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Recommended, but reservations and frustrations
on June 23, 2008
Philips SRU8010 Prestigo Icon Universal Remote
I am writing this review on behalf of my wife. This will be the first universal remote my wife actually will use. She loves it. I have scaled Mount Everest. The unit is long (9" x 2.25"), but the length accommodates the bright, backlit screen at the top, which is the one feature she loves the most. For much more detail on the screen and button layout, you can download the user manual here:
(Note that the picture on the front of the manual shows black number buttons with white numbers, but our unit shipped as silver buttons with black numbers, which actually stand out more.) After you have programmed all your preferences and macros, memory is maintained while changing the 3 AA batteries--but the manual does not indicate how long memory is maintained without batteries. Here is how the setup goes.
(1) Devices first. After first putting in batteries, a Setup Wizard comes on screen and easily takes you through an initial process of getting your basic devices (TV, cable box, DVD, receiver, etc.) and functions (On, Off, etc.) operational. A multitude of codes are stored in the Philips unit for almost any device and configuration (even TV/VCR combinations). Be sure to know what you want to name a device, because you cannot change the name once you have gone through the setup procedure. (Well, you could, but you would have to start from scratch, completely reinitializing that device, including loosing all manually programmed buttons and all macros particular to that device.)
(2) Favorites second. Then, you set up your channel favorites. Very helpful before you get into your favorites setup would be to draw up a list of your channel numbers, the broadcast name, and the order that you would want them in. I know this takes a little time, but, believe me, the effort will pay off, because changing the order of your favorites once they have been set is most tedious. The Favorites have nice, readable icons (hence the word "Icon" in the remote's model name) in a large database covering not only the major broadcast and cable channels, but also channels of which I was not even aware. The icons show up beautifully on the bright, backlit display at the top of the remote. Once inside a particular Favorites list, pressing the small "Side Keys" next to a channel on each side of the display accesses that channel favorite. Your can have up to ten customized, namable Favorites lists, with each individual list having 36 channels stored. Wow. That's a bunch of channels and flexibility for all family members. You even have two dedicated Favorites list buttons on either side at the very top of the remote, one "His" and the other "Hers." Super! Just what the doctor ordered at our house. This Favorites feature of the remote is probably the most user friendly and nicest part of the remote.
(3) Learning third. Those remote control functions that still do not work once a device has been setup can be learned (and you will always have some function on some button on an old remote that YOU want that nobody else cares about). You simply get the Philips unit ready, specifying which button on the Philips you want to program with that function, point your old remote at the bottom of the Philips unit (not the top), and punch that button on your old remote. The Philips returns a "Successful" if the IR code has been received, or lets you try again if you did not have the two remotes lined up properly. Sometimes all the main buttons you need for that device work straight out of the box using the Philips programmed code number for that device. On occasion, though, one button you need does not work. Say, for example, the Philips code number for your VCR gives you all your transport buttons (Play, Stop, Pause, Advance, Rewind), but, inexplicably, the Record button does not work. No worries. You just program the Record button manually using the learning function on the Philips unit and the Record button on your old VCR remote. Works like a charm every time. For those buttons that represent oddball features on your old remote, you just will have to remember what substitute function you put on that Philips button. When you have multiple devices and remotes, trying to remember too many "customized" buttons that do not correspond with the screen icon on the one surface of the Philips unit when constantly switching from one device to another gets to be difficult. Here I think the KISS principle may apply ("Keep it simple, stupid"), at least for me.
You have two physical places to put the learned functions: (1) the "Main Keys," which is Philips's terminology for most of the buttons on the surface of the unit, including the Power button itself, and (2) the "Side Keys," which are not actually on the side of the unit itself, like the name might suggest, but the ten smaller buttons arranged vertically on the sides of the display screen, five on the left, and five on the right. Any button, Main Key or Side Key, can be one simple IR command or an entire macro.
This remote has many nice features that you can read about in the downloadable, pdf manual. I mention two in particular.
(1) Punchthrough. A nice feature of universal remotes these days is called "punchthrough." This is lingo for being able to operate the volume on you receiver, for example, regardless what mode the remote is in, whether "Receiver," "TV," "Cable," "DVR," etc. So, if you are in TV mode watching a movie, the volume buttons on the Philips remote still control the volume of your receiver, not your TV's volume. The Philips volume buttons (and mute) "punch through" all the other devices to the receiver's volume control. Four control categories on the Philips remote can be set to "punch through" to a particular device in this manner: Volume, Channel, Play (transport functions), and Quit.
(2) KidSafe. Another feature of the Philips remote that parents will appreciate is called "KidSafe." This feature uses a password-protected function to limit access to favorite groups, settings, or any forbidden menu. at least from the remote. When using the remote, the kids watch only the channels you allow, with access only to volume and mute, and cannot mess with any settings of the remote.
(1) Codes: Be aware that inexpensive home-theater-in-a-box units (HTIB), even those from major brands, are not well represented in the device codes of the Philips unit and mostly have to be programmed manually--doable, but inconvenient. I was trying to simplify from a very expensive and complicated setup that my wife never could enjoy on her own, nor could friends visiting for the weekend, without me there to insure every little button and device was set up just right. Could not even watch the news, for goodness sake, without an act of Congress. I finally wearied of all that and capitulated to a HTIB that reduced the number of individual components and a morass of remotes. However, several important functions of my inexpensive HTIB, though a major name brand, I had to program manually on the Philips remote.
(2) Buttons. The buttons on the remote are big and easy to use in the daylight. However, the "Main Keys" buttons, most of the buttons on the surface of the remote, are not backlit. I did not realize how dependent I had become on my backlit remotes. Watching a movie in a dimly lit room makes some specially coded buttons that are not the obvious Play, Stop, Menu, etc. buttons a stab in the dark that can ruin a good movie moment if you happen to hit the wrong button trying to guess. This complaint is NOT true of the beautiful, backlit display screen on the Philips remote and its "Side Keys." Also, the Mute and Last buttons are nowhere near the volume and channel buttons, a poor user-interface decision. These buttons are both small and located all the way down under the number keypad. You can "get used to the position," but why have to? This placement is completely illogical, perhaps a compromise made necessary because the volume and channel keys actually are unnecessarily big in the first place. Room could have been made for a Mute key underneath a smaller volume rocker, and ditto a Last button underneath a smaller channel rocker. This suggested placement would have been a minor change to achieve a major goal of much more user friendly from the git-go. (My wife already has asked numerous times, "Now, remind me, where is my Mute button?")
This Philips universal remote is really good, one my wife will actually use for the first time in our married lives, but getting the device up and running not always is a bed of roses. I will feel better about the remote as time distances me from the initial battle to get the unit set up fully with all necessary macros running smoothly and predictably. I would be embarrassed to admit the actual number of hours I put in getting every single glitch worked out, but I hope you will not think me a dufus. I am quite technically and gadget proficient, having owned a ton of electronic, stereo, recording, theater, and studio equipment. Hopefully, you will see more why I had trouble as I work through the following list.
I realize that not every problem I had is purely the fault of the Philips remote. One problem is timing. Timing on macros is a huge consideration of which some consumers may not be fully aware. The reasons are numerous. For example, different TVs have different warm-up times, especially older DLPs and plasmas. You have to wait on the TV to warm up before the TV lets you have control through the remote. You have to estimate this pause in the sequence of working out a macro into which the TV turning on is configured. Even more complicated, in some macros the TV has to come on first. In others, the TV has to come on somewhere along the way. You might even have to experiment a good bit when to bring in the TV if you just cannot get a macro running smoothly. Another example of timing problems is the newer HDMI input. These inputs have to go through a form of electronic handshake before they establish their audio and video connections and are ready to go. Again, you have to estimate enough of a delay to give these inputs time to get on board with the rest of the routine.
These type issues are not the fault of the Philips unit. You can have problems with timing with any universal remote that records macros.
However, other problems clearly are the shortcomings of the Philips unit itself. Perhaps I can save you some headaches, aggravation, and time because you will have more of a heads up on this unit. The unit is really good, and can be had for a steal of a price for all the features, but you might have to pay in other ways, such as time and frustration. The following are my major complaints due to the problems I had setting up the remote or unhelpful characteristics I discovered the remote had that detracted from my ability to describe the device as truly user friendly in every way.
(1) Macros: The macro implementation is the worst part of this universal remote. I found the macro function excruciatingly frustrating for several important reasons.
1.1 MACROS CANNOT BE EDITED IN ANY WAY. If your entire macro runs perfectly except for the very last step, you have to start from scratch all over again. I must have done this a million times over the weekend I was setting up this remote. You cannot edit any macro once recorded, say, to increase the amount of pause a tad in one step. You cannot even change the name of a macro without re-recording the entire macro! Unbelievably, the naming function is available only while recording the macro.
1.2 THE INTERNAL TIMER IS INACCURATE. On any universal remote, you can put pauses in between macro steps, and many macros for one reason or the other will need pauses. The Philips remote lets you put in pauses of supposedly 1 second increments from 1 to 9 seconds. However, the Philips timer, at least on my unit, is way off. Their "1 second" is really only about 1/3 of a second. So, if you need an actual 1 second pause, you need to program "3 seconds" on the Philips unit. Thus, their total of "9 seconds" really only gives you about 3 seconds in real time. If you want a 6 second pause, you have to put in TWO steps in your macro. The first step asks for a "9 second" pause, the maximum value the Philips allows, but that step only gives you 3 seconds in real time; the second step is a "dummy" IR command (one that does not actually activate anything from an old remote) for another "9 seconds" that gives you another 3 seconds in real time for your total 6 second pause. I am ashamed to say this timing problem took me half a day to figure out. I literally spent an entire morning trying to program macros without success with regard to some important macros that depended on timing. Be aware that various hidden timing problems might be present in your home theater setup that can frustrate your attempts to record a successful macro. If the internal timer of your Philips remote is as badly off as my unit is, you will have to calculate as best you can what the Philips "1 second" increments are in real time before wasting your time trying to record macros that need pauses of a certain length.
1.3 "SUCCESSFUL" DOES NOT NECESSARILY MEAN SUCCESSFUL. When the Philips unit has received an IR command in programming a step in a macro, you get a screen that says "Successful." In fact, on occasion, the Philips might have received only PART of the IR burst, so the command is really bogus, but you will not know that until you have saved and tried to run the macro. The promise land can seem so close (you have completed a complicated macro, every step supposedly "successful"), yet you actually can be so far away (you run the macro, and something does not work). You might suspect a bogus step, because the macro always will break down at the same spot. This failure is really aggravating because you have to rerecord the same macro completely from scratch every time. If you happen not to remember exactly what you did, in exactly what order, with exactly what timing sequence, you are doomed to what may seem to be an endless recording loop that you just cannot finish successfully.
(2) Names: YOU CANNOT CHANGE NAMES ONCE PROGRAMMED. Names of devices are called "Labels" by Philips, such as "TV," "DVD, "Receiver," etc. Neither the names (labels) of devices nor the names of macros can be edited once set. The reason for the inability to change device or macro names is a simple software programming stupidity: assigning of names is an internal step in the setup procedure for a device or in the recording feature of a macro, not a generally available edit function of the system menu. Put bluntly, you have no general edit function for names of devices or macros--an incredible oversight in software engineering. So, if in setting up a device you name that device, say, "FM," that has specially programmed buttons on the Philips remote, as well as a few special macros, and later think to change that "FM" device name to "Tuner," since the device also has other bands, such as AM, Shortwave, etc., you're completely out of luck, unless you want to start from scratch with that device, recording all over again all customized buttons and all macros.
Curiously, you CAN change one set of names on the Philips unit, the names of various Favorites list. The edit function for the names of the Favorites lists is found on the main system menu, so the software engineers were not oblivious to nor incapable of writing a system-level edit function for names. Why they did not think to include an edit function for changing the names of devices and macros is an inexplicable oversight, and renders the Philips remote another step removed from a sense of being truly user friendly.
You also cannot change the ORDER of your list of devices once established. So, if you want to put "Cable" first at the top of the list because that one will be the most used, but you just happened to add that device in last when you initially were setting up the remote, you're out of luck.
(3) Favorites: CHANGING THE ORDER OF FAVORITES IS A PAIN. Your "Favorites" is your customized list of your favorite channels. Once the order is set, changes are possible, but extremely cumbersome. All you have is a basic "swap" feature: select one, then select the position you want that one in, which swaps the current occupier of that new position with the old position of the one you are moving. Thus, if you want to move #10 to #2, you simply are swapping the current channels that occupy #2 and #10. The only way to maintain the favorites list order is to "walk the ladder," that is, keep exchanging the channel you want to move up one position at a time until you arrive at the desired position. Much more user-friendly would have been an "insert" function (insert #10 before #2, simply pushing #2 and all following one slot down) rather than an "exchange" function (exchange #10 with #2). Very tedious.
(4) Stability: THE UNIT HAS NO PHYSICAL RESET BUTTON. This absence is important, because the system did freeze on me one time in the learning mode (macros). The screen froze, and no button gave any response. Not finding a reset button anywhere on the unit, and not finding any description in the manual what to do if the system froze, I panicked. I knew I could take out the batteries and force a restart, but in doing so, I thought I was going to loose everything, all device setups, all macros, etc. Finally, determining I had no choice, I took out and immediately put back in one of the three batteries. This action returned control of the unit. To my great relief, all previous settings were preserved. I just took a while to recover from the heart attack. I now worry about a system freeze that also looses all the data. Yikes!
(5) Interface. THE UNIT HAS NO EXTERNAL INTERFACE. This remote holds great promise and offers a robust feature set at a highly competitive price. This promising remote, however, has no USB port, no way to interface with the world outside. This lack of a USB port is quite sad. No port means no updates or bug fixes. Any software problems discovered never will be corrected. No port means no interface improvements. No important input from actual consumers in the field will ever be implemented. No port means no computer connectivity. Imagine being able to write macros on the computer and correct individual steps, or reorder steps, change timing, or edit device or macro names in a jiffy, or shift the order of devices or favorites just by a simple click and drag. Finally, no port means NO BACKUP OF THE DEVICE. Having already experienced a system freeze in one weekend of heavy use trying to program the macros, I now worry that this lack of backup may be a hidden Achilles Heel that will be heartbreak hotel if the device looses all its time-consuming settings suddenly.
(1) Neat, uncluttered, logical layout, easy to read
(2) Beautiful, bright, easy to read backlit display
(3) Favorites lists, icon based, with large selection
(4) Large database of device codes
(5) Easily customizable
(6) "KidSafe" feature
(7) "Punchthrough" feature
(8) Competitively priced, nothing with this feature set even close
(9) Multi-user customizable (everyone has their own favorites list--great!)
(10) One button programs can work multiple components, inputs, etc. with macros
(1) Device codes for some HTIB units have to be finished manually
(2) Recording successful macros with more than a few steps or pauses most difficult
(3) Macros once recorded cannot be edited, not even names
(4) Internal timer for macros is inaccurate
(5) "Successful" IR input when writing macros not always successful
(6) Changing list order is impossible (device list) or tedious (favorites)
(7) Devices cannot be renamed
(8) No physical reset button for system freeze
(9) No external interface for updates (e.g., USB port)
(10) No computer connectivity, software interface
(11) "Main Key" buttons are not backlit
(12) Mute and Last buttons small and poorly placed
I regret the days necessary to program the unit. I regret the lack of certain editing features. I regret the lack of an external interface, both for updates or software editing, or a reset key. However, the unit finally is programmed and running smoothly and dependably on an entire home theater system. The backlit screen is beautiful and the icons easily read and user friendly. My wife is on board and a happy camper. I cannot beat the price and feature set. I am keeping the remote. If the unit freezes up or fails somewhere out there in the future (hopefully not too soon!), I will look first at Philips, hoping that they will have a new and improved model that addresses my major complaints but still at a competitive price. I would conclude four stars in general and recommend the unit, especially keeping in mind the price point, but with great reservations about achieving successful macros if they have any sophistication at all and some frustrations about missing functions, layout, etc. You at least should try out the unit and see for yourself whether this universal remote will meet your own needs, expectations, and budget.
6 Month Update--December 22, 2008
All is well. No issues or problems. No system freezes. Changed batteries after four months. Remote retained all settings. Everyone can use the remote pretty much with just one of two explanations of the layout. Even my 84 year old mother-in-law operated the remote to access favorite TV shows during the day while visiting with us a week. The station icons were great for her to find channels. Nice. Very nice.
Some have complained the buttons running down the left and right sides of the screen for direct access of channels are too small. But then, some complained that the remote was too big! These type of ergonomic issues you will have to decide for yourself in actually handling the device yourself. Yes, the side buttons are small. All I can say is my severely arthritic mother-in-law had no problems with the buttons at all.
One note on batteries: the remote has no indicator of low charge. At first, I thought the remote was going bad on me. Buttons and macros began to malfunction. Then, I finally thought to try changing the battery, and problem was solved instantly. Thus, you need to know the low battery Indicators. They are: (1) buttons begin to respond erratically (mute does not mute this time, but next time does mute), and (2) macros respond erratically (sometimes running all the way to completion successfully, sometimes stopping in the middle of a multi-step procedure).
This is the first universal remote I ever have tried that did not cost an arm and a leg and actually works. I would continue to recommend that at least you should give the unit a try to see for yourself. The remote has a few ergonomic issues for some, has poor implementation of recording macros, and minor nit picking here or there, but, the bottom line is, this remote works, works well, and is a steal of a deal at the price.
1 Year Update--June 8, 2009
I just changed the batteries again, which reminded me to check in with an update to the review, since we are just about at the one-year mark. These batteries (standard Duracell Coppertop) went for 5 months and a week. Thus, the first two sets of batteries averaged 4.5 months. I would extrapolate from this sequence that you should plan on changing batteries about three times a year. For the bright backlit screen, this service is pretty good, actually. We use the remote a lot, so I would suppose this battery life might be considered average. All memory was retained during battery exchange.
The remote still works beautifully. No problems. Good buy. Would definitely buy again if unit needed replacing, unless an updated, more user-friendly model had come out. If you survive the initial programming hassle, you should have smooth sailing.