Hooking it all up.
I decided to test the MSC-400 with a secondary A/V system that’s simpler than my regular home theater. Although smaller, it has a good selection of devices to test out the MSC-400’s core capabilities. There’s an HD DVR with no discrete codes that will be hooked up to a VS100 voltage sensor, a DVD player with discrete power that will use a video sensor, a small receiver with discrete codes and no switched outlet; an HTPC with absolutely no way to control power remotely, and a television with discrete codes and a very long power-on blind period.
I first hooked up the RFX-250 RF sensor, which ships with a rather short headphone-style cable for close-range applications (optional is a screw terminal connector for any other type of 2-conductor plus ground wire). A red LED on the RFX-250 can be used to help determine its best location. Hooked up to a fully powered but otherwise idle home theater system, if the RFX-250’s RF light glows or flickers the sensor should be moved further away to an area of less RF interference. The HD DVR proved a serious RF offender. Also, multiple RFX-250 sensors can be wired in parallel to improve the overall coverage of an MSC-400 system.
If it’s impossible to find a location without some level of RF interference, URC has recently begun selling a second version of some of their products indicated by an “i” at the end of the model number, such as the MX-900i and MSC-400i. These operate at 433MHz, the standard in Europe, instead of the traditional 418MHz used in North America. While these versions can overcome the pervasive noise that may be in the 418MHz region, they compromise with slightly reduced overall range.
Next, the infrared emitters were connected and output levels double-checked, followed by plugging in the sensors. The VID video sensor is simply an RCA connector on a wire, while the VS100 power sensor cable terminates in a small box with 2 screw connectors on it. The VS100 can be used with power levels ranging from 3 to 25 volts, and thus cannot hook up directly to a switched 120V outlet... well, at least not without dire consequences. Instead, it’s easiest (and less destructive) to cannibalize an AC/DC wall wart for this purpose. The VS100 can also be combined with third-party current sensors (which sense the difference between operational and idle power draw), light sensors, audio sensors, RFI sensors and so forth.
The MSC-400 used for our test operated smoothly, with the ample front panel LEDs indicating exactly what’s going on. The official RF range specified for the RFX-250 is “up to 100 feet”, basically the same as all previous extenders. However, as anyone with experience using them will tell you that’s a rather optimistic estimate. Even assuming an excellent, low-interference environment and perfect installation, local conditions can still impact operational distance widely. If the dwelling has thick walls, lots of wiring or old plaster on metal lath, reception range could suffer accordingly.
I was able to control devices reliably from throughout my house, noting a marked improvement over my previous long-term testing with an MRF-250 (although some might say that wouldn’t be hard to do). While this doesn’t guarantee that the extender will work as well in your specific conditions, it’s a huge step in the right direction.
As you may have read about in our previous review, that wondrous blue Menacing Thick Fluffy Blanket (MTFB) that has served us so well over the past near-decade has finally been retired and relegated to cat coddling duties. The new challenger to the MTFB’s infrared testing turf is the Menacing Thick Flannel Cloth (MTFC)... while less thick and nowhere near as fluffy as its forerunner, it makes up for it with a plucky attitude (that is to say, a whole lot of layers).