up, it actually enhances the TV-watching experience with personalized onscreen guides to on-air content. Its lighting fast operation and incredible range also means it doesn’t suffer from the frustrations common to IR universal remotes.
In the words of my dad: “It could stand to be a little bigger. And why does it work the Nest, but not the ecobee thermostat? Plus, if I had my druthers, I wish you didn’t have to push a button on the side to wake up the remote.”
► Dimensions: 5.5 x 2.5 x 0.5 inches (hwd)
► Weight: 5.7oz
► Processor & Memory: Dual core, ARM Cortex-A9, 1.0GHz, GPU; 1Gb LPDDR2-SDRAM; 8GB flash memory storage
► Capacitive touch screen
► Durable Corning Gorilla Glass
► Built-in rechargeable lithium ion battery
► 180-degree infrared (33- ft. operating range)
► More than 1,200 brands and thousands of devices universal IR code database
► Connectivity: 802.11 b/g/n 2.4 GHz Wi-Fi; Bluetooth 4.0