App-based control systems can be a great option for consumers who prefer using a tablet or smartphone to control everything. But most consumers would still rather cozy up to a dedicated remote that never “walks away” from its designated room. Mass-market options in this category are improving, but they still require programming skills that baffle all but the most enthusiastic DIYers. This leaves a major opportunity for the professional AV integration channel to use the little ol’ remote control as a “gateway” into proving a more robust solution that leads to a larger and more comprehensive smart home installation.
A URC TRC-820 with a security camera feed on the screen
For those dedicated to Crestron, there are options like the TSR-302 that remain true to that ecosystem. The same goes for Savant, which moved away from its strictly Apple-influenced designs with a newly released dedicated remote intended to serve as an entrée into a larger Savant system purchase. Logitech has experienced a resurgence with its Harmony remote in the distribution channel, new entrant Ray Super Remote is gaining traction, and veteran channel brands RTI, Pro Control, and URC continue to innovate with new designs.
Mass Market Recognition
Last month, the New York Times published an article about “un-complicating” the process of programming a universal remote control. Tech writer Eric Taub said, “The idea of a universal remote–one device that can control everything in your home theater setup–is not new.” But too often, he wrote, “Products that have claimed to be universal have failed to deliver.”
Taub reviewed the latest versions of Logitech’s Harmony remotes, suggesting that they are effective remote control options that aren’t overly complicated for a consumer to program and won’t break the bank.
The RTI remote control lineup, with the T3X on the far right
Another direct-to-consumer remote gaining a foothold is the Ray Super Remote, which was conceived by a team of technology and design experts from Apple, Amazon, Huge, and Nokia. Programmed in as quickly as eight minutes, the Ray Super Remote can control thousands of brands and devices, as well as smart lighting and Nest’s thermostat. The iPhone-like device is built from high-grade aluminum with an anodized finish and Corning’s Gorilla Glass, and runs off a lithium ion battery that recharges on a dedicated stand.
Ray is also a “full-on” content search and discovery device, according to CEO and founder David Skonkna. “We’ve taken the guide off the TV and put it on the remote,” he said. “That’s vastly different from existing remotes where people are using a D-Pad to navigate around an on-screen guide that looks like an Excel spreadsheet. Our software is similar to a mobile device: it’s actually Android-based, so the experience is familiar and easy to use for everyone in the family, and that’s important.”
Skonkna emphasized that Ray is not a mobile device, but rather, it’s a “shared device for the whole family,” adding that a “great remote” should be quickly accessible to everyone in the living room, even guests.
“That’s our standard,” Skonkna said. “Our team calls it the ‘Babysitter Test.’ Could a guest in your home with no knowledge of your entertainment setup figure out how to watch TV in just a few seconds? And Ray passes that test like no remote before.”
The URC MX-990
For integrators seeking a controlled-distribution brand that combines the conveniences of an app-based experience with the ergonomics, instant connectivity, and dependable operation of a hard-button remote, RTI offers its SURFiR remote.
“The SURFiR remote automatically tracks the device the user is controlling via the RTiPanel app, seamlessly changing the functionality of the buttons,” explained director of communications, Brett Stokke. “This lets users utilize their smartphone or tablet as their main interface while increasing system convenience through tactile buttons.”
Available as a low-cost companion to the RTiPanel app, SURFiR also frees up the consumer to use his or her mobile device for more suitable applications such as answering texts, reading the news, or accessing social media.
“We don’t see tablets and mobile devices as replacements for a dedicated controller,” Stokke said. “Instead, we consider remotes and apps to be very complementary; they should fit like a hand in a glove.”
RTI’s flagship T3x remote control also is designed for versatile and intuitive uses, and features subtle vibrations when pressing touchscreen buttons, giving users tactile confirmation of their selections. In addition, the T3x includes a built-in camera and microphone for video intercom capabilities.
The company’s T2i, T2x, and T3x feature the flexibility of IR control and dual-RF capabilities for more reliable communication with the RTI control ecosystem. In addition, the T2x and T3x boast Wi-Fi support, which enables advanced capabilities such as viewing IP security cameras and wireless programming updates.
Stokke said that RTI is sympathetic to the challenges facing integrators who are being asked to add “networking expertise” to their already full resume. “To simplify this aspect of the integrator’s job, RTI partners with manufacturers to create two-way drivers with IP control for products across the spectrum of home automation,” he said. “This provides seamless integration of third-party electronics such as music servers, lighting, and HVAC systems. Power, sleek design, and ease of use–these are the cornerstones of an innovation process that continues to drive the evolution of the residential market’s most advanced remotes that complement our control systems.”
RTI sister brand Pro Control also takes a “companion” approach to its iPro.8 remote control design, providing customers with a handheld complement to its ProPanel app. With additional advanced features, such as 2.4-inch TFT LCD touchscreens and full customization capabilities, there is virtually no limit to the type and number of devices that can be simply and intuitively controlled by Pro Control’s remote, according to Mike Everett, VP of sales and marketing, Americas. The Pro Control Pro24.z remote comes equipped with ZigBee technology for more dependable control and two-way feedback from connected components, allowing users to integrate third-party systems such as Sonos, Lutron, and Nest, directly from the remote.
Although Pro Control offers a more competitive price point to keep cost down for dealers, that doesn’t stop the company from offering capabilities of more premium products.
The Ray Super Remote
“By incorporating vivid color touchscreen displays, backlit buttons, a highgloss finish, and wonderful ergonomics into our products, we’re providing the high-end fit and finish users are looking for while offering tremendous value,” Everett said.
Savant’s big splash at CEDIA was a direct-to-consumer offering that the company hopes will inspire larger purchases into the company’s home integration ecosphere. But the company’s newly shipping Savant Pro Remote, is a channel-centric version of the device that features voice control, scene capture directly from the remote, and a curved touchscreen.
“Voice control coupled with Savant Scenes adds a new level of simplicity to an entire Savant system,” explained Tim McInerney, director of product marketing. “Being able to simply pick up the remote and say, ‘Good Morning’ or ‘Relax’ and have your entire home respond just how you want it to really adds to the performance of the system.”
From a technology standpoint, using Bluetooth as a communication protocol has increased the responsiveness and battery life of the new Savant Pro Remote, according to McInerney. And the sleek device features a touchscreen the helps the user easily switch between services like Apple TV, cable, and Sonos.
“We wanted it to have a certain aesthetic, so there aren’t many buttons, but the screen offers up additional controls like search and keypads when you need them,” McInerney said. “Personalized profiles make it more user friendly and give each family member his or her own remote experience, with his or her own favorite channels and scenes just a tap away.”
URC, the company that is literally synonymous with the universal remote control, has used its 25-plus years of experience in the category to create two new handhelds–one for each of its core product lines.
The company’s newest handheld for the Total Control line of whole-house automation solutions is the TRC-820 Wi-Fi Remote, which bears a fresh ergonomic design and is lighter than any previous URC remote, has fewer buttons, and features a new smartphone-like direct charging port. Yet it still packs in the most popular URC features to deliver homeowners instant monitoring, access, and two-way control of home systems.
The TRC-820 features a two-inch high-resolution LCD screen for custom buttons, icons, and functions. It also has the ability to access real-time video from cameras to see who’s at the door or what’s happening around the house. Homeowners can see status of what music is playing, or which lights are on in another part of the home. On-screen controls bear a common look to the URC Mobile app for a unified customer experience. As with all URC Total Control remotes, integration with popular connected-home brands is offered for free and provides full two-way control. For example, the TRC-820 provides users simple control over Honeywell, Lutron, Sonos, Bose, DSC Security, DirecTV, and more.
The company’s other new remote is the MX-990, with its emphasis on newfound and additional creative customization, allowing URC dealer programmers more flexibility in graphic design and layout. Plus, graphics are stored on the remote and archived in a PC, and all previous MX-980 programming files can be reused without modification.
Because URC’s Complete Control line offers “off-the-network” control, the remote’s reliability is ideal for specific installations and requires no networking gear to be installed.
“This is the most technologically advanced one-way URC MX remote ever,” noted URC’s director of marketing, Cat Toomey. “URC and distribution dealers will appreciate the new ‘Freeform Graphics’ feature that allows even greater, full customization. Plus, the MX-990 accepts MX-980 remote programming files, so there is zero learning curve for URC Complete Control series dealers, saving time and money.”
Jeremy J. Glowacki is editorial director of Residential Systems and Systems Contractor News.