The customizable touchscreen reaches its most contemporary and most Baroque expression in an automated systems controller like the Crestron, commonly found in elaborate whole-house systems. A large tabletop unit, the Crestron controller can be programmed as the command center for an A/V system as well as household ventilation, heating, cooling, lighting, and security. Setting up a Crestron, Lutron, AMX, or Elan controller is something best left to a certified expert.
Many A/V receivers, surround sound processors, plasma displays and video projectors have nine-pin RS-232 ports, for connection to computers for firmware upgrades, and for connection to controllers like the Crestron. An RS- 232 connection enables complex twoway communication between controller and controlled device. All that's typically possible with a handheld remote is one-way communication, but that's usually all that anyone needs.
Many remotes that come packaged with home-theater receivers double as universal remotes, and can "learn" or copy commands from other remotes. The HTR 2 remote that comes with NAD's T 753 and T 773 receivers is among the best of this breed— designed for intuitive use, well-balanced in the hand, with the most commonly used buttons easy to reach. But like most others, it learns code from other remotes in a tedious process of placing them head-to-head, and carefully pressing one button after another.
There's a better way. The MX-700 universal remote (and its RF-capable sibling, the MX-800, from aptly-named Universal Remote Control, Inc. of Harrison, New York) can be programmed in a few minutes with a Windows laptop computer and a serial cable, supplied with the remote.
Here's how. First connect to www.universalremote.com, the company's Web site, click on PRODUCTS, and scroll down to MX-700. Download the MX Editor software and install it in your computer. Connect the serial cable between the computer and the mini-jack on the lower left side of the MX-700. If you have a newer computer without a serial port, you'll need a USB-to-serial adaptor.
Start the program. A virtual MX-700 appears onscreen. Go to CREATE & NAME DEVICES, the first option under the PROGRAM heading. One by one, rename the buttons for the components in your system, in an order that makes sense to you. There are ten buttons and two "pages" of labels available, for a total of 20 components. Most entertainment systems will need less than one page. You have only five letters for each name, so pick simple ones: "CD," "DVD," "TV," "Audio," "Plasma," "Cable," etc. This also makes it easy for others in your household to use the remote. To keep the display looking clean, remove generic names from unused buttons. They can be programmed later if you add new components.
After you've named your component buttons, exit CREATE & NAME and go to IR DATABASE under PROGRAM. This is where you plug into Universal Remote's code library for the components you want to operate. If you're looking for a code for a TV, first go to the TV database, find the manufacturer, then, in the right-hand column, search for the model number. If it's there, click on it, and the proper code will be associated with the "TV" button. Then click on NEXT DEVICE, and repeat the process.
You may find that some codes aren't where you first look. I have both a Denon DVD-2900 universal single-disc player, and an Integra DPC-8.5 universal 6-disc changer. For simplicity, the Denon button on the MX-700 is labeled "DVD," and the Integra is labeled "CD." The Integra is indeed a CD player (as well as an SACD player, an MP3 player, etc.), but the codes for both machines are in the DVD database. The program doesn't care how you've labeled the LCD buttons, and if you decide to change the labels, you can do so without altering any other programming by using the LCD BUTTON EDITOR under PROGRAM. After you've entered the code, point your remote at your system and click TEST DEVICE. If the component turns on or off, there's a 99% chance that you can engage all its other functions using the MX-700. There are up to four pages of functionality for each component button.
Once you've got the hang of navigating the IR database, you can program an MX-700 in a few minutes—provided that you've found the codes you need. Systems with relatively popular components are easy. What about exotic ones? What if you can't find the code? You can reload the database from the Universal Remote Web site and try again, or you can call the company's tech support, which sometimes has codes that haven't been entered in the database yet. Go to Remote Central (www.remotecentral.com) and start hunting. The site maintains a continually updated database to which users contribute. It's an incredible resource for custom installers.