At the bottom end of the range is the $99 USD MRF-250, which we reviewed alongside the MX-950 (click here for the relevant section). It provides basic IR routing capabilities and upgraded internal circuitry over the original now-discontinued MRF-200. A step up is the $199 USD MRF-300, which enhances RF reliability by moving RF reception to a separate RFX-150 antenna module. The next upgrade is the $249 USD MRF-350, which further enhances the MRF-300’s reliability by utilizing special narrow-band RFX-250 receiver modules, and is generally the recommended model between the three for this remote. A new narrow-band version of the all-in-one MRF-250, called the MRF-260, is also available.
MSC-400 Master System Controller
But what we’re going to cover in this review is the crème de la crème of Universal Remote Control’s RF systems, the $799 USD MSRP MSC-400 Master System Controller. More than a simple RF extender, the MSC-400 is an entry-level backend control system that can route IR, send RS-232 and USB keyboard commands, operate contact or voltage relay devices, and evaluate input from different types of status sensors... all of this combined with a sophisticated onboard macro system that guarantees reliable transmission for even lengthy sequences.
For when a remote just isn’t enough.
It’s no surprise that as home theaters become more sophisticated they also grow more complex. Common system devices are no longer limited to just a television, cable box, DVD player and receiver – now a decent home theater is expected to include at least a high definition DVR, DVD jukebox, media player, game system, PC and automated lighting, to name but a few. When the sheer number of interconnection possibilities increases, so do the resulting synchronization problems.
Even with a greater number of manufacturers implementing full discrete IR codes these days, chances are high that most systems will be stuck with something that just doesn’t integrate well. Be it a cable box with no discrete power, a display that needs to be turned on before any other HDMI devices, a game console with limited commands, a projector with a long warmup cycle, or some awkward legacy device that just can’t be lived without. Even with a correctly configured system a power or input code may not be received due to interference, a user could turn something on manually and throw your carefully planned variables out of whack, or you might just be dealing with the dreaded “multi-remote environment nightmare”... no matter how smart and sophisticated your handheld remote control is, issues can and will occur.
But it’s not just reliability and synchronization situations where the control system of a home theater could stand a little boost. What about making the system genuinely easier and more intuitive to use? How about doing things automatically before the user even thinks of it? If you’re looking to get a grasp of what fully automated system control means, then the entry-level MSC-400 is the perfect place to start.
Capabilities, priced right.
As system controllers go the MSC-400 is something of a bargain, especially considering that it can be paired with a remote control as inexpensive as the MX-900 (note that the MSC-400 will currently only work with the MX-810, MX-900, MX-950 and TX-1000, plus MX-3000 units built after April 1, 2005).