Archives For Remotes

Is a Harmony remote without a display really a Harmony? We’re about to find out. Like others in Logtech’s lineup, the new Harmony 300 can be programmed to control multiple devices, via a USB connection and their cloud-based device database of a bazillion components (some recorded better than others). However, unlike prior Harmonys, the 300 seems more ‘universal remote’ than macro-based event control… Given the missing LCD and 4 component limitation. Which is probably OK as they’re clearly shooting for the mass market with a $50 price point. (And battery life should be very good.) However, if you’re on a tight budget yet want a “real” Harmony remote experience (with color LCD), I’d spring for the 650 which recently launched at $100. Give it just a few more weeks and I bet we’ll see it on Amazon or Dell for $80.

The iTunes App Store is filled with applications that let you control desktop media players from your phone. There are remotes for iTunes, Boxee, VLC, and other apps. And then there’s RemoteX — a single application that functions as a remote for all of those apps, plus 9 more.

RemoteX is compatible with Windows XP, Vista, or Windows 7, and requires you to download a small server utility on your PC. Then you fire up the RemoteX app on your iPhone or iPod touch, connect to your desktop (which should automatically show up in the list of servers), and choose the media player you want to handle. The remote control functions change for each app. For instance, the VLC controller has FullScreen and DVD butons, while the Winamp controller has an Equalizer and Playlist button.

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As the bastard child of EchoStar, Sling Media no longer enjoys the same sort of blog love seen in years past. So while many learned that the 3G iPhone Slingbox client ($30) was finally approved over the weekend, you may have missed a few other nuggets of Sling goodness…

Bell TV is the first licensee, beyond the obvious DISH Network, to implement Sling Guide services. Re-branded as the more clear “Remote PVR” for Canada, Bell customers now receive:

  • Personalized and integrated view of everything there is to schedule or record in a simple visual interface on a PC, Mac or compatible smartphone.
  • Ability to search, browse and schedule new programming from anywhere you have an Internet connection.
  • One click recording.
  • Full control of the DVR and television using a computer or mobile phone.

But customers worldwide can appreciate Sling’s continued its march into the browser. Not only have they started to de-emphasize (hide) computer SlingPlayer software in favor of their evolving web player(s), they’ve unveiled a web-based remote control learning widget. (PC-only, for now.) Anyone who’s struggled with IR control of their STB will appreciate this tool to customize/create a virtual remote control by mapping IR signals from unsupported hardware:

Welcome to the Slingbox Remote Control Manager. We’ll help you set up your remote control, change it, or create a new custom one.

Back when I was employed by Sling, staying current with remotes was one of the causes I championed. And why not? The hardware supported it. I’m only bummed it’s taken Sling this long to get to a beta release.

Logitech’s new Touch Mouse iPhone app (above left) is a cute bit of marketing, but power users can do better. Touch Mouse, in conjunction with PC or Mac server software, allows you to use your iPhone as a remote touchpad (à la GlideTV) and keyboard. For basic control and a cost of zero dollars, it’ll probably serve many well – as long as you keep your expectations for future development in check.

But, as I learned over at A VC early last month, there’s at least one super-powered iPhone alternative available for a mere $2. Mobile Air Mouse Pro (above right) is a remote touchpad and keyboard… and so much more. The video below steps through many of Mobile Air Mouse Pro’s various features. Combined with a Ceton-infused HTPC, I can’t help but imagine the possibilities.

Catching up with Hillcrest Labs

Dave Zatz —  January 15, 2010


My last stop on the CES marathon last week was with Hillcrest Labs. Although, they’re a DC metro company, the only place I ever seem to see them is in Vegas. In fact, Josh Goldman, former CEO of former Akimbo, first introduced me to Hillcrest Labs back at CES 2007 when I told him I hadn’t yet seen anything cool at the show. Back then, Hillcrest had a single prototype product in The Loop — a motion-controlled remote, demo-ed with a custom onscreen UI. At the time, it seemed the plan was to partner with set-top box manufacturers to distribute The Loop. And other than the occasional tech demo, things appeared quiet for some time. Until Hillcrest’s Freespace technology, consisting of MEMS chips and an accelerometer, started showing up in other devices like Logitech’s MX Air Mouse and the remote for Kodak’s DMA.

And things have really started picking up for Hillcrest in the last few months. First off, they sued Nintendo for Wiimote patent infringement. And while Hillcrest’s rep couldn’t discuss the matter, some Googling has turned up a probable Nintendo licensing deal that settled the matter in August. Just as noteworthy, perhaps more, Hillcrest has licensed their Freespace technology to Universal Electronics, Inc (UEI) – the (largest?) manufacturer and reseller of remote controls. The fruits of that labor are now available (to set-top partners) in the form of the nicely contoured, and more traditional-shaped, Dolphin remote (pictured above) which transmits signals via RF. However, at CES, the two companies have also announced support for Bluetooth.


At the show, I played with both the Dolphin and The Loop — which is now available at retail for $99 and currently compares most favorably in function and price with GlideTV ($150) as a means of HTPC remote control. I still find The Loop’s design a bit awkward, but it’s qite unique and the scroll wheel complements the motion control very nicely. However, the Dolphin’s traditional remote form feels more natural. Both products are easier and more precise to control than the Wiimote, given Freespace’s “adaptive tremor cancellation” technology.


At ShowStoppers last night, I took a quick peek at L5’s iPhone universal remote control. The package consists of an IR transmitter/receiver with Apple dock connector and custom app, turning your iPhone into an AV remote. The app’s graphics are a bit old-school, but not offensive, and there appears to be tons of flexibility in terms of customization – various default remote types, room profiles, swipe to switch. Unlike a Harmony solution, there is no master cloud-based database of AV devices. Each remote button must be manually programmed/mapped, by pointing the iPhone+L5 at the remote you want to mirror. The L5 lands next month at a reasonably priced $50.

Beyond the WiFi-only iPhone Slingbox client ($30), neutered by Apple and AT&T, it’s been a very quiet year for Sling. No new retail products. Insignificant firmware and software updates to existing products. And fire sale SlingCatcher pricing. Combined with near radio silence, I figured EchoStar has been winding down the Sling line. However, all is not lost, as I received a CES invite earlier today that promises:

You’ll experience an up close view of Sling’s new placeshifting products including WiFi television, ultra-slim Slingboxes, and a next-generation touch screen device.

Of course, a WiFi television was shown at CES last year (pic above). Where it was pitched as a DISH Network accessory for Echostar’s yet-to-be-released “SlingLoaded” VIP 922 Echostar DVR. If I had to guess, that touchscreen device similarly accessorizes the 922 — as a Sonos-esque remote controller. I’m not entirely opposed to a slimmed-down Slingbox, but noticeably absent from this pitch is reference to a next generation Catcher… that lives up to its billing. Stay tuned, as I intend to find out more (with pics) next week in Vegas.


We’ve looked at quite a few remote controls in our day, but this is the first hand-powered one — no batteries required! The remote is a concept design by NEC and Soundpower, which obtains its power from the vibrations of your hand pressing the buttons.  Sort of a self-sustainable electronic device if you will. Unfortunately we won’t see anything like this in the near future, but it’s a very interesting concept nonetheless. Now if they could just make my phone battery-free…

Check out more of Brent’s reflections on tech, gadgets, software and media at Brent Evans Geek Tonic.