More Plus Less Doubles Remote Users' Pleasure

By Jeff Malester On Aug 20 2001 - 6:00am

Sophisticated consumers are demanding both more and less from their remote controls — more functions that communicate with more consumer electronics devices, and fewer headaches, because a paucity of tech-talk increases ease of use.

With many more cinema enthusiasts making a home for their viewing pleasures, in-house theaters are on the increase, and the multi-dimensional remote is playing a key role in increasing this enjoyment.

In addition, remotes offering wireless programming, with no cable connections, and remotes that feature DVD capability are critical to the newest generation of product.

"The beauty of [our] PROmote, is that it completely eliminates the frustrating hassles of programming and reprogramming remote controls," said Sherman Langer, senior VP/sales and marketing at Gemini Industries, about the newest family of Internet programmable remotes.

"Other remote controls that utilize the Web for programming do so with cable connections," said Marilyn Liska, director of marketing at Gemini, about the PROmote. "It is the only solution today that virtually programs itself — wirelessly — right off the computer screen," she said.

At a suggested retail of $29.99 to $59.99, the Clifton, N.J.-based Gemini emphasizes the simplicity of its PROmote device. Steps taken include: logging on to the Web site, selecting CE components users want PROmote to control from a list featuring virtually every brand and model manufactured today, pointing the PROmote at the computer screen and flashing the necessary programming codes into the remote's infrared scanner.

"As consumers upgrade their home entertainment systems, they will require more advanced remote controls that offer additional features and product capability," said Bill Brown, product planning manager at Deptford, N.J.-based Thomson Multimedia, supplier of RCA-brand remotes.

"This fall, reflecting the rapid growth of DVD players, we can expect to see a number of new remote controls featuring DVD capability as well as LCD, touch screen and learning remotes that are easier to use and will enable consumers to consolidate several remotes in one unit. Colors and finishes will continue to be emphasized," Brown said.

The RCA RCU810 has been specifically designed for the home theater enthusiast, with the back lighted remote able to control up to eight devices — including televisions, VCRs, satellite receivers, cable boxes, audio receivers, DVD players and CD players. The remote, at a suggested $69.95 retail, has an LCD screen with a menu that steps the user through setup and operation.

By using the macro keys on this RCA remote, users can program a series of keystrokes under one button. The learning keys transfer functions from the previous remote, eliminating the need to completely reprogram.

"Growth in home theater has fueled the remote control category for the industry and Sony," said Jim Avato, marketing manager at Park Ridge, N.J.-based Sony Electronics. "Television viewing in the typical American home has changed from just having a TV and VCR to now having a TV, VCR, DVD, receiver, 5.1 speaker system and cable box or satellite receiver.

"This proliferation of components has resulted in the coffee table getting overrun with a variety of remotes from different manufacturers. Family members don't know which remote to use with what component," Avato said.

One solution from Sony is its RM-AV2100 remote that offers a convenient method of operating many home theater components. This universal remote, compatible with many different CE brands, can operate up to 12 components, including CD players and tuners as well as non audio-video equipment such as air conditioners and lights that operate off infrared signals.

Priced at a suggested retail of about $180, the RM-AV2100 is just the beginning of what remotes will have to offer down the road. "We see remote controls becoming more powerful and capable of operating more home theater components. Remote control operation will become streamlined and user-friendly, adding more enjoyment to the entire home theater experience," Avato said.

"The universal remote category is begging for something new," said Kent Shiplet, executive VP/marketing and sales at Jasco Products.

In light of this, Oklahoma City-based Jasco is unveiling a new GE-brand Designer Series line — a four-device model that is offered in a number of metallic shades, including silver, blue, teal, jade and rose. Suggested retail is $14.99.

"In the past three years, retailers have witness significant retail-price-point erosion in the category," Shiplet said. "More recently, we have seen increased sales in step-up models that include the satellite, menu, PIP and audio features needed to control the expanded home entertainment equipment owned by consumers. This will help increase average unit sales and rebuild the profitability in the category," he said.

"The universal remote control business continues to be an important growth category for all retailers," said Eddie Oliver, senior product manager at Jensen, a Recoton company. "Newer technologies, like DVD players and DBS systems have kept the demand for universal remotes at an all-time high.

"Though the demand for inexpensive universal remote controls continues to be high, industry trends indicate that consumers are looking for more technologically advanced remotes, with a greater range of features, such as RF, learning and touch-pad remotes," Oliver said.

The Jensen branded SC-595 combines radio frequency technology with infrared capability to permit operation of up to 10 electronic devices from locations as far away as 100 feet. It operates through walls, ceilings and floors. Users can change a radio station or TV channel, raise or lower program volume, skip or repeat tracks on a CD or switch source components from anywhere in the home.

The Lake Mary, Fla.-based Jensen said a single SC-595, at a suggested $59.95, allows users to operate a television, VCR, cable box, satellite receiver, stereo/video receiver, CD player, DVD player, WebTV and two auxiliary devices in any of those categories.

"Consumers continue to look for remote controls with ease of operation," said Fred Bolton, director of sales and marketing at Universal Remote Control, Harrison, N.Y.

"They are willing to pay a premium for that convenience, creating a golden profit opportunity for retailers and custom installers to sell step-up features. Enthusiasts are looking for PC interface-compatible type remote controls more than ever," he said.

Universal Remote said its MX-500, at a suggested $189 retail, is preprogrammed with more than 1,000 audio/video components and learns up to 530 functions from a user's original remote control. The unit offers 26 LCD screens that contain 200 function buttons in each page. There also are five LCD screens for 50 favorite channel buttons and a main LCD page for 10 device buttons.

Universal Remote calls the MX-500 easy to program, quick and easy to clone. It offers an ergonomic design, back lighting and memory backup.

The SRC-2000 LCD, made by Cerritos, Calif.-based Proton U.S.A., is "designed for people who want to reduce the number of remotes in their home. They want to be able to configure the remote to their needs, rather than accept a button layout designed by the manufacturer," said Bill Tovatt, VP/sales and marketing.

"The SRC's smart, fast learning design, and easy-to-use back lighted touch screen, with fully customizable button sizes and labels, means the remote does all the work. An adjustable light-level sensor keeps the screen visible in low lighting — no more guessing what 'alt/aux 2' does, or accidentally disconnecting the DVD player in the middle of a movie," Tovatt said.

Suggested retail for the SRC-2000 is $170. The SDS-2000 docking station has a suggested $90 retail, while software and cable are $40 suggested retail.

Looking ahead, Tovatt said, "The CE industry is moving toward universal remotes that are truly multi-functional, including some that are RF (radio frequency)." Proton is planning to offer its first radio frequency learning remotes in the near future.

"Consumers are looking for a remote control that can offer both ease of use and total control — and fulfills on the promise of being universal," said Marc Harmsen, marketing manager at Philips Consumer Electronics in North America.

"More and more people are starting to realize that their normal remote control doesn't cut it. The so-called 'universal remote control' turns out to only control one or two devices in the home," Harmsen said. "This segment is growing as consumers are realizing that the remote control is the single most used and interacted-with product in their respective home theater," he said.

As the number of household CE products grows, more and more remotes are being stacked up in the home. This, combined with the increasingly complex user interface, has pushed the Atlanta-based Philips to come up with a simple, single solution — the Pronto family of remotes.

"Pronto gets rid of the six remote controls average Americans have on their coffee tables," said Harmsen. "It is the remote control that ties everything together, and Pronto is completely customizable. Users can put their favorite logo or icon on the remote's touch screen, and use one simple interface to control their electronics products.

The Pronto Pro TSU6000, at a suggested $999 retail and most powerful Pronto to date, brings a color touch screen to the family entertainment area. It offers 256 high-resolution colors, has eight MB of memory and is IR/RF capable. The unit has a database of infrared codes for more than 500 brands in 17 product categories. Button colors, channel icons and even background color can be user-customized. A pick-up sensor, which activates the LCD screen upon lifting the remote, is another new feature.

For remote users who wander all over the house, Terk has introduced its new Remote Anywhere RF remote control range extender that gives users total control of their satellite systems and audio/video components from "anywhere they want," according to the Commack, N.Y.-based company.

Remote Anywhere, at a suggested retail of $49.95, allows consumers to control their satellite receivers, A/V components, TiVo, DVD player and tuner, among others, from other rooms, up to 150 feet away.

The LF-UNIV universal model is designed to fit easily on most infrared remote controls. By mounting the sending unit into the remote and plugging in the receiver, Remote Anywhere is ready for operation in seconds, the company said. Specially-made models are available for certain satellite receiver systems, including Dish Network 300 series, RCA series 400 and 500, as well as Hughes or Mitsubishi DirecTV.

Not forgetting kids, Littleton, Colo.-based US Electronics, in partnership with Fobis Technologies, has introduced the Weemote 2, an updated version of the Weemote child's remote. The design rationale underlying Weemote 2 is to provide pure simplicity for users who are challenged by standard remote controls — namely young children, the disabled and the elderly who are vision-impaired or who suffer memory loss.

The updated Weemote 2, at a suggested $44.95 retail, has all the features of the original Weemote, but adds compatible codes for TV/VCR combo units, TiVo and Replay personal video recorders and EchoStar Dishplayer devices.

The Weemote 2 includes channel support for 10 channels and an expanded code library to cover even more TVs and set-top boxes. The new remote is equipped with a Power function to ensure that when the TV/cable is turned on with the Weemote, it will default to the No. 1 programmed favorite channel.

Some remote controls offer voice command to guide the products' actions. One example is the inVoca-brand remote control from Ronkonkoma, N.Y.-based Kash 'N' Gold, which now does business under the inVoca name.

Sold as the inVoca Standard at a suggested $79.99 retail, along with a Deluxe model at $99.99 suggested retail, the Standard can recognize up to 54 commands. Its keypad offers 24 macros providing multi-step operation with a single spoken command or the press of a single button.

Voice prompts control ease of setup, channel scan, favorite channel selection and additional multi-operations. The unit provides independent voice commands for up to four different family members.

Sensory Inc. of Santa Clara, Calif., provides the inVoca remotes' voice-activation chip technology.

An Internet-based interactive universal remote, offered by Irvine, Calif.-based Evolve Communications, is said by the company to be the first device of its kind to use the Internet as its content platform.

Called the Guide Remote, the unit provides users with detailed TV program listings, in-depth program information, entertainment recommendations, interactive shopping, voting and targeted advertising and promotion opportunities in a back lighted LCD screen on the remote control handset. Information is sent to the Guide Remote during weekly Web sessions at the Web site.

Aimed at viewers who love television, and enjoy both technology and the Internet, the product allows uninterrupted TV, while the user can still surf around to find what else is on. The remote, which the company says works with all TV, cable box and satellite TV brands, can control up to 16 devices — including TVs, VCRs, cable boxes, satellite receivers, DVDs, laser discs, CD players, audio receivers, amplifiers, audio tapes and DATs.

Suggested retail is $199.00 and the product will soon be available to consumer electronics stores nationally. No subscription fees are involved.

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