The ability to control every device in one’s home theater using the same remote control is a convenience well known hardware manufacturers like Logitech and Philips have built incredibly successful products around for years. Ranging from super slick machines equipped with color touch screens, to your run of the mill button crammed plastic wand, these 3rd party remotes have long sense become home theater staples.
As a result of launching the iPhone and iPod touch though, Apple with the help of a robust community of third party developers has raised the bar for what’s possible through a hand held device and the right software. Having already integrated everything from an alarm clock, calculator, calendar, phone, media player, portable gaming machine, camera, digital voice recorder, and GPS all into one pocket sized product, thanks to the folks over at ThinkFlood Inc. the universal remote control can now be added to that list. To learn about the RedEye Universal Remote Control system and find out how its performance compares in our opinion to the more traditional products it hopes to oust, dig into our in-depth review below.
What’s in the box and how it works:
While Apple’s commercials may lead you to believe Apps can do everything, in the case of universal remote controls, the iPhone and iPod touch’s lack of infrared transmission makes it worthless for your home theater right out of the box. So to work around this barrier, the RedEye system involves both a free app and some physical hardware.
At the core is the RedEye Wi-Fi to infrared bridge which also doubles as a universal charging dock for both the iPod touch and iPhone. This device works in conjunction with the free RedEye application to convert Wi-Fi commands sent from the iPhone/iPod into their infrared counterparts for controlling home theater components. Though overall it’s a unique and somewhat revolutionary piece of equipment, the limitations of its IR transmission technology are just like those found on standard remotes, meaning that it must be physically placed in direct line of sight of home theater components in order to work properly. Also since it’s built from semi transparent dark blue plastic, when in use (as shown in the lead image) the device emits a distinctive bright blue glow that buyers will find either cool or irritating depending on their preferences in home theater lighting. Size wise the RedEye looks just like a slightly thicker version of your standard dock, and ships with a set of universal adapters to provide a snug fit for the particular iPhone or iPod touch version buyers wish to charge.
Connecting Your Device to the Base Station:
Before doing anything with the hardware, owners must first download the free RedEye App and install it on their device. Then the IR bridge must be plugged in using the included 100-240V, 50-60Hz AC power adapter. Once powered, the transmitter then sets up an ad-hoc wireless network labeled RedEye that an iPhone or iPod can use to connect to the bridge wirelessly. However if a user already has a home wireless network setup, typically the next step is to switch over the base station to utilize this localized network for connecting instead.
Setting Up Rooms and Devices:
Once the RedEye is properly connected, room names must be created for each separate area buyers plan on controlling. While this process is somewhat menu heavy, the apps straight forward design makes it quite easy to create rooms one by one and list the components found in each.
When adding devices in particular for every room, first users must select a category such as: Televisions or Blu-ray players for example, then pick the device’s manufacturer from a list of virtually every electronics brand under the sun. This then allows the application to look up the appropriate IR codes to associate with various command functions.
During our testing, following these steps went relatively smoothly, although we did encounter one bug which caused the App to close out several times while programming in our receiver as a device. We were successful after a few tries though and eventually proceeded on to the next step.
Setting Up Activity Macros:
With all of the necessary device IR codes established, similar to more advanced universal remotes on the market, the RedEye system then allows users to program device macros to make activating common home theater activities like watching a DVD or Blu-ray a simple one button process. Most of these activity names are already programmed into the application, but the option does exist to create new ones from scratch should one’s personal home theater setup have special needs.
Like setting up the devices in the system in the step before though, creating macros to function properly is again somewhat time consuming. For instance, when creating a watch DVD macro, the app only listed the power on and off commands for the television, receiver, and DVD player automatically. Thus to complete the series of commands required for the macro to work, we had to program in the function to switch the receiver’s input over to our DVD player, and the command for the DVD player to eject the disc tray. These extra steps are necessary because the application has no way of telling how various components are connected, and therefore can’t intelligently guess which inputs need to be toggled to make activities work. While not a terrible inconvenience, based on our experiences with Logitech’s harmony series, we would have preferred to take the time initially to answer some basic connection questions about how our system was setup, rather than have to add in additional commands to each macro later on in this manner.
Using the Remote and Customizing the Layout:
After all of the above steps are completed, what’s eventually left is a list of common actions users can select to perform various functions. Depending on the nature of the activity, we were relieved to see that the application intelligently guessed at the standard commands users are likely to access on a per macro basis. In plain English this means the remote layout for the listen to music function only displayed “buttons” relevant to audio, where as the watch TV function included commands relevant to navigating the DVR’s guide, changing channels, and viewing the guide.
Cleanly designed, this remote interface aspect is one of the best features of the RedEye, particularly for control freaks. While the standardized button setups are good enough to go with as is, the application also allows users to customized virtually every aspect of the remote’s interface on a per activity basis. Buttons can be added and subtracted, adjusted in size, and rearranged to make the most sense from an individual use standpoint. In a nice touch, icons for favorite channels are even included among the customization options, providing users an attractive way to navigate quickly between popular channels.
However on the flip side, any commands not added on the remote screen by users are irritatingly difficult to find. For instance if you just wanted to switch your receivers input without accessing a macro, RedEye displays individual device commands in a lengthy alphabetical list, so you’re forced to scroll all the way to the bottom to switch say to XM radio. We would have preferred instead to see this commands grouped by purpose such as inputs, setup, etc. This small complaint can admittedly cbe avoided for the most part if enough thought is put into customizing each functions remote screen from the beginning. Overall though this level of layout customization is quite unique and a welcomed possibility for those willing to put in the effort to design things exactly to their liking. Especially considering buyers would have to pay up to 3 times as much money to find other remote solutions offering the same level of control.
Final Thoughts and Conclusions:
Summing up our experience using the RedEye, we can confirm that this hardware and software combination does deliver on it’s promise of converting iPods and iPhones into fully functional universal remotes. In some ways the kit even provides control and customization options unavailable to home theater enthusiasts with other remote solutions.
That said the RedEye still isn’t cheap, costing nearly as much as Logitech’s Harmony One which provides better levels of performance in terms of setup and usage out of the box. Buyers will also have to own a spare iPhone or iPod to pair with the system, or be ok without having a remote should their cell phone or PMP happen to be misplaced. However for those willing to put in the work to tweak every detail of the application to their exact personal home theater preferences, this may just be the option you’ve been waiting for. Particularly since it will work on upcoming devices such as the iPad, and is likely to be continuously improved through various software updates down the line.