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Virtual CEDIA Expo 2004 Report
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2004 CEDIA Expo Report

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Universal Remote Control Inc.

The URC booth was bustling with activity as the company displayed no less than 5 new remote controls.

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First up is the “Osiris” MX-350, basically an upgraded and enhanced version of the company’s consumer-level URC-200 remote control, recently reviewed on this site. The differences here are that the Osiris supports slightly more customization along with the unique output addressing capabilities offered by the MRF-250 and new MRF-300 RF basestations.

One notch higher than the Osiris is the “Omega” MX-650. This is basically the MX-600 RF remote with a different keypad finish – now laser etched painted buttons – a new 5-way menu cursor design, and again support for the addressing RF stations. Although the laser etched rubber keypads look fantastic in the dark (like many cell phones), I worry about how long the paint portion will remain opaque. Repetitive finger motions can be quite abrasive and could potentially wear through the unprotected surface. Which is one reason why the company’s slightly older glossy Gemstone finish is so good... it’s impossible to wear the printing off keys as labels are protected by a thick plastic coating.

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Moving our way up the remote hierarchy is the “Orion” MX-850. Again, this is basically the MX-800 RF computer programmable remote with the additional features offered by the Omega. But here the remote comes in a charcoal black finish with light grey buttons and a silver cursor surround – very classy.

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Next up is a completely new remote design, the “Aurora” MX-950. This remote offers a recharging basestation, LiIon battery, PC programming capabilities, support for up to 255 devices, nearly unlimited macros and favorite channels, along with custom labelled functions. It’s got 48 buttons, 34 of which cover regular functions such as volume/channel, menu, keypad and transport, plus 10 custom labelled keys surrounding the LCD screen. The LCD is also unusual – although it’s still traditional black and white, the backlighting can be set to one of 255 different colors.

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Unfortunately, there are obviously some bugs to be worked out of the prototypes displayed at the show – the LCD was nearly unreadable under almost any lighting condition, the small rubber keys around the LCD were impossible to press, and the tactile response on other keys was erratic at best. Still, this was an early version, so we will take another look at the MX-950 at CES 2005.

Finally, URC was prominently displaying their top-of-the-line remote control, the Home Theater Master MX-3000. We’ve mentioned this one in previous show reports so I won’t get into details here, but sufficed to say, it’s a very popular color LCD touchscreen remote with numerous high end functions. The design has proven popular enough that its styling cues are even being used by the Aurora.

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One interesting turn of events is the use of the familiar “Home Theater Master” brand – or lack thereof. Previously, all of the company’s directly marketed products were sold under the Home Theater Master label. Recently they launched the “Universal Remote Control” brand for consumer level products, reserving the HTM brand for custom installers. Now, barely months after the consumer level line launch, the HTM label is nowhere to be seen on the new MX-350, MX-650, MX-850 and MX-950 models, which instead only mention Universal Remote Control. Plus, they’ve given names to their models (AKA the “vowel” series) that are particularly tricky to keep straight.

So exactly what’s up over at URC’s marketing department? We’ll have to wait and see.

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