Sonos PlayBar

June 14, 2013

Sonos PlayBar

There has been some buzz about when Sonos would be getting into the home theater speaker market. It’s now time, with the release of the Sonos PlayBar, which takes all of the Sonos streaming and wireless music benefits and puts them in a soundbar designed to sit in front of the couch.

The Sonos PlayBar does three main things:

  1. It allows playback of music from a wide variety of streaming sources, plus the user’s own local collection

  2. It connects to a TV to replace the TV’s low-performing speakers

  3. It can be expanded with a Sonos Sub and two Sonos PLAY:3 speakers to become an actual 5.1 surround-sound system

The device includes a total of 9 drivers, all custom designed and manufactured by Sonos. The drivers are mounted on a 45-degree angle, allowing the speaker to be mounted flat on a wall or rest on a tabletop with no change in the directionality of the speaker. A built-in orientation sensor changes the system’s EQ to accommodate the speaker’s position. Each drive unit is powered by its own Sonos-designed amplifier.

Like all other Sonos devices, the primary way to control Sonos PlayBar is through the Sonos app, however, since this is also meant to be used with a TV, Sonos included an IR receiver and the ability for the PlayBar’s volume to be controlled by any TV remote. Any universal remote can also be used. Within the PlayBar, TV audio takes priority, so if you’re playing Pandora music, then switch on the TV, the PlayBar automatically switches to the TV’s audio signal.

Like any other Sonos product, the Sonos PlayBar system can play a huge selection of streaming services. Audio from the TV can also be streamed to other Sonos zones in the house. For example, if people are watching a sports game on the TV, the audio from that gamecan also be played on a Sonos speaker in another room so no one misses any of the action..

The Sonos PlayBar can be used by itself, connected directly to a router, or wirelessly with a Sonos Bridge and be part of a whole-house system.

La Jolla, Del Mar, & Rancho Santa Fe Home Theater

April 29, 2010

La Jolla, Del Mar, & Rancho Santa Fe Home Theater

For over 10 years Gotuwired has specialized in installing custom home theater systems within all of San Diego including La Jolla, Del Mar, and the Rancho Santa Fe communities. Our highly trained staff is up to date on all the latest technology from 3D-TV to media streaming Blu-Ray players.

Gotuwired offers fully integrated, completely customized, turnkey home theater systems. Our attention to detail is put into every audio/video system installation, whether it’s a fireplace HDTV installation, whole-house audio system or a simple universal remote, we make sure you are satisfied with every job. With years of experience, our skilled installation teams are always prepared to serve you anywhere in La Jolla, Del Mar, Rancho Santa Fe or within San Diego. We can provide you with the home theater solution that will give you, your family and friends years of enjoyment.

Gotuwired also has a wide range of experience in designing custom home theater systems with fully integrated components. If you are considering buying a new HDTV or building a custom home theater system to enjoy the latest movies on DVD or Blu-Ray, we can definitely help you choose the best components to fit your needs. Our system designers will come to your home, understand what you are looking and create a solution that fits within your budget. Because we’re an independent company and not allied with any single manufacturer or brand, you’ll always get the equipment recommendation that’s best for your project.

Also, if you have already purchased a new surround sound system or HDTV, we can help you integrate and install your new TV, speakers or A/V components regardless if your home is located in La Jolla, Del Mar, Rancho Santa Fe or anywhere inside San Diego County.

For all your home theater needs; Gotuwired is the company for you.
Contact us now at (760)587-1516

Product Review: Samsung 52″ LCD LN-52A650 (1080p, 120hz)

September 27, 2009

Samsung’s LN52A650 dares to be different. In a world of me-too, glossy black flat-panel HDTVs, no few of which may bear the company’s own logo, this 52-inch LCD is dressed in red. Like many radical design choices, you’ll either love it or hate it, and we didn’t love it. But before you write off this red TV, we recommend you check it out in person–the product shots here and elsewhere on the Web just don’t capture the red tint of the frame properly. Aside from design, we found plenty to like about the higher-end LN52A650, and it produces arguably the best picture of any LCD TV we’ve tested so far, although it doesn’t quite beat the quality of the best plasma.

Samsung’s LNA650 series incorporates the company’s Touch of Color design scheme. Instead of the standard glossy black frame, the LN52A650 sports dark-red accents that suffuse the entire frame, but are most prominent along the top and bottom edge and either side. Other eye-catching elements include a layer of transparent plastic, which is visible along the extreme edges on all sides, and Samsung’s trademark shiny screen (more on that below). The Touch definitely creates a unique look, but call us traditionalists: we didn’t really like it. The photos above just can’t capture how red the Touch makes the frame appear, especially in bright rooms, and if red isn’t your favorite color, you’re out of luck–no other colors have been confirmed for this year, despite the company touting a veritable rainbow at CES. In its favor, the red frame didn’t really detract from the color fidelity of the picture.

Samsung LN52A650

A close-up of the side-panel input jacks also shows the red tint of the frame better than the main product shots.

Including the standard-issue pedestal swivel stand, the LN52A650 measures 50.2 inches wide by 34.1 inches tall by 12.8 inches deep and weighs 76.7 pounds. Without the stand, it comes in at 50.2 inches wide by 31.7 inches tall by 4.1 inches deep and 64.6 pounds.

The remote differs from the one included on the Samsung PN50A550 because it uses a rotating, clickable wheel, similar to an iPod scroll wheel, for menu navigation, as opposed to the standard, four-way directional keys. The wheel would be a cool idea if it was more responsive, but with the brief delay between moving the wheel and seeing the results on the screen, we found ourselves more than a bit annoyed by it. The rest of the remote’s buttons are nice and big and backlit (the backlighting engages automatically when the remote is picked up, something we’ve never seen on a remote included with a TV), and we liked the dedicated “Tools” button that offered quick access to picture and sound modes, the sleep timer, and the picture-in-picture controls. We didn’t like the clicker’s glossy black finish, however, which picked up more than its share of dulling fingerprints after a few minutes.

Samsung LN52A650

We liked the easy-on-the-eyes design of Samsung’s menu system.

Samsung’s new menu system is sleeker than before and blessed with big, highly legible text set against transparent backgrounds that occupy almost the whole screen. Getting around is easy; there’s helpful explanatory text along the bottom, and we dug the context-sensitive menu that would pop up occasionally to provide more options. Overall, it’s one of the best-designed and most-attractive menu systems we’ve seen on any HDTV, and it really makes setup a breeze–except for the confusing picture mode arrangement (see below).

The LN52A650 has a 120Hz refresh rate, which allows it to cut down on blur and to affect judder in motion with a video-processing mode Samsung calls “Auto Motion Plus.” Check out David Carnoy’s Fully Equipped column for an in-depth discussion of 120Hz, and the performance section of this review for details on how it’s implemented on the LN52A650. Like most other LCD and plasma TV models on sale in 2008, the LN52A650 also has a native resolution of 1,920×1,080 (aka 1080p).

Samsung LN52A650

Three levels of de-judder processing are available on the LN52A550.

New for 2008, the 650 series also includes an Ethernet port, which allows the TV to access the Internet to display news, stock ticker information, and local weather. We liked the easy-to-read font in normal and large sizes, as well as the intuitive controls. USA Today provides the newsfeed, which can sit in the corner of the screen like a ticker (turn Desperate Housewives into Fox News!), or be expanded to allow you to read numerous top stories in a variety of topics. One annoying quirk was that we couldn’t remove the Setup screen easily–hitting “return,” as the manual suggested, merely turned off the whole service. Also, we’d really appreciate if the port allowed the TV to access firmware updates, but according to Samsung that’s not in the cards. A USB-to-Wi-Fi dongle that allows the TV to connect to a wireless network (model WIS-08BGX, $34.99) is also available.

Samsung LN52A650

The Ethernet port allows the set to display a local weather report…
Samsung LN52A650

…as well as news clips and (not pictured) a customized stock ticker.

The LN52A650 has three adjustable picture modes that are each independent per input. That’s great, but in addition there are three more picture presets, called “Entertainment Modes,” that cannot be adjusted and are accessible via a separate key on the remote and the Setup menu. This arrangement is unnecessarily confusing on a TV with so many settings anyway; we’d prefer to have all of the picture modes, both adjustable and non-adjustable, be accessible together from a single key on the remote and one area of the Picture menu. Also, if you’re in Entertainment mode, you’re prevented from making picture adjustments, or even selecting one of the adjustable picture modes, until you actively cancel an Entertainment mode by navigating to the Setup menu (which the onscreen instructions suggest) or toggling the mode to “Off” using the remote. That’s an awkward hitch in an otherwise smooth menu design.

Not every submenu gets the updated graphics, however, including the important (and still perfectly functional) white balance controls.

Others picture controls include five color temperature presets along with the ability to fine-tune color using the white balance menu; three varieties of noise reduction, including an automatic setting; a film mode to engage 2:3 pulldown (it also works with 1080i sources); a seven-position gamma control that affects the TV’s progression from dark to light; a dynamic contrast control that adjusts the picture on the fly; a “black adjust” control that affects shadow detail; and a new color space control that lets you tweak the Samsung’s color gamut.

You can choose from four aspect ratio modes for HD sources, two of which allow you to move the whole image across the screen horizontally and/or vertically. As we’d expect from a 1080p TV, one of those modes, called Just Scan, lets the LN52A650 scale 1080i and 1080p sources directly to the panel’s pixels with no overscan–the best option unless you see interference along the edge of the screen, as can be the case with some channels or programs. There are also four modes available with standard-def sources.

We appreciated the three power-saver modes and the singular fact that, unlike most other manufacturers, this year Samsung did not use the brightest picture mode as its default. Instead, the default picture mode for Home use is Standard, which saves a lot of energy compared with the much brighter Dynamic. Check out the Juice Box below for details on the set’s energy use. As far as other conveniences, Samsung throws in picture-in-picture along with a USB port that can connect to thumb drives to play back digital photos and MP3 music. The LN52A650 is also compatible with the company’s forthcoming digital media adapter.

A third HDMI input and an Ethernet jack set apart the Samsung’s jack pack.

The connectivity of the LN52A650 is excellent. There are three HDMI inputs available around back, while a fourth can be found in a recessed bay along the panel’s left side. There’s also a pair of component-video inputs; a single RF input for cable and antenna (the ’07 models had two); and a VGA-style RGB input for computers (1,920×1,080 maximum resolution). That recessed bay offers an additional AV input with S-Video and composite video, a headphone jack, and the aforementioned USB port.

The Samsung LN52A650 is one of the best-performing LCDs we’ve tested. Its picture quality, anchored by excellent black-level performance, and accurate color, surpasses that of the Sony KDL-46XBR4–and Samsung’s de-judder video processing has improved to the point where it’s basically equal to the Sony. We did notice a couple of minor issues, and as usual we’d avoid watching dark movies on this glossy-screened TV in rooms with lots of ambient light, but that’s about it.

Our standard calibration was aided by the numerous picture controls in the Samsung’s user menu. We were able to improve color temperature and dial in saturation without going overboard thanks to the blue-only mode (check this tip to see how it works). Although we attempted to tweak the color points a bit using the custom color palette controls, primary and secondary colors were already close enough to the standard that we simply settled on the default Auto in the end. Click here for a full list of our dark-room picture settings.

After setup, we placed the LN52A650 in a comparison that included our reference sets–the Pioneer PDP-5080HD, the Sony KDS-55A3000, and the 120Hz Sony KDL-46XBR4–along with the Panasonic TH-46PX85U. We checked out Spider-Man 3 on Blu-ray at 1080p from the Sony PlayStation 3.

Black level: The Samsung LN52A650 reproduced one of the deepest shades of black we’ve seen from any LCD. It can’t quite match the champ, Samsung’s own LED-based LN-T4681F, but from what we remember, it’s pretty dang close. The Pioneer and Panasonic plasmas got darker by a couple of hairs, although the Samsung solidly beat the two Sonys. Of course, as with all LCDs, those deep blacks became brighter when seen from off angle (see below).

Details in shadows were quite good, although not perfect. During a shot when Flint stares into the camera after sneaking into his daughter’s room, for instance, we couldn’t quite make out the print on the wallpaper behind him, and the shaded half of his face looked indistinct compared with the reference Pioneer, although still more natural than any of the other displays. Cranking brightness brought back the details but destroyed black levels, and the Samsung wasn’t crushing black. Its gamma was just a bit shallow in dark areas, even at the most aggressive +3 (our preferred setting).

Color accuracy: The initial color temperature in Warm2 was still a tad blue (see the Geek Box), but other than that we had no complaints. After calibration it was quite accurate, lending a natural look to skin tones and other delicate areas, like Mary Jane’s pale face. Green grass in the plaza and red balloons during the parade all looked rich and punchy, and color balance was superb. One major advantage the LN52A50 demonstrated over the Sony KDL-46XBR4 LCD was its color fidelity in dark areas–where the Sony dipped into blue, like many LCDs, the Samsung remained close to true black. Overall saturation, thanks to deep blacks and fine color balance, was equal to the superb Pioneer.

Video processing: Samsung’s Auto Motion Plus (AMP) processing is designed to smooth out motion–specifically the judder or faint stuttering inherent in 24-frame material such as most films. Judder can be perceived most easily in pans and camera movement, but once you notice it, it seems to pop up everywhere there’s any movement onscreen. Some viewers find the smoothing effect desireable, while some think it looks too video-like and even cartoonish in some instances, particularly Hollywood films. We’re of the latter camp, but we feel de-judder processing can be effective in some scenes.

AMP has been improved this year, and it suffers fewer artifacts than the version we tested on the LN-T4671F from 2007. The infamous “triple ball effect” seems greatly toned down, for one thing. We looked at one example we cited in the 71F review, a deep pass during a college football game between West Virginia and Louisville, and this time there was very little blurring and elongation of the ball. We also turned to the same hockey match between the Ducks and the Kings and noticed blurring of the puck much less frequently. It was still there in some instances, such as a flip pass into the air that spanned half of the rink before landing, but it was much less noticeable. Of course, the level of AMP made a big difference–we saw more blurring and artifacts around the puck in High mode, fewer in Medium, about the same in Low, and none in Off. For that reason, we still recommend watching hockey, and indeed all sports, in Off mode.

Comparing the Samsung against the Sony 120Hz LCD, the Samsung seemed a bit less prone to artifacts, but the Sony appeared less unnaturally smooth. During the opening of Spider-Man, for example, the camera quickly pans over a newsstand and a headline in USA Today (double-plug!) that reads “What a catch!” showed stutter and artifacts in the Sony (in Standard mode) and none on the Samsung (in any of its modes). The camera then moved to follow Peter Parker on his scooter, and the Samsung looked like the camera was on rails, while the Sony allowed a little bit of unsteadiness that made for a much more natural look in that scene. Later, the camera orbits Parker’s face at the beginning of the parade, and we saw a sort of halo effect around his head. The buildings in the background bent slightly near his head as they moved by, even in the Samsung’s Low mode, although these artifacts were worse in Medium and High. In this case, the Samsung’s Low and the Sony’s Standard were pretty much indistinguishable.

Both sets looked much better in pans over natural landscapes from the Planet Earth Blu-ray and in some other non-Hollywood movie material, especially compared with the non-de-judder-equipped sets in the comparison.

We also turned AMP off, along with the Sony’s de-judder processing, and switched our PS3 to 1080p/24 mode. We really couldn’t tell the difference between 1080p/24 and 1080p/60 on either of the sets, so we suspect they don’t perform the perfect 5x conversion from 24 frames to 120. Samsung’s engineers (along with Sony’s) claim the 52LN650 can perform this conversion, but if so, it doesn’t make much difference.

A refresh rate 120Hz should also cut down on blur in motion, increasing motion resolution. We compared the 52LN650 to the Samsung LN32A450, a standard 60Hz display, and with AMP in Low mode the LN650 exhibited less blur in test footage designed to expose it. The blur returned when we turned Off AMP, so you can’t get the blur-reduction on this set without de-judder. The Sony performed at about the same level for this test, and neither was as sharp as either of the plasma displays or the Sony SXRD. As usual we didn’t notice blurring in program material, however, including during Spider-Man.

As we expect from any 1080p LCD, the Samsung resolved every line of 1080i and 1080p sources, and unlike most sets it properly de-interlaces 1080i film-based sources as long as you leave the film mode engaged.

Uniformity: LCD will always be at a disadvantage compared with plasma in this department, and the LN52A650 is no exception. Its screen was relatively uniform for an LCD, but there was still a brighter spot visible in the upper-left corner in dark scenes or letterbox bars, and in mid-dark fields we saw that the left and right edges of the screen appeared brighter than the middle. Meanwhile, as we mentioned above, viewing the image from off angle lightened the black areas somewhat, robbing some punch from colors. The Sony LCD lost a bit less depth of black from off angle, although we still preferred the Samsung from non-sweet-spot seats because it didn’t become discolored. We’ve seen reports on AVS forum showing purplish discoloration from off angle on some 650 series models, but we didn’t see it on our review sample.

Bright lighting: The LN52A650 has a similar type of shiny screen as last year’s Samsung LCDs, and compared with a more matte LCD screen, such as the one on the Sony KDL-46XBR4, it reflects quite a bit of room lighting. With the windows open during the day and shining on the screen, we could clearly make out our reflection in the screen, especially during dark scenes, and it was a good deal more distracting than on the Sony or the Pioneer. Samsung claims the screen does increase contrast ratio and produce deeper black levels, which might be true given the LN52A650’s black level performance, but we still found ourselves distracted by the shine in bright environments while watching dark scenes.


Cnet Video Review of the LN-52A650

Understanding Universal Remotes

September 27, 2009

A universal remote is a smart way to consolidate the operation and management of your home entertainment system into a single, convenient controller. Virtually every modern home audio and video component comes with its own remote, so if you are suffering from an overabundance of remotes on your coffee table, a properly equipped and configured universal model may be the perfect cure. A universal remote is also a quick solution if you lose or damage one of your other remotes, unless you don’t mind shuttling between your couch and TV every time you want to change the channel.

Universal remote controls range from basic, inexpensive units that control a TV and a small handful of associated components, to big, LCD touchscreen-equipped models costing $400 or more. There is no reason to purchase an expensive, top-end unit if you only need to control your TV, DVD player and VCR, but if you are thinking of expanding your home entertainment system in the near future, make sure your universal remote is up to the task.

A budget universal remote operates your TV and several associated components, such as a DVD player, VCR, cable box and satellite receiver. It handles basic tasks like power on/off, volume adjustments, channel changes and simple tape or disc playback. More sophisticated remotes can control additional components such as home theater receivers and DVRs. Other components may include dedicated buttons for Blu-ray disc players or DVD recorder controls, as well as illuminated buttons. Some have small LCD screens that show menu options and other information. High-end models control as many as 20 devices, and some have large color LCD touchscreens with simple-to-use icon-based user interfaces.

A common feature on more advanced universal remotes, and appearing more and more in less expensive models as well, are user-programmable macro controls. Say you want to watch a DVD. Instead of individually turning on each component and setting it to the proper input or mode, simply press the button you have configured with your “play DVD” macro. The remote then sends the necessary commands to turn on your TV and switch it to the DVD input, power up your home theater receiver and set it to the correct surround sound mode and turn on your DVD player and start playing the disc. It doesn’t get much easier than that.

There are a number of ways to configure your new universal remote control to work with your TV and other components. Just about every universal remote includes preprogrammed codes for a broad range of manufacturers. To set the remote to operate your DVD player, for example, just find your player’s manufacturer (and in some cases, the model number or family) on the supplied list and enter that code into the remote. This may present a problem if you have obscure or old components, however. In addition to preprogrammed codes, remotes with learning capabilities are able to copy the signals of your old remotes, thus “learning” the proper signal to send to your A/V gear. This is great if you have an old component or one that isn’t commonly included in preprogrammed code lists, but it obviously won’t help if you are trying to replace a damaged or lost remote.

How to Shop

When choosing a universal remote, you first need to identify the number and type of components you wish to control. This can include obvious items like a TV, DVD player and VCR, as well as a home theater receiver, cable box or satellite receiver, DVR, HD DVD or Blu-ray disc player, DVD recorder, tape deck and even some home network controls. Once you know your requirements, think about your budget. It is nice to have expansion possibilities, but there’s no need to spend extra money when a less-advanced (but still very capable) controller will do.

Another consideration is a remote’s shape and weight. This may not seem important at first, but since the remote will be your primary user interface with your home entertainment system, you should make sure a potential purchase’s chassis and button layout are comfortable to you. If possible, try out a remote at an electronics store before making your final decision.

Most universal remotes operate on standard batteries, but a few (especially those with power-hungry LCD screens) come with internal rechargeable batteries, as well as chargers that double as stands. Some units include motion sensors and light up their screens when they are moved or touched, so you don’t need to fumble in the dark for the “illuminate” button.

A majority of remotes, universal or otherwise, rely on IR (infrared) light signals to communicate with their associated components. This requires a direct line of sight between the remote and the receiving hardware. However, a few utilize RF (radio frequency) signals, which have the handy ability to transmit through walls or home theater cabinets. If your A/V setup is in a closable cabinet, or if you often listen from a different room, an RF remote is a wise choice.

There are many options available, but if you know your needs and keep your budget in mind, you should have an easy time selecting the right universal remote control for you.

Product Review: Universal Remote Touchscreen MX-3000

September 27, 2009

The MX-3000 from Universal Remote, is one of the flagship products in the home theater master line.  The MX-3000 is a universal color touch screen remote control.  The screen size is 3.8 inches and has the ability to operate by infra-red, radio frequency, or both.

For anyone who has ever lusted after color touch screen remotes, such as those offered by Crestron or AMX, but unwilling to sink what could equate into a few mortgage payments into a remote, take note this might be what your looking for.  While the MX-3000 doesn’t offer quite the level of customization a Crestron system does, it has more than enough features to handle the average home theater or media room setup.

At about 7 inches wide and 5 inches high the remote fits comfortable in your hand, and the color LCD screen is easy to read.  The contrast of the screen seemed quite high and made punching in channel numbers a breeze but, I’m getting ahead of myself.  Any programmable remote that uses PC based software is really only as good as that software, if it’s hard and cumbersome to program, your unlikely to get all you can out of it.
Earlier I’d mentioned the MX-3000 was IR or RF or both. To use the RF ability, you’ll need the separate MRF-350 which reads commands from the remote and then spits them out via infrared emitters attached to the front of the equipment.  I highly recommend this option, as pointing the remote at the equipment is no longer necessary, six infrared emitters are included.  This option pretty much guarantees the codes will be sent, regardless of where the remote was pointed at the time, also the range is increased from the infrared distance of 30 to 50 feet, to over 100 feet via RF.

Other features include custom background files, the ability to import .ccf files from other remotes such as the Philips Pronto, and the ability to “smart route” commands.  This gives you the ability to remotely control identical devices separately.  Overall, I really liked this remote, while my MX-900 RF offers many of the same functions, the color LCD display of the MX-3000 was really alluring, not to mention how it felt in my hand, it was really comfortable.  So as said previously, if you’ve considered touch panels from Crestron or AMX in the past, but didn’t need that level of control, not to mention the price tag, the MX-3000 is highly recommended.

Product Review: URC MX-900 Universal Remote

October 14, 2008

If you had to pick the one piece of your home-theater puzzle that ties all of the components together to make them work as one, what would it be?

A processor is a good choice. It acts as the brain of your system — almost every component feeds a signal into or gets a signal out of it. Others might point to their speakers: without a good set of speakers, your system’s performance can’t be optimized. Then there’s your amplifier, your DVD player, your TV or projector, even your power conditioner — each could be considered quite valuable.

Everyone values something different in a system. My system’s MVP (Most Valued Product) — the thing ties all my components together and lets me enjoy them every time I use them — is my universal remote control. With one push of a button on the remote, everything is turned on, and each component is automatically adjusted to the proper settings. I can then control the devices individually. My universal remote lets me enjoy my system by simplifying everything about its operation.

Over the last few years, as the high-definition boom has begun to reach my friends and family and they’ve asked me for advice, the one purchase I’ve always recommended is a universal remote. Although these new enthusiasts have mainly been concerned with the size of their new TVs or the placement of their new speakers, such details wouldn’t matter if they couldn’t actually use them. Place three or four different remotes in their hands and there’s a good chance they’ll never figure it out. The new A/V system will become a frustration because they can’t get it to work.

A really good remote can change that. Think of it as a book titled Home Theater Operation for Dummies. I have owned my reference remote, the MX-850 from Universal Remote Control, for about two years. In that time it has faithfully served me and kept my attention on my system’s performance, not on which remote does what.

Meet the new boss

A few months back, while scanning Universal Remote Control’s website, I stumbled across a list of their other models. Just above the MX-850 was the slimmer, more streamlined MX-900, with a layout slightly different from the MX-850’s, and only six LCD buttons instead of ten. (The LCD buttons can be custom-named and -programmed via the remote’s Programming menu.) I asked my editor to contact Universal to request a review sample, and within a few days, an MX-900 ($449.95) was in my hand.

A big change from the MX-850 is the replacement of its Main button with the MX-900’s Watch and Listen controls, for those times when the user wants to use an A/V system for (respectively) video and sound, or only for listening. To hear the radio or a CD, you press Listen. Otherwise, the MX-900 and MX-850 are very similar. The slimmer MX-900 fits the hand better, but the MX-850’s layout is more spacious. On both, the illumination button is on the right side.

To program the MX-900, I had to download its software from Universal’s website. These downloads are not available to everyone. The MX-900 is sold mainly through audio/video retailers and custom installers, and should be programmed for the user by the store that sells it. If a novice attempts to program an MX-900 without assistance from an experienced professional, it could turn into an expensive paperweight.

But if you insist on doing it yourself, I do have some advice. First, you’ll need a list of all of the components you wish to control. With this list, you navigate the device menus on the Universal Remote Control website and locate the appropriate codes for each component. In a few instances I was unable to find the correct codes for my TV and a DVD player, but was able to use the codes for different models from the same manufacturers. This process was pretty cut-and-dried.

Next I had to set up Device Macros and Punch Throughs. According to my dictionary, in computer science, a macro is an abstraction that defines how a certain input pattern is replaced by an output pattern according to a defined set of rules. In lay terms, it’s a set of signals the remote can output, via either an infrared or a radio frequency, to a component — e.g., “Power on” or “Power off.” At the same time, the macro can also choose the settings for your TV or receiver. For example, I’ve named the MX-900’s top LCD button “HDTV,” and have programmed it to adjust my system to watch and listen to my TV through my home-theater system. When I press HDTV, the MX-900 emits these commands: 1) TV powers on. 2) Anthem AVM 50 processor powers on. 3) Anthem AVM 50 switches to TV mode. 4) Cable box powers on. 5) Remote function switches to cable box.

Punch Through gives greater flexibility of system control to those who run an entire system through an A/V processor or receiver. Punch Through allows functions like the volume to be controlled by your receiver, regardless of which device the remote may be controlling. For instance, if I’m watching TV, the MX-900 functions as the cable-box remote, but designates that the volume of the system be controlled by the receiver instead of controlling the volume settings of the cable box.

After all of the commands are set via computer, you must download these settings to the remote. The MX-850 had to be connected to a computer via the computer’s serial port and its own mini stereo plug. The download process took only a minute or so, but the MX-900’s USB 2.0 connection does the job in seconds — so fast that, the first time I downloaded the commands, I assumed the program wasn’t working properly. This is a tremendous improvement, especially when you’re trying to fine-tune your settings. Although you may download new settings only once in a blue moon, when you’re first tweaking the remote’s programming, the quicker you can download settings, the better.

Once I’d programmed the MX-900, its performance was very consistent. The only time it failed was when its four AAA batteries ran low. I replaced them, and the remote was back up and running flawlessly.


Functionally, the MX-900 and MX-850 have a few differences. The MX-900 is capable of replacing up to 40 different remote controls, the MX-850 only 20. This is hardly reason to disparage the MX-850 — few people have 20 different devices to control, let alone 40. The biggest difference for me was the way the MX-900 fit my hand. After a year of using the MX-850, I found it difficult to adjust, though over time I did become more comfortable with the slimmer MX-900. With the MX-900’s fewer programmable LCD buttons, I had to adjust my standard settings. Batteries seemed to last longer in the MX-900; each set of four AAAs endured several weeks of heavy use.

The MX-900’s biggest competitor is probably Logitech’s 890 universal remote ($399.99 including RF sensor). The 890 is a consumer remote that can be purchased from one of the big-box retail stores. Areas where the 890 excels include how easily it can be programmed. Logitech’s programming software is very intuitive and user-friendly, and setup is much faster than with the MX-900, though not as flexible. In short, the Logitech doesn’t require professional setup. The fact that the Universal MX-900 does could be a deal breaker for some.

I found the MX-900 the more consistent performer: It worked every time I pushed a button. Whether aimed precisely at the intended device or anywhere else in the room, its signal reached the component every time. If the Logitech’s signal didn’t hit its target, I had to reset the remote to its main page and try again. In such cases I pressed the Logitech 890’s Help button, which let me find the step in the programming macro that had been skipped, then re-send it. Usually, this worked. There was also a short delay between the time I pressed a button on the 890 to its sending of the IR signal. The MX-900 seemed to emit a stronger signal, making aim not nearly as important. Both remotes have programmable LCD screens, but the Logitech’s is a color display.

While I’ve been using the MX-900, my MX-850 has been on loan to a friend. I set up the MX-850 to suit his system, and after about three minutes of showing him how to operate it, he was using it like an old pro. He uses it every time he operates his system, and always mentions how much he loves it. His wife can now operate their A/V system without his assistance, and so uses the system much more often. But the review process is over, I have to send the MX-900 back to Universal, and soon I’ll be asking my friend to return the MX-850. He’ll then have to remember how to use the four remotes that control his system, and his wife will probably stop using the system altogether. If I know him, he’ll probably buy a Universal remote ASAP.


When you fork over the considerable amount of dough needed to buy a new TV or audio system, any additional expenditure — especially a $450 remote control — can seem unwarranted, even foolish. But the Universal Remote Control MX-900 can tie everything together and greatly simplify the operation of a complex system — a key to enjoyment. It can do this for even for the most technologically challenged person. Without reservation, I recommend it to every home-theater user I know — and to every one I don’t know, too.