Universal Remote Control Inc. (URC) is a company that knows what it likes. When the revolutionary Home Theater Master MX-500 (read our review) was introduced so many years ago, little did I – or probably they – know that it would remain a viable product even after so many generations of other remote controls have come and gone. A well-designed universal remote should remain, well, universal for years after the manufacturer has long since forgotten about it. Universal Remote Control may not have invented the concept of a hard buttoned remote with LCD-based labels with the MX-500, but they certainly hit upon a winning formula that remains sensible even today. And as any good engineer knows, you don’t want to fix what ain’t broke!
But of course improvements are always welcome. And improve it they did – with numerous refinements to the MX-500 completed over a short period of time, culminating in the release of the computer programmable MX-700 (read our review). But they weren’t done yet, and when the market demanded RF capabilities the company soon responded with the appropriately upgraded MX-600 and MX-800 (read our review) models.
Today that original MX series continues to be marketed, and for many consumers it still represents the ultimate in easy-to-use and easy-to-program remotes. But design sensibilities and feature needs evolve as the years go by, and so when it came time for the company to release an advanced color touchscreen remote they decided to break with that short tradition and come up with an entirely new look for their product.
A new legacy.
The resulting top-of-the-line MX-3000 was the first stylish taste of what has since become a complete and recognizable family of products, ranging from that full color LCD model down to impulse-priced point-and-clickers and all points between. These are remotes that share bold monotone color schemes, futuristic angular lines, reverse backlit laser-etched keys, a distinctive 5-way cursor control... and snazzy marketing names that absolutely no one can match up to the model number.
The last time we looked at a product from Universal Remote Control it was the Complete Control MX-950 “Aurora” (read our review), the more advanced direct predecessor of the remote that we’re reviewing. The MX-950 is the company’s attempt to package all of the MX-3000’s advanced features into a traditional hard buttoned remote – it supports RF, variables, graphics, sounds, nearly unlimited devices, LCD-based keys and macros, not to mention a total of 50 real hard buttons. This cornucopia of “good stuff” could only be shrunk so small, and the end result of the MX-950 is a rather long remote that can be a bit overwhelming when held by smaller hands.
But where to go from there? Even with Universal Remote retrofitting their new button style into the original hardware and case design on the lower-end MX-650 and MX-850 models, there still appeared to be too much of a feature gap between the old and new series. And with antiquated serial ports disappearing from mainstream desktop computers, it was quickly becoming difficult to communicate with any of the company’s computer programmable remotes priced below the $700 mark.