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Philips RC 9800i Programmable Remote Control

Part II

October, 2005

Ofer LaOr

 

Learning

One of the most tedious tasks for anyone programming a universal remote control is the task of teaching the remote new codes. For a system like mine, that can take hours and hours of work because of the sheer number of remote controlled devices in my household.

The RC 9800i takes no prisoners with regards to IR codes. It comes with a huge database of preprogrammed codes.

There are several ways to program these in. First, you tell the remote what the device does, as well as type, as well as the manufacturer and model number of the unit. Then, you are able to either test through potential codes, or have the remote try to identify the device by having you send up to three commands on the remote. That means you program your original remote towards the RC 9800i, click the button(s) it tells you to use, and after a little bit, it will figure out what device you have and what code to use. This is a huge timesaver and one of the neatest features of the unit.

Of course, for situations where you have a device thatís not included in the code database, you can always manually enter all of the commands and learn them individually. Luckily, I only had one such device to program in.

The Pronto takes discrete codes seriously, as well it should. The problem is that, more often than not, consumer electronics manufacturers do not take into account the fact that someone might want to use macros or universal remotes on their equipment Ė and do not bother with adding discrete commands to their products. The RC 9800i first tries discrete codes, particularly for on-off buttons, but also for things like changing inputs. On my Panasonic DVD player, discrete "Off" doesnít work correctly (it works, but leaves the player in an unstable state that it cannot wake up from properly). Having failed the tests, the remote figures out the lack of a particular discrete code and simply uses a toggle On/Off button instead.

This is, of course, less stable during actual use, and Philips has a special "Sync State" button that allows you to correct mistakes that macros might have made. For example, imagine a five step macro designed to turn on your system to a particular state (e.g., watching DVDs), but someone ends up walking between you and the DVD player right in the middle of turning it on. The RC 9800i doesnít know this and continues to assume the DVD player is turned on, but of course it is not. The sync state screen is a useful solution to the problem Ė you basically tell the unit which device has not reacted correctly (e.g., TV forgot to turn on, DVD has not turned on, receiver has not switched to the correct input, etc.), and it will correct the problem for you.

Ease of Use

During normal use, the RC 9800i presents you with a list of rooms. You first tell the unit which room you are in, then select an activity. Selecting a particular activity (Listen to a CD, Watch TV, Watch a Movie on my DVD Player) will automatically trigger the required macros to make that activity happen.

The actual activity buttons are a tad small, which can make it hard sometimes to tell if the button Iím pressing is for watching DVDs or listening to a CD, but itís quite easy to understand in general.

Once youíre in a particular activity, you are presented with a set of buttons that are relevant to the activity.

The unit has quite a few physical buttons (not just virtual on-screen ones) that include Channel Switching, Volume Control, and a jog dial (Up/Down/Left/Right/OK).

As most activities are complex, a single on-screen page is usually not sufficient for switching between the different activity pages because they can be tedious. Also, you have no real control over how the pages are designed (the wizard essentially designs those pages for you), but a handy page button allows you to shift pages quickly.

The actual on-screen display is a crystal clear color LCD and looks amazing. I hope Philips provides more skins to the remote in a future firmware update, as the wizard doesnít do justice to the great screen quality.

The hard buttons light up when touched, and the entire remote comes to life when tilted. A home button lets you go to the home screen.

I found myself longing for a physical "All Off" button, but this control is on-screen and not a hard button.

Wi-Fi

Another of the Pronto's neat features is its ability to communicate over a Wi-Fi connection. The unit is a UPNP (Universal Plug and Play) client that can communicate with any computer or device on an 802.11b network that provides UPNP services. UPNP devices are becoming more and more popular for streaming content, and Philips has an entire line of Streamium devices dedicated to the idea.

Iím sure that future versions of the Pronto might be able to update themselves over the Internet and provide more features (e.g., themes), but the original idea behind the Wi-Fi connection was to provide the remote with the ability to autonomously download your EPG data as well as stream content from your local network.

The software that comes with the RC 9800i is a basic UPNP server that lets you set up content sharing for your computer. I accomplished this quite easily, and I was able to set up a connection to the unit that allowed it to stream MP3 music and view images directly from my computer.

As I live outside the US, the unit did not have EPG data for me to try out. When the EPG data are shown, the operator can click on a particular show without really having to know which channel that show is on.

Streaming MP3 took a few seconds for buffering to work, as the unit doesnít want a sudden disconnection to cause audio to stutter or stop. The user is able to see the songís progress and control the playing. When undocked, the unit itself plays the song on a tiny onboard speaker.

The docking station, which holds the unit and charges it while not in use, keeps the remote upright, which lets you grasp it easily. The docking station also has an analog audio output that can allow the remote to stream audio content directly to your audio system.

Audio quality was excellent, given the limitations of MP3, and this is a really cool feature for the unit to have. The remote is also capable of viewing shared images from your computer (assuming it has the UPNP server software installed and configured). However, the docking station has no video output, so images cannot be viewed on your display.

Before you ask, movies cannot be streamed to the remote, at least not in present versions of the product.

Comfort and Build Quality

The RC 9800i was strange to hold at the beginning. In particular, the landscape mode was a bit unintuitive for me, as I was used to portrait style remotes. The unit is extremely light and easy to hold, even with just your right hand (left handed people might have problem.) I was able to reach all hard buttons using my right thumb, but LCD buttons still require both hands to be used.

After a while, I got used to holding the unit in portrait mode and it became more comfortable to use with either or both hands.

Although I didnít drop it, it does seem to be built quite sturdy. This is a welcome change from the original Philips Pronto 1000 or 2000, which tended to develop problems after having been dropped one too many times on the floor.

The review unit was curiously lacking access to the battery, which will probably be changed with production units (unless the remote has extremely long life batteries).

Conclusions

The Philips RC 9800i Remote Control is perfect for people who have problems programming their VCRs, or do not have the time, graphical skills, or patience to program a Pronto remote but still want the versatility and a great graphical interface.

People who like high level customization will still need to use a regular Pronto (like the Pronto 7000) that they can customize completely and set up their own personal graphics (the gold gear-shaft design from remote central comes to mind).

I would have liked to have more control over button placement, as well as an option for a flashier (read: more graphically intensive) theme.

In any case, this is one remote you donít need a custom installer to set up for you.



- Ofer LaOr -

Mr. LaOr is Editor of Hometheater.Co.Il, a Hi-Fi magazine published in
Israel. He is also the moderator for the AVS Forum Video Processing
section.

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