written by Mike Shea on 21 November 1999
With all the fancy equipment we buy and all the movies we watch, there is usually only one communications method between you and your equipment. The remote control. Unless you hike your ass off of the couch every time you want to switch an aspect ratio, you use one or (many) more remote controls to tell your system what to do. Now I have a very different point of view about my home theater equipment than my computer. First off, I don't buy to upgrade. I buy the best product I can afford and expect to have it for a long time (like three years). I also want the interface to be as transparent as the equipment. If I could sit down and my system automatically knew to start up and play a DVD, that would be great. I don't want to hunt for the right remote and I don't want to have to figure out system configurations. So I hunted for a remote that matched this style.
What I really want in a remote control is transparency. I don't want it to become anything more than a device to get me doing what I want to do. As far as control goes, I wanted a blank slate. I wanted a remote that controlled everything I want and need and I want a simple interface, preferably custom. Two remotes fit into this mold. One is the Harmon/Kardon Take Control. The other is the Philips Pronto. The Take Control got it's software from Microsoft which was my first strike (Mike's Rule #82, don't let your home theater to turn into a computer). I also found out that it's online support wasn't up yet and that the software it came with was pretty out of date. The Phillips Pronto on the other hand got bad reviews initially but this was without the computer software and internet support. At current time, there are tons of web sites with software for the Pronto and an excellent computer interface including the Pronto programming software. After reading all the positive user reviews, I decided to go ahead and get the Pronto.
I had played with the Pronto software about a week before I decided to buy it. You can download the Marantz RC2000 software (5 MB) which is exactly the same as the Pronto software except for the required registration. I wanted to check it for it's freedom and ease of use. I was very impressed. The software lets you import and export configurations from any internet downloaded pronto file. You can cut and paste buttons, set the screen any way you want, and set up any number of screens. I came up with a rudimentary set of controls for my system and ordered the unit.
Once the remote arrived, I hooked it up and downloaded the configuration I had built. I then began learning codes from my older remotes to the new configuration. At one point I had a scare when it didn't want to learn from my projector. Moving the projector remote about two feet away instead of six inches solved the problem. It learned every command I could send it without a stitch.
NEW! The layout of the remote itself is very well done. It's bottom concaves to fit your leg or arm rest. The rounded corners give it a friendly feel. It has seven buttons outside the screen that operate very much like a standard remote. These include Volume up and down, Channel up and down, mute, left and right. Each button can be programmed just like a simulated button. In other words, while you are on the DVD screen, the channel up and down skip tracks, while the left and right scan forward or back. Volume can be set to always activate your receiver volume no matter what screen you are on. Generally it is a good idea to put functions you would be using frequently during a movie on these buttons so you don't have to look at the screen.
On to the tweaking. I try to maintain the philosophy that I don't spend more time messing with something than using it for what it is built to do. But like many other things, I spent a lot of time moving buttons, rebuilding screens and setting up more commands. The nice thing about this was that I really felt like I had true freedom. Very rarely did I run into walls in the interface that wouldn't let me do something I wanted to do. The only one I have found so far was that I can't switch the look of a button once I have already set it up. I can rename it and reprogram it, but I can't put a new button image over it. This can be a pain if you have a 12 step macro that you programmed in to a boring grey button only to find a cool looking 3D button you wish you had used.
Speaking of macros, I never really used them before because I never could figure out the bizarre interface to set them up. With this remote you can either have it learn from you while you use the remote or you can set them up in the software which was alot easier for me to do. You can also do this outside of the macro section of the remote which makes it very nice (there is a separate macro menu that you use with the remote by itself). I set up one macro just to start up the system for playing a DVD, another for listening to a CD and a third to shut everything down.
For proper macro programming you need to dig up the dedicated on and off codes for your equipment. I was able to find most of the commands at Remote Central. Otherwise your system could get messed up when one component is on and another is off.
After setup, I found that most of everything I wanted to do could be done with very few button presses. Just hitting one button let me sit and watch a DVD. I didn't have to worry that my DSP-A1 had the right settings or that my projector was in the right aspect ratio, all I had to do was relax and watch the film.
This is truly the remote of the Gods. When you factor in the excellent ergonomics, limitless programming, ease of use, ease of programming, ability to customize, macro programming and user support, there simply isn't any other remote that compares. The only disadvantage is the price which set me back more than the cost of my whole first home theater (about $350 to $375). If you can get by that, this is truly the best remote I could ever see wanting.
NEW! Pronto Easter Egg! Just got this information off of Remote Central. There is a very interesting hidden surprise for those of you with this wonderful remote. Here are the instructions for accessing this...feature.
NEW! Related Information:
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