Sooner or later, owners of advanced universal remote controls will find themselves asked one simple question by friends and visitors: “what’s that?” For years now, good remotes have been the indispensable and yet nearly invisible home theater accessory – shoppers are more likely to accidentally stumble upon one than find them promoted in stores or advertised in traditional mass media.
Despite the potentially huge market (everyone could use an easier and more powerful way of controlling their A/V devices), most remotes aren’t advertised in any way, shape or form and are rarely seen outside of dusty glass cases lurking in the dark recesses of A/V shops. Models priced over $100 are particularly prone to “productum invisibilis” syndrome: for the first year of its life the revolutionary Philips Pronto was never advertised and barely available, gathering popularity entirely on word-of-mouth power.
The company whose product can be no mystery, Universal Remote Control Inc., has previously marketed all of their retail remotes under the Home Theater Master brand, which is subsequently sold under a “custom installer” series. That series is [officially] available only through professional system installers and certain online merchants – completely avoiding the mass distribution channel. After the initial success and rising retail availability of the Home Theater Master MX-500 (read our review), Universal Remote decided to differentiate the advanced MX-700 (read our review) by selling it in white boxed three packs, designed specifically to discourage direct-to-consumer sales and enhance its niche status. But excellent products have a way of overcoming such obstacles, and the MX-700 eventually became popular enough that the three-pack idea was abandoned in favor of a standard retail box.
And yet, potential customers are still unlikely to find Home Theater Master remotes in their local neighborhood electronics store. Universal Remote is not oblivious to the broad consumer market, but doesn’t want to devalue their high end line’s custom installer appeal. So what’s a company to do?
The three contenders!
Why, create a whole new series of products, of course! To that end Universal Remote Control has introduced a brand new “consumer” lineup of advanced remotes with three models: the $100 USD MSRP 8-device URC-100 “Unifier” with hard buttons, the $150 10-device URC-200 “Automator” with a customizable LCD, and the $200 15-device URC-300 “Customizer” with a LCD touchscreen. All can be used with the optional $75 MRF-100A RF Expander, which permits through-the-wall control of any equipment that’s out of sight (but not out of mind).
Universal Remote is hoping to give these inaugural offerings the visibility they deserve by getting them close to as many potential customers as possible. No, they’re not buying a Super Bowl ad – rather, the remotes will be carried by higher end big box electronics stores where they might actually be seen by casual shoppers, and sold in boldly designed packaging sure to attract attention.
You may have seen the wall of $15 disposable remotes in discount stores... well, if Universal Remote has their way you’ll soon be seeing a wall of $150 remotes! (As of the time of this writing, these models are only available online direct from Universal Remote’s website and one other large merchant.)