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Universal Remote Control’s SL-9000 has been available since early 1998, a veritable eternity in technology years. Even with the introduction of the far more advanced and customizable MX-500, sales of the SL-9000 remained largely unaffected – it seems that some folks just prefer remotes that you don’t need to look at to use, with keys you can feel the purpose of.
Still, despite its initial popularity the SL-9000’s design has begun to show its age. Even with almost semi-annual software and labelling revisions (it took years for them to decide exactly how many macros it should have), the SL-9000 continues to use a single cluster of buttons for both menu and transport controls (the little arrows printed next to the tiny buttons at the bottom of the latest revisions don’t count). Modern devices such as DVD players and DVRs absolutely require both sets of controls, so something had to be done.
Although the URC-100 Unifier is not marketed as a direct replacement to the SL-9000, the close similarities and considerable improvements make that outcome unavoidable!
Starting from the front of the remote, the Unifier has a small 5-character LCD display similar to the SL-9000 measuring 1.25” wide and 0.4” high (3.2cm by 1.0cm). This screen constantly indicates the current device and assists (as much as possible) with remote setup. Beneath the display are 8 device selection buttons: [Audio], [CD], [DVD], [Auxiliary], [Satellite], [TV], [VCR] and [Cable]. Next are three unusually shaped keys, [Off], [Shift] and [On]. The purpose of the [Off] and [On] keys is obvious, but the [Shift] key is used to access a second layer of commands on any button (more on this later).
Continuing down we come to the rather nicely shaped [Volume] and [Channel] rocker keys, with [Mute], [Previous Channel], and [TV/VCR] buttons centered between. The menu button cluster is next, featuring a 4-way directional ring with separate [Select] button in the middle, orbited by 5 transport and 4 other menu-related keys. Further along is a standard 10-digit numeric keypad with [+10] and [Enter] buttons, while finishing off the bottom of the remote are four pairs of up/down keys, labelled for “Mode”, “Subwoofer”, “Center” and “Rear” functions (and would work very well with JVC’s difficult-to-replicate “Date”, “Start”, “Stop” and “Channel” timer programming keys).
The Unifier’s keypad is brightly labelled with red, blue, green, orange and black text. The physical buttons are made from translucent white rubber, except for the [Shift] key which is light orange. All are finished with URC’s proprietary GemStone finish, a hard glossy coating that goes overtop of all printing and ensures excellent button and label durability – you won’t be wearing the labels off these keys! The GemStone finish also adds a pleasant doming effect to each button and gives what would otherwise be pliable rubber a more substantial feel. Buttons rise up appreciably from the case and, although they require more pressure to depress than most remotes, are not too firm and generate a very clear tactile “click”. You’ll know for sure when one is pressed – resting fingers need not worry.