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Summary:

Everyone keeps saying that the iPhone will replace many of the gadgets we use today, like GPS devices, MP3 players, digital cameras, and pocket-sized video cams. After testing out ThinkFlood’s new RedEye Universal Remote Control System for the iPhone, I’m almost ready to add another gadget to that […]

RedEye basestation

Everyone keeps saying that the iPhone will replace many of the gadgets we use today, like GPS devices, MP3 players, digital cameras, and pocket-sized video cams. After testing out ThinkFlood’s new RedEye Universal Remote Control System for the iPhone, I’m almost ready to add another gadget to that endangered species list: the universal remote control.

Almost.

RedEye’s system is a hardware base station that works in tandem with an iPhone app. The app is free from the iPhone App Store, but the base station, which doubles as a charging dock, costs $188. Together, the hardware and software combination turns your iPhone (or iPod touch) into a universal remote that can control your home entertainment system.

Setup is relatively easy, though a bit time-consuming, depending on how many devices you need the RedEye to control. You pair your phone with the RedEye base station, which is done through your home’s wireless network. You must keep the base station in the same room with the devices you’d like it to control, but once the system is up and running, you can enter commands from your iPhone from any location where you have access to your wireless network. (If you don’t have a wireless network, you can still use the RedEye system, though your range will be more limited.)

Once your RedEye is connected to your network, it automatically sets up a profile for the room in which you’d like to use it. You complete the profile by adding all of the devices you have in the room, such as TVs, cable boxes, CD and DVD players, AV receivers, and more. (Blu-ray players, curiously, weren’t included in the list of devices.) The process is simple — if the RedEye system has your device and its necessary infrared codes in its database. If your device isn’t listed, you can add it manually, but be prepared to spend some time doing so.

I added three components to my RedEye system: a ViewSonic TV, a Motorola cable box, and a Magnavox DVD player. The RedEye found the necessary codes for both the TV and cable box (it searches the database and presents you with a few options, which you can test to make sure you’ve found the right device), but not the older DVD player. That’s where things got annoying: In order to control my DVD player, I had to add each control manually. That involved taking the DVD player remote, aiming it at the RedEye base station, pressing a button, and logging that button into the software on my iPhone. I got through “power on” and “play” before giving up.

Matt Eager, ThinkFlood’s president and co-founder, says that the company recognizes this limitation, and notes that getting as many devices as possible into that database is an important goal. And rightly so; the RedEye system is so much more usable when all you have to do is sit back and watch the software add your device, rather than having to do it yourself, step by painstaking step.

Once your devices have been added, you can use the system to control them, almost as you would with any remote. What’s surprising about RedEye, though, is that it doesn’t present you with a virtual replica of a hardware remote, as other software-based systems do. Instead, you get a scrollable list of choices, such as Arrow Down, Arrow Up, Channel Down, Channel Up, and so on. The end result is the same, and any time I pressed a command, it was instantly accomplished on my TV; the channel or volume changed with little to no lag time. But it feels a bit awkward to scroll through a list to find the commands. I wish RedEye would put a virtual remote on the screen instead.

Once you’ve added devices, you can set up activities that require multiple commands on different gadgets. This is a feature that some universal remotes offer, and, in theory, the idea is great — it eliminates the fumbling with various remotes and buttons. But I found it a bit flaky in actual use.

I created an activity called “Watch DVD” that would turn on my TV, change its input, turn on the DVD player, and start playing a DVD. (Once you launch an activity, you’re presented with an interface that looks like an on-screen remote, which shows me that ThinkFlood has this capability; I just wish it were offered elsewhere in the app.)

This is where I ran into problems: The RedEye system would only change my TV’s input to the next one on the list (from HDMI to S-Video), when I needed it to move three ahead in the list to AV (which is the input I use for my DVD player). So I amended the activity to move to the next input three times, and then start playing the DVD. This failed, too, but it seemed to be more of a problem with my TV, which didn’t always change the input as fast as the RedEye system seemed to want it to.

This limitation isn’t a RedEye-specific problem; it’s something I’ve noticed with other remote control systems. And it’s one of the reasons I’ve never made the leap to a true universal remote. The other is price: Logitech’s well-regarded Harmony universal remotes, for example, can cost $400 or more. That makes the RedEye system look like a bargain in comparison. If I were to consider a universal remote, I’d take a long look at the RedEye. It has lots of potential, and while it’s not quite ready for a spot on my holiday wish list this year, with some fine tuning, it could be a contender next year.

  1. Hmmm… so guests would have to use my phone to control the TV? Or should I just tell them to program their phones? I wouldn’t worry about the universal remote being endangered. Anyone at my place can pick up the Harmony (which cost less than RedEye) and press the TV or DVD button, and not worry about inputs on the receiver, etc. And I can talk on the phone while turning the volume down on the TV.

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  2. For those who use their computer as their media center (I have mine set up to play DVDs and AVIs out a cable from my video card into my TV set), Air Mouse is a much cheaper alternative that will let you remote control your computer media players as well as act as a wireless touchpad mouse.

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  3. Good review.

    Regarding, the problem you had with the remote issuing a sequence of commands too quickly: I think this is a fairly common feature on higher-end remotes. I have a $100 universal remote that I bought about 6 years ago that allows me to do this. It’s usually a feature that’s buried in the manual, and not on the box.

    Overall, I think using an iPhone or iPod Touch as a remote is a great idea, and was wondering when a solution like this would be released. But the bottom line is it’s way overpriced. They should be able to turn a healthy profit selling this for $50. This would undercut the Harmony remotes which dominate the market.

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  4. Seems to me that this is an ill-advised and rather feeble attempt at convergence. I can use my phone as a universal remote, as long as I have buy this other piece of expensive hardware. And commenter Chris raised the other glaring flaw – having to make my phone available. Sorry AppleFanBoys, but this is just plain dumb.

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  5. The review greatly overstates the cost of a Harmony remote, which can be had for as little as $60, not $400 or more. The Harmony Remote does the same thing as the RedEye system with real hardware buttons and much larger device database– for less money.

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  7. TheFutureIsHere Saturday, February 13, 2010

    The folks who bash on this product above just don’t get it. 1) For starters there are millions of existing iPhone users. It’s a captive passionate audience many of which are early technology adopters and perfect to sell a product like this to.
    en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:IPhone_sales_per_quarter.svg

    2) ThinkFlood is a startup, but a smart one. It’s only a matter of time before they also have support for Android, Blackberry, Windows Mobile, Symbian, etc. All they would need to do is fund a port of the handset client software to each of these other platforms and my guess is the exact same hardware dock will be able to support these new platforms without changing anything. So the strategy is target the biggest install base first that will give you some buzz, some sales to fund additional development, and a chance to refine things. If sales go well, you’ll see much broader platform support and next thing you know nearly every phone your guest could show up with will have a client available.

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