Discussion about
frankspin

August 25th 2014 2:47 pm

Have you replaced your remotes with a mobile device?



Ever since I picked up a Harmony One I have been singing its praises. To me it's the perfect device for the living room with its sleek profile and convenient to reach buttons. This is why it pains me every time I go to use it and notice buttons not responding as well as they once did: it's on its last legs. Naturally, these aren't made anymore and the options from Logitech aren't great. The Hub is a interesting concept, but then I remember I have to rely on my phone or tablet.

This is just a concept I can't get into. I know we always have our phones out in front of us, but they have no tactile feel! What I love about a physical remote is when I pick it up I know exactly where the buttons are. I can also fumble with it in my hand and not have to worry about accidental presses. Phones are starting to come with IR/RF blasters again (this feels like a time warp thing) and they're being designed to be your new universal remote -- hell, even Roku and Tivo have apps designed to replace your remote. So I know this is the inevitable fate of the living room. I just don't know if I'm ready to give in.

I'm curious to know if anyone has made the full switch or not, and have you found one particular suite to be better than others? The Logitech software looks leaps and bounds nicer than what I'm seeing from HTC or Samsung, but maybe there is another provider I'm not sure of.

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41 replies
Dignan17

"Have you replaced your remotes with a mobile device?"

Oh, god no. It does seem like companies are really trying to push the use of smartphones as remote controls, but I just don't think that's a good idea.

I've been using touchscreen remotes for over 10 years now, ever since the Philips Pronto TSU1000. Even today, I still use a Pronto 3500, but at this point I only use it to turn my home theater on and off.

My dislike of touchscreen remotes is two-fold. The biggest problem is simple and you already addressed it: you have to look at them. It's impossible to use a touchscreen remote while watching TV and easily perform basic tasks without looking at the remote. The second problem is that it's simply not as easy to use any touchscreen remote, especially your phone. Because a phone can do so much more, you have to pick it up, turn it on, unlock it, and if you don't have the control app up already (maybe you switched to your email app or something), you have to go find it and launch it. Meanwhile I've already hit the FF button on my Tivo button ages ago.

At most, the harmony remotes with small touchscreens on them are good. I don't mind that, although I've never liked Harmony remotes for a variety of reasons that I won't get into.

For all the above reasons, and despite my traditional dislike of Harmony remotes, the one I currently recommend to my clients is the Harmony Smart Control ( http://goo.gl/TnNxgt ). I actually really like that the remote has no touchscreen, and leaves all the non-essential stuff that normally shows up on the touchscreen to the phone. Meanwhile, you can just use the extremely sleek remote (seriously, it's impressively made) to do 98% of what you normally want to do with your home theater.
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frankspin

But those media control buttons....why are they at the top!
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Dignan17

I completely, 100%, absolutely agree. I just don't get that. I use the number buttons on my remotes about 1/1000th of the time I use the transport controls, if ever!

My favorite remote ever is the Tivo Slide remote. It has a great feel to it, perfect button placement, etc. Too bad it doesn't have any universal control capabilities.

Still, I use my Pronto to turn everything on and my Tivo remote for the rest. But then I have to also use my Google TV remote to control any of that...

...sigh...
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frankspin

When my Harmony One finally kicks the button I don't know what I'm going to do. The 700 has been pretty solid, I just can't get over them not having every button be backlit.

The only place I'd use a smartphone for a remote is in the bedroom because we usually just tune to one channel and are done with it.
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evilrobot

Yeah the simple remote that comes with the hub is amazing, I never have and never will use the stupid app though
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waynedunham

God no!! HARDBUTTONS, HARDBUTTONS, HARDBUTTONS. Media remote controls are useless (IMHO) if you cannot use them in complete darkness without taking your eyes off the screen. You just can't do that with a touchscreen, you need hard buttons laid out in a logical way that allows you to "feel" your way to the button you need.
I have had and tried to use touchscreen remotes in the past and found them very frustrating when I constantly had to look away from the screen to use the remote.
I have a Pronto, it just sits on the end table, and hasn't been used in years. (should really put it on E-Bay). The early Haramony remotes were also completely useless to me since their buttons were too small and all mashed together in a horrid mess (unless you were looking at it). I now have a Harmony 700 and that is very useable, but still rely on the remote that came with my HTPC Extender (SageTv HD extender) because of its logical layout, special buttons, and ease of use without looking at it.
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nathans77

Apps are nice, but I don't like being buried in my phone. Rather have a remote. Roku trumps Chromecast for me. Plus the remote doesn't crash or need a recharge, just gotta replace a couple batteries at least every 6 months.
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boed

F' NO!!!


I want a button I can find in the dark without looking at my remote. I don't want to look at my remote. The Logitech Harmony One is selling for 4 times its MSRP because Logitech went to a touch screen remote that no one wants.
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ojasbapat

Logitech Harmony 650 !! Good enough for controlling up to 8 devices. I like it because it has physical buttons + a colored screen.
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Bubby

8? Was this enabled in a firmware update? Mine only controls 5!
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mbairhead

This is simply the worst remote I've ever owned. You have to point it EXACTLY at the IR receiver, the buttons are spread across the admittedly nice screen so it's a hassle to adjust the volume and bring the guide up. Did I mention how weak the IR emitter is?
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frankspin

Are you confusing this with their new remotes that has the touchscreen in the middle of the device? The 650 is similar to the One and 700, the volume and guide buttons are very close to each other.
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HughesNet

I have. The remotes are still around if I want to grab them but now I mostly use my iPad Mini as my remote. Between the apps for Samsung, DirecTV, Denon, Roku, and Plex I have no need for a remote. If I want a single app to control all but Plex and Roku then I grab my Android and use the Smart Remote app. That DirecTV app is pretty nice though and just gives so much that you can't get from any remote.
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jonarogers

I still prefer remotes - for the same reason I enjoy playing most intense games on a console with a controller as opposed to on a smartphone screen - tactile feedback. I can quickly jump from volume to different channel numbers without looking at the remote.

With that said, I definitely have a few apps on my iphone I use: DirecTV, Xbox Smartglass,. and Apple's Remote. They are more so that if I've found I plopped down on the couch and the remote is across the room, I won't bother to get up. Instead I'll just open the app and poke away.
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elister

For the living room, no. I use the phone as a back up in the event my daughter hides the remote and I simply cant stand to watch another minute of wheel of fortune after the local news ends.

However in my bedroom, I use my Samsung Galaxy S4, which has a infared port on it, but its used for on/off and volume settings as my daughter hid the remote and I never found it. Rest is the XBMC remote controller.
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rygavs

Sure have! Mostly because when I was moving into college, I lost the remote for my tv. But now I use my HTC One M8 as my remote because I don't really have a choice. Once I got used to it its way better than I thought it would be. The physical volume buttons control the tv volume, and I love how I can just scroll through all the tv posters and hit "watch" and it magically comes on.
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reisa

I must not be a remote aficionado... I actually have started using my phone as a remote, but it's definitely not perfect. I use the Griffin Beacon for my Panasonic plasma, since I'm using a Nexus 5 and there's no IR blaster. Still usually turn on the TV with the remote, but I'll use the phone or tablet maybe 30% of the time after that.

Right now, phones seem to be at an "in the mix" stage. I use my phone exclusively for Netflix, YouTube, etc., going through the Chromecast. I also use it about 75% of the time over the Roku control. Since the Roku is always on, and the power button is the major go-to function for how I use remotes, there's not much I need the Roku's unit for.
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frankspin

I think a lot of us saying we want physical remotes don't use a Chromecast, which is why relying on a phone doesn't make sense. I use it to control a Roku, Ceton, my TV, etc.
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808cyclist

I've been a big fan of Logitech's Harmony line. I purchased the hub about a year ago, and I love the thing. I messed with my wife the first night I got it, changing the channels and volume from the other room via my phone. I actually prefer using the bundled remote, but being able to use your smartphone in a pinch is definitely handy.
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Jaykul

Yes, the Hub is great, but we very rarely use a phone to control it, much preferring the simple, light, and awesome bundled remote. (In fact, the only reason I ever use my phone is when someone has left the TV on and left the room, and I don't want to find the remote, or to correct something like the PC & TV going to power-saver mode when a video from the PC was paused for too long, since there's no dedicated "TV ON" button on the remote, but I have one on the phone app).

I liked the idea of controlling everything from my phone, but the reality is that having to not just unlock my phone but actually find and start the app turns it into a process that's long enough that's it's usually easier to just use the remote.

I have, however, considered leaving an old unused phone lying around with that software on it to serve as a remote... with an app like skype running on it just so I can make it ring when someone "hides" the remote between the couch cushions ;-)
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emeshuris2

Nice log in system there engadget.
I have one of the Harmony remotes, love it, however, now that I have a one year old, who likes to stick everything into his mouth, the power button doesn't work that well. I am now using my S5 to control everything, it works pretty much like the harmony remote. As for me, I do most of my watching on the apple tv, so fast forward, or channels, or all of the buttons on normal remotes are not necessary. I need the volume rocker, a menu button and the plus directional pad. http://bit.ly/1nytfTU
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evilrobot

I have the exact remote that is pictured (the hub + simple remote) but only because I wanted the simple remote. I have used the app exactly 0 times (I don't even have an iPhone or Android and they don't make an app for Windows Phone).
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ArhcAngel

Sort of. I still use the Harmony 650 for DirecTV but have re-purposed my old Galxy S (Sprint Epic Touch) for use with my Chromecast. I found a stable build of KitKat for the Galaxy S and installed all the usual suspects (Netflix, HULU, etc.) and Chromecast. The Galaxy S sits on the coffee table charged and ready to cast. Since all it's used for is a remote I uninstalled all the extra cruft so it has plenty of memory despite its age.
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gsrbob

iTach Flex with Rommie app hands down the best remote for iDevices.
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logicrulez

I have not replaced my remote controls with a mobile device. However, they are great in the event the remote gets lost. A mobile device doesn't give the same satisfaction as pushing a button, for me. Also, I still have to look at my remote from time to time to make sure i'm hitting the right button, guess I don't watch a lot of TV.

Mobile devices make great all-in-one remotes(Verizon Fios & PS4)
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jdrch

I've tried with my S5, but gave up because the dedicated remote is so much faster.
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Spiderkid

I use a Harmony Hub + Smart Control. My wife uses the Smart Control (God knows why) but my kids and I have been using the Harmony app to manage our home theater. It's much simpler and it doesn't require a certain phone or complex setup so my son can use his iPod touch, my daughter can use her IPhone 5, and I can use my Moto X.

And no remote codes. Thank god.
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stalky14

I've had a Harmony 880 for 7 years and I've had to do a couple keypad contact cleanings on it because the buttons are failing. At this point it's just about done-for. I mostly keep it around for running the menus on devices. It was great in its heyday though. I don't think a phone can properly replace a real, tactile remote control because you constantly have to look at it to keep your fingers on the right buttons. This is particularly annoying when navigating menus. The only proper way to do this would be for makers of cable/satellite boxes, televisions, BluRay players, and game machines to take advantage of their internet connectivity and provide true phone apps for managing device settings, better yet through a standardized API so multi-device interactions can be scripted and customized. I have my doubts that this will ever happen, given that it is 2014 and old, unidirectional IR still dominates, 40 years and running. So you have to work with what you've got.

I was using a USB-UIRT with my HTPC (via EventGhost) so my 880 could interact with it. This was a great combination for many years until this year when the UIRT itself started failing. This was quickly followed by my 2006-era Core2Duo/GMA950-based HTPC not being up to smoothly decoding HBO-GO or other, non-degradable HD streams. The wife-acceptance-factor, heretofore not a problem, was dropping fast. Time to clean house.

So I replaced the PC with a new AMD-based one with integrated graphics/video decoding, dropped an extra serial port in it and a PCI USB2 card to offload my HD-PVR from the main USB bus where the Hauppauge 950Q OTA and all the miscellaneous I/O resided. SSD boot drive, 4GB RAM, and Win7 rounded it out. (Can't do 8 -- wife acceptance factor and all).

Got a cheap $12 MCE USB IR box from Amazon and one of the new XBox One Media Remotes. I absolutely love the layout, backlight, and minimal button count of these. Also the lack of number buttons. Who needs those anymore? It works great with EventGhost with the right plugin!

This solved the incoming IR problem, but not the outgoing IR problem. I couldn't get the built-in Hauppauge ones or the MCE one to work right. I happened to have an old Crestron QM-RMC lying around (Job--A/V integrator). It's a fully programmable mini AV control system with 2 RS-232 ports, an IR blaster port, and an ethernet port. Putting IR emitters on the TV, cable box, and the AV Receiver and connecting it to the HTPC via the RS-232 ports (one dedicated to the PVR software for controlling the cable box, the other for EventGhost), gave me commercial-grade IR blasting from an enormous library of devices. EventGhost would just pass the blast-worthy commands along from the remote to the QMRMC, and being a full-on computer, the RMC can do conditional logic and maintain all sorts of state information. As a bonus, because it's online (that ethernet port), I can make phone/tablet-compatible touch control panels for it to perform functions I don't have buttons for on the remote or act as the remote when it is out of reach and I have a cat on my lap. I only used the QMRMC though because I had it lying around and didn't want to shell out another $50 for a new UIRT. But the UIRT is the best IR I/O device out there, IMO. With it and EventGhost together, you can do pretty much anything you need and keep all the logic in the PC.

It took a LOT of configuring spread over several months, but I have a solid system now and the wife really likes the responsiveness and accuracy of the new remote. We also have a Logitech M570 trackball and a Microsoft Bluetooth keyboard that we swear by for navigating web interfaces on the HTPC. One control for everything on an HTPC just isn't practical with all the disparate interfaces for different sources.

TLDR: XBox One Media Remote + a good-quality IR box + EventGhost on an HTPC are AWESOME. A well-configured HTPC can be a better "Harmony" in addition to being a media playback device. Phone/Tablet touch controls are nice too but only as a secondary control scheme.

And I just got a Chromecast a few days ago and now have to figure out how to seamlessly integrate that into all this! Fun problem though, I guess.
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frankspin

If you're using XBMC or Plex, Eventghost isn't required. They both support keyboard inputs and the mappings from WMC are 99% compatible. I used to use eventghost until one I day I realized I just didn't need it anymore.
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dgrasty

i bought a new build house at the beginning of the year and i have a media cabinet holding all 4 cable boxes for the house.( i could extend up to 6). xfinity cable boxes, ps4, apple tv all sitting on switches with hdmi 1.3 so from any tv i can view any peripheral and each tv has a dedicated cable box. biggest advantage for controlling cable boxes is i can pull the guide up on my phone and never disturb the tv. means i can see what else is on, or coming on and if you've ever used xfinitys HUD, you know theres lag.

each tv has a cat6 out the back straight to the router so i get updates, and remote control with the phone.

sharp has an app that allows full control of the televisions so regardless of what I'm doing, i use the phone to control entertainment. Its a simple matter of switching the apps which i either double tap if they're open already or i made a top level folder on my 5s dock for remotes be it apple tv, cable, the actual tv etc.

similarly, the onQ and lyriq set up allow me to control in home audio (theres a stand alone hard drive holding all my music. so its definitely nice to be able to remotely activate a scene where the kitchen and deck speakers come on and can play either the television or music depending on what i want to do. This is nice because otherwise i would have to use the single home audio monitor, if I'm on the roof terrace, this can be a pain to go see. (if i had gone over my budget, id have sprung for a second screen)

only thing i haven't done yet is ad the MyQ for the garage door which really for me is peace of mind knowing the wife didn't leave the door up rushing out the house in the morning.
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cmslone

I've been using iRule for about a year and love it- always wanted a Creston or AMX solution, and after my URC 800 with RF to IR bit it I bought a 1st gen iPad and paid the $50 for the software. It requires some tech know-how- but if you can setup a wireless router you can probably handle it. All of my equipment is in a closet- iRule works over WiFi- I get feedback from my Onkyo TX-NR5010 and Panny AE4000 projector- control the cablebox, Denon Bluray, have a page that opens the AirMouse app when HTPC is selected- changes my projector color profile dependent of source selection, etc. Its a godsend and total investment was about $300- 150 for a spare iPad- 50 for software license, 100 or so for the Global Cache gc-100-12 for IR out, Serial, and triggers plus some cabling.
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dgrasty

amx works well. but having used both for work, i think the creston is a better well rounded support
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HaDAk

I cut the cable a long time ago. I have enough stored media to last a lifetime or two. My HTPC, running XBMC (soon Kodi) is soon to be controlled by a custom built, 42", multi-touch, Android powered coffee table. Ahh, life is sweet.
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imtrbl

The best way to go is full home automation. Control4 set up for not just home theater control, but lights, security, thermostat, etc...
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frankspin

A full control4 set up is a lot more than a single harmony remote though
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liukonen

I love the option to use my smartphone as a remote... I have 2 HTPC's set up and have used my phone and an old backup smartphone as remotes, but personally I am not a huge fan. Don't get me wrong, I love my chromecast and how that works... but for my day to day task of flipping though channels or turning the volume up and down, I'll take the battery friendly remote over the constantly on the charger phone. It is nice to have the "second screen" as long as its done up well, which I think google did with its chromecast. There are not a lot of decent apps though that work with HTPC's, and most manufactures focus on "function" over usability and design.
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mrslushie

Yeah i just use my xbox one for that. It turns on everything for me and my whole family can see whats showing and change the channel from their phones,laptops etc. My parents really like the kinect function the most though.
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DrNicket

I have to side with the tactile button people. Feeling your way through the controls in the dark, or simply without looking is far more intuitive and user-friendly than any configurable smart device. The exception being, using your smart device as an option selector for things like netflix, youtube, personal media... essentially streaming content. Also, as an external keyboard for the aforementioned services and Smart TV features.
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JonMuller

As much as I love using my phone for things, controlling my entertainment center is not one of them. I need a dedicated device that's always ready to go. I don't want to switch apps any more than I want to switch remotes. I've been a fan of the Harmony remotes for awhile, but their current offerings are not great. I have an old 550 that is easily the best remote I've ever owned. 15 devices and a great button layout. No touch screen, but a screen with soft buttons for the stuff that isn't already there in a hard button and usually a year on one set of batteries. I also have a Harmony Touch. It is not so great. Has to be on the charger if I'm not using it. The touch screen is awful and slow and the layout of the buttons is not the best. Plus it doesn't work with all my devices and for whatever reason, just doesn't want to learn how to be my XBMC remote.

The problem I have about the future is smart-whatevers. I can't stand using a regular remote for text entry. Most remotes don't have a qwerty keyboard. The only time I use my phone is with the Apple TV so I can quickly search for things or type in user names and passwords without spending the whole evening doing so. That's what they need to figure out. An always on, easy to use remote that can handle text input.
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AlanBennett

I use MyAV for Android and it's completely fantastic. It controls My AV Receiver, TV and Blu-Ray over Wi-Fi and even does MyAV sky HD box using IR and Wi-Fi and all in the one app. The remotes are now packed away!
Link>
https:­/­/play.google.com­/store­/apps­/details­?id­=com....
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doubledeej

No way. I need real buttons. The tendency to put touchscreens on the latest models is already infuriating enough... but trying to make us use our phones as a remote has gone way beyond the pale.
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