Home Theater Master MX-500
One of only a few truly new remote controls at this year's CES was displayed by Universal Remote Control Inc., makers of the venerable Home Theater Master SL-9000 and the recently released Home Theater Master MX-1000 (both fully reviewed on Remote Central). Although the MX-1000 was announced in 1999, displayed at the 2000 CES but not actually released until late in 2000, Universal is fully committed to a speedier release for the MX-500. Since it's a simpler remote in the technical sense - no computer connection or fancy graphical LCD - you can expect the MX-500 to be released around the February or March 2001 timeframe.
The MX-500's feature set is similar to as we first reported it back in October: control of a full 10 devices with both preprogrammed and full learning capabilities (up to 530 learned signals - that's 53 buttons per device!), plenty of macros, plus an LCD screen through which 10 hard buttons can display custom labels and operate two separate functions. But the real news is that several changes have already been made in response to suggestions from Remote Central users - before the product has even been released!
First, macros. The original press release stated 3 hard button system macros with 14 commands each, 10 device macros with 2 commands, plus 20 favorite channel macros with 4 commands. The CES press release for the MX-500 bumped that up to 3 system macros with 14 commands each, 10 device macros with 10 commands and 20 favorite channel macros with 4 commands. But according to Universal Remote, the final tally will be 5 system macros (three along the bottom plus "System Off" and "Power" at the top) with 20 commands each, 10 device macros with 15 commands and 20 favorite channel macros with 10 commands. Viva la griping!
Although the list price of the MX-500 has snuck up $10 from $179 to $189, there are hardware changes to support that increase. The 4-way plastic menu "ring", which had a regular hard button in the center for "Enter", has been upgraded to a fully functional 5-way joystick - actually better described as a gamepad directional control. At the show I found the new joystick to have a nice, light touch with great tactile feedback. This worthwhile change positions the MX-500 as one of only two universal remote controls available with configurable menu joysticks - the second such remote ironically being Universal's own MX-1000. The MX-500 will also include full aqua-colored electroluminescent backlight for the screen and buttons along with the bezel around the joystick, similar to the MX-1000.
Some changes are still being made to the MX-500 that may not be reflected in these photographs. The text on the LCD screen is being increased in size, along with a new font with improved readability. The case finish will most likely change from a gorgeous but incredibly slippery high-gloss finish to the MX-1000's tried-and-true grippy tactile coating, possibly in an interesting dark blue color (as pictured). Plus, I'm sure that there's plenty of behind-the-skin changes being made to improve operation that will only be evidenced upon the remote's final release.
Overall the MX-500 looks to be an absolutely fabulous solution to the all-buttoned remote junkie's needs. Channel/volume, transport, menu, keypad and a plethora of other secondary functions with customizable LCD names, preprogrammed and learning functions, punchthroughs, macros, great backlighting and a slim ergonomic design... what more could you ask for? Well, I guess we could start by having it available right now!