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Engadget HD Review: Monster Central Control System AVL 300

Engadget HD Review: Monster Central Control System AVL 300
Matt Burns
Matt Burns|December 5, 2006 12:34 PM

Monster, same company that brings you those high-priced but still high-quality cables, has taken one of the best remotes Harmony offers and made it their own. We didn't think this was possible but, sure 'nough, they did. It's hard to say if their incarnation is a 100% improvement on the already amazing Harmony 890 but multiple system control and a slick lighting system are welcomed additions. The remote does carry the standard Monster sticker price but you know what, it just might be worth it. Read on for the full review.

The first thing that struck us about this remote is the design. The Monster Control throws out the dual-egg shape reminiscent of TiVo remotes and employs a candy-bar design to the extreme. This remote is as flat as a Hershey bar. Seriously. Those crazy design freaks at Monster though contoured the sides just enough and it fits surprisingly well in the hand. Once you get past the strikingly flat design, the button layout comes into view.

The very top button of the remote is for Monster's lighting control system, IlluminEssence. The system is controlled wirelessly via Z-Wave's proprietary RF signals to Leviton-made switches. We should point out right off the bat that the whole secret to Harmony/Monster remotes is programmed macros that when pressed, preform labeled functions. (i.e. Watch TV - turns on everything for televisions) Monster has taken that type of functionality and applied it to lighting. Hit the "Turn On" button, all the lights turn on. "Turn Off" obviously turns 'em off. The system, well, works.

We have to say that it did require a call to Monster's support to get the adapters working but once they were up and running, we haven't had any problems. Currently, there are five different types of switches, two of 'em are plug in receptacles so you can control lamps and the other three replace existing wall switches but thanks to the magic of wireless signals, there is no need to run any new wires. I could only test the plug in models thanks to my 1932 Cape Code's old school electrical wiring. The two plug in switches work just fine though, and when you hit a corresponding button, they respond. What more could you want?

Monster takes the AV macro idea and allows you to map a set lighting scene to a certain activity. Say for example you want a few lamps lit ever so lightly when you are watching a movie with the family, the online software will include said lighting setting to the "Watch a Movie" activity. So now when you hit the "Watch a Movie" button, the remote will turn on all the appropriate equipment, start playing the HD DVD player, and now turn off most of the lights and dim the lamps to 20%. How cool is that?

The fact that the system is so easy to use, makes us think this technology is ready for main-stream use. It's not hard to install (as long as you have post 1950 wiring unlike me on some outlets) and works via one button. Once again Monster takes it up another level by letting you control multiple rooms with this remote. Install these wall outlet switches in different rooms and this remote allows you to control those separately too. Heck, this remote even allows you to control totally different AV systems in totally different rooms. Same process as above, just hit the "sys a/b" button. We don't see this being used that much as explained but this would allow installers to configure the whole house and assign different remotes to each system at one time.

The rest of the remote is basically a re-branded Harmony remote. Multi-component control, macros, and soft buttons via a color LCD screen. Monster does have two different flavors and the AVL 300 does have the remote capabilities of the high-end Harmony. This will allow you to place all of your AV equipment out of sight. (and out of harms way of little fingers)

Why should you care about this. Picture this. A brand new plasma (or LCD if that's your thing) hanging on the way with no AV equipment in sight. In fact, your entire collection is hidden away in a former linen closet your stole from the wife. But yet when you hit "watch TV" on the remote, everything clicks on just like they were in front of you. The equipment is safe and sound behind closed doors but it operates just like if it was right in plain view. Thanks to the AVL 300 use of Z-Wave wireless technology, this image could be your house. We are pleased to report that after hours of rewiring a test system and a hole in the floor, we can tell you that a visitor wouldn't know that the remote is controlling thousands of dollars worth equipment right below the floor. But once again, this feature isn't exclusive to the Monster line and the Harmony 890 does do the same thing so this brings up our only gripe about the remote: the Monster price.

The AVL 300 retails for $600, a whole 4GB iPod Nano more then the Harmony 890 which does 90% of the same thing. The Harmony flavor can do everything with the exception of that really slick lighting control right out of the box. So this begs the question then if wireless lighting control is worth a Xbox 360 HD DVD drive. Keep in mind too that each light you want to control will cost at least another $100 bucks for the control switch. Honestly, this is something you need to decide but we can tell you that it is a pretty cool system and yes, it does work well.

Monster Central Control System
AVL 300
Currently available from online retailers and Circuit City stores

A Harmony remote with lighting controls
Lighting system works great
Surprisingly comfortable design
Multiple AV system control

$200 more then the Harmony 890