Op-Ed

Op-Ed
Solving Remote Clutter

Russ Pitts | 16 Apr 2007 17:30
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Universal Gamer
Universal Gamer

When I brought home the Universal Gamer Remote, the first question asked of me was "Why?" Answering it, I felt like an infomercial host.

"It solves the problem of clutter in your living room," I blurted. I got a blank stare in response.

"Are you tired of always hunting for the right remote control? Imagine using your cable box, television, Xbox 360, PS2, DVD player and audio device all with one remote!" I entreated. Still nothing.

These were issues that had not occurred to my companion, needs that had never needed addressing, problems never needing solving. And that's the first strike against the Universal Gamer Remote - unless having multiple remote controls for multiple devices really bothers you, enough to spend $50, spend an evening programming it (and another few minutes here and there fine tuning), it's kind of pointless.

In terms of sex appeal, the Universal Gamer has pros and cons. It looks a lot like something from Star Trek, which is awesome. It also has a button at the bottom of the remote that turns the red backlighting on and off. But that's about where its cool factor ends. The remote feels too light and it's weighted at the wrong end, making it feel like it will slip out of your hand at a moment's notice, leaving you stranded with no way to turn down the volume on your DVD player, save getting up from the couch (heaven forfend). Even the bargain basement remote that came with my DVR bests the $50 Universal Gamer in ergonomic accessibility, which is definitely not a good thing. Still, it's not about how it looks, it's about how it performs, and what the Universal Gamer does, it does well. Sort of.

The remote comes with a handy manual (RTFM) that gives step-by-step instructions on how to teach it to emulate your household remotes. There are three options, and one is guaranteed to work for you. The first involves selecting codes for your device from a list and trying them until one works. None of these worked for me. The second involves telling the remote to cycle through all of the codes and aiming it at your device until one of them works. This didn't work either. So I was stuck with option three, the most tedious: aiming the Universal Gamer at my device remote, and running through the buttons one-by-one until the Universal Gamer had "learned" how to act like my remote.

After a significant portion of the evening had passed (and my thumbs were as tired as they'd be after a nine-hour Tetris session), the Universal Gamer was ready to control my surround sound receiver, my TV, my DVR, my DVD player, my Xbox 360 and my PS2, and I'd set four whole remotes aside, hoping to never use them again. I was so excited, I had to show someone.

"See? You can turn on the TV, the DVR, the DVD player, surround sound receiver, the 360 and the PS2, and control all of them from this one remote!" After pointing out that one would never really need to turn on the PS2 by remote control, my companion was duly impressed. And that's when everything went bad.

The Universal Gamer never quite got the hang of turning the 360 off (or on, for that matter), and as I fiddled with it to discover why, it unlearned how to do most everything else. It was as if, having pulled at that one flaw, the entire sweater of its usefulness began to unravel. It ceased doing anything for the 360, but I quickly entered the proper code to get that running again. Then it started confusing the play controls on the DVD player with those on the DVR, leading to a few minutes of slapstick hilarity as I tried to manipulate a DVD and instead almost erased a few precious episodes of House. I assume that one more dedicated (or lucky) could master the intricacies of programming the thing and bend it to their will, but after my brush with recording death, I decided to retire the Universal Gamer and drag the old remotes back out of the drawer.

If you're completely OCD about having too many remotes on the coffee table, or you've lost or broken a remote that came standard with one of your devices and need a replacement, the Universal Gamer may be just what you're looking for. Just be prepared to spend a significant amount of time training it - like a puppy. Otherwise, you don't need it, and it will only make things more complicated - also like a puppy.

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