If you have a surfeit of remote controls that cause your coffee table to look more 'technical' than 'practical', you may be reading this review because you've developed the 'one-remote itch' and are looking to scratch it. But before you can begin narrowing down the prodigious field of choices, certain realizations have to be made in regards to personal preference.
While the latest graphical remotes certainly are the most powerful and will provide the greatest range of customization capabilities, the reality is that touchscreens are not always as ergonomic as good old-fashioned hard buttons. In fact, some users have difficultly adjusting to the requirement of looking at their remote before pressing a button. In these cases, a remote with uniquely designed physical buttons that can be 'felt' would be ideal. But the converse problem is that physical buttons cannot be relabelled to match the function that is actually stored on them - making some remotes less than intuitive under certain circumstances.
Although various combinations of buttoned, fully-editable touchscreen and static touchscreen remotes have been produced, one category - the all-hard buttoned remote with LCD button labels - has been limited primarily to the Marantz RC2000, originally released in 1996. However, the RC2000 had several crucial design and technical shortcomings that have since been overcome by more recent models.
Universal Remote Control to the rescue!
No, I'm not talking about the entire universal remote product category, but rather the company: Universal Remote Control, Inc. Although in the past they have chiefly limited themselves to the OEM market, manufacturing remotes for sale with other companies' products, their first foray into the after-market learning category was the very successful Home Theater Master SL-9000, an all-buttoned model. The end of the year 2000 saw their second model, the MX-1000 touchscreen remote. The MX-1000's release signified the first remote control on the market with a high resolution touchscreen, 5-way 'joystick' (referred to as a 'thumbpad' in this review) and wide assortment of real hard buttons. The company has rightfully earned a respected reputation in the remote community.
The $189 USD Home Theater Master MX-500 is the latest innovative product from the creative minds at Universal Remote Control. Featuring 45 hard buttons, a 5-way thumbpad and an LCD screen used primarily to label 10 hard buttons, the MX-500 delivers a new twist on the old-fashioned hard-buttoned concept. It also marks one of the best physically designed remotes I've ever had the pleasure of using. Priced cheaper than graphical touchscreen models but more expensive than most static touchscreens, the physically buttoned MX-500 almost seems the odd man out. But one look will tell you that this is a remote that deserves your serious consideration.