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The backlight is configurable from the Setup Menu to shut off automatically after 1 to 99 seconds of inactivity. Several "tricks" are also possible - if you enter "00" the backlight will only remain on for as long as you hold in the button. Also, if the MX-500 will be used in an environment where backlighting is not a concern but battery life is, it can be configured so that the [LIGHT] button does nothing. There is no way to force the backlight to remain always on.
In terms of contrast, the MX-500 delivers in spades. As the LCD screen only needs to show two colors, the remote avoids the technical limitations associated with four-color high resolution displays and provides jet-black levels, which can be further adjusted by holding [MAIN] and pressing the thumbpad up or down. Plus, the silvery backing behind the LCD panel is light and smoothly textured, aiding in the perception of excellent contrast.
Due to these characteristics, the backlight is not really needed except in particularly dark conditions, a good thing owing to one of the MX-500's other features. When the backlight is enabled, the LCD screen inverts so that it displays white text on a black background. Cool to say the least (I first saw this behavior on a 'non-standard' MX-1000), but this trait comes at a price. If the backlight is enabled while lighting conditions are 'good', the screen will practically go blank - for some reason the inversion just doesn't work well under any moderate amount of light.
Finally, the LCD screen never actually shuts off - it's always enabled. Since LCDs don't draw a lot of power, particularly those of this type, remaining powered on won't adversely affect the remote's battery life which is officially rated at six months (a low battery warning is provided). Indeed, staying on is great as you always know the state of the remote.
Next time we'll have to try lead!
The MX-500 is the first remote I've ever seen to specify an IR range of 40 to 60 feet - the norm is 28 to 33 feet. Since this figure is so tantalizingly auspicious, we just had to submit the MX-500 to our internationally ignored and scientifically unappreciated Menacing Thick Fluffy Blanket (MTFB) analysis. Endowed with two powerful IR emitters, the MX-500 breezed through Level 1, one layer of daunting fluffiness. Level 2 also posed no problem - it was as if there was no obstruction at all. So now we come to Level 3 - three layers. This is the faltering point for practically all remote controls I've tried (even the most expensive) as they ultimately succumb to three terrifyingly thick layers of material. The MX-500 must have been raised on Wheaties since it didn't even blink when faced with this daunting challenge.
Level 4? I've never actually had to resort to a 'Level 4' before, but the MX-500 mastered it with total equanimity! But at the totally unheard-of Level 5, the MX-500 finally started to raise the white flag when commands were only three-quarters reliable. The final tally? An impressive rating of 4.5. Such a ranking is truly inspiring - the MX-500 bettered every other remote control I've tested to date, even managing to rack up a comfortable margin.