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Today’s Show:

One Week with a Tablet Remote

We are on record of being huge fans of the Harmony remote control. Why not, before the Harmony our coffee tables had four remotes and practically required a user’s manual just to turn the home theater on. With a good universal remote, buttons labeled “Watch TV” or “Watch Blu-ray” make using the system as simple as pressing one button.

As time moved forward tablets and smartphones came on the scene bringing the world of information at your fingertips. We now can watch movies with Google and IMDB at the ready to answer any question about “Where have I seen that guy before”. Throw in a tablet, laptop, smartphone and remote and now our coffee table is cluttered again.

Stop the madness! As an experiment, Ara decided to ditch the remote and all the other network enabled devices for a week and replace them with a iPad mini. If you are using an Android tablet, the experiences expressed here will be pretty much the same.

The Gear

iPad Mini (Buy Now $360) – We chose the most basic version since this was to be a dedicated controller. For the Android we would recommend a 7 inch Galaxy Tab 2 (Buy Now $180)

RedEye Remote - Redeye is closing its doors and will still be available for a little while longer. If you want to go this route you may want to look into the iRule. It is a more powerful solution at roughly the same cost. Both of these solutions consist of an app that runs on the tablet and a network connected IR emitter/blaster for communication with your equipment.

DirecTV Tablet App - The app is not required but it has some nice features that make it worth installing. The ideal solution would be to have one app that does all the control and the Redeye (and iRule) do that. But the DirecTV app has the ability to directly communicate with the satellite box. It can obviously change channels and pull up the guide but it also can bring up the playlist of all your recorded shows on the tablet. This way you can browse recorded shows without interrupting what’s on the screen.

There is also a currently watching panel that displays detailed information about what is on screen. IMDB type information is also available to help you remember where you have seen an actor before. Speaking of IMDB, make sure you load that app as well. Its a great resource when you need info about a movie that isn’t covered in the DirecTV app.

AppleTV/Roku/Boxee Remote App -  For Ara’s experiment he used an AppleTV but just about everything applies to the remote apps for almost any streaming box.  The Redeye remote faithfully reproduces all the commands of the physical remote for the AppleTV. But who wants to enter letters into a search field with the D-pad. The dedicated remote app on the tablet makes entering data far easier. Plus you can select a movie off your server right on the tablet. No need to go into the menus on the streamer. These apps are not required but they sure to make navigating your stream much easier.

Automation - Just about every automation system has a tablet app. We dimmed the lights and went into movie mode with a simple touch of the screen.

All other apps - Being a tablet means you can install any app you want. CBS has a cool second screen app that allows you to watch with others and communicate via social networks. You can check twitter, facebook, email, or browse the web during sporting events or shows that don’t require your full attention.

Actual Experience

It would be great if we could definitely state that the experiment was a smashing success. Unfortunately that is not the case. In some cases there is an absolute benefit to this type of setup. Mostly in the sense that the remote (tablet) does not have to be pointed at the TV. You can be in the kitchen and still have control. Heck, you can control the system over the internet if you have your router configured properly. Having the ability to have other media related apps on the same device is also pretty cool. Beyond those examples the advantage is for a hard button remote.

The biggest disadvantage the family had was requiring a button push, a swipe, and then a visual identification of the button you wished to press. There was no way to reach over raise the volume simply by feel. Sure you can leave the Redeye app open which prevents the tablet from sleeping but you still need to look at what you are pressing. Repeat functions like volume up work but not always. More than a few times you would have to lift your finger off the screen and make contact to register a volume up command.

You can use the Redeye app to switch activities and then use the DirecTV or AppleTV remote apps as the remote control but those apps will eventually go to sleep requiring a button push and swipe to skip your program forward. In the end, the whole family decided that the tablet remote would not replace our Harmony One no matter how hard we tried.

Final Solution

Even with all the issues of the remote we decided that we didn’t want to let go of the Redeye. We came up with a use case that seems to work for the Derderian family anyway. The Harmony remote is still the primary remote. It will be used to turn on the system and used for volume control, Skip, and anything else that requires immediate control. The Tablet will be used for the DirecTV app which is still the best way to see what you have on the DVR or what’s on other channels. Likewise for the Apple Remote, it is the best way to navigate the apple TV or send music to the multiple music zones throughout the house.

The Redeye still has value for anyone working in the kitchen since it doesn’t need line of sight to control the system. Our experience is that a tablet remote will add far more functionality than a hard button remote but for simple things like raising the volume or skipping forward which is done constantly its inconvenient and thus a deal breaker. As a supplemental remote it works well but the cost make it deal breaker. Bottom line, we still haven’t found a replacement for our Harmony!

Download Episode #576


Posted by The HT Guys, March 29, 2013 11:22 AM

About The HT Guys

The HT Guys, Ara Derderian and Braden Russell, are Engineers who formerly worked for the Advanced Digital Systems Group (ADSG) of Sony Pictures Entertainment. ADSG was the R&D unit of the sound department producing products for movie theaters and movie studios.

Two of the products they worked on include the DCP-1000 and DADR-5000. The DCP is a digital cinema processor used in movie theaters around the world. The DADR-5000 is a disk-based audio dubber used on Hollywood sound stages.

ADSG was awarded a Technical Academy Award by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences in 2000 for the development of the DADR-5000. Ara holds three patents for his development work in Digital Cinema and Digital Audio Recording.

Every week they put together a podcast about High Definition TV and Home Theater. Each episode brings news from the A/V world, helpful product reviews and insights and help in demystifying and simplifying HDTV and home theater.