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The Remote Control: Home Theater Master

The best home theater system becomes a pain in the posterior if you have to juggle a half-dozen or so remote controls just to play a movie. The solution, of course, is some sort of universal remote control that can operate multiple components simultaneously.

I originally thought I'd have to invest in a separate remote control, and had my eye on the Philips ProntoPro. However, the B&K Reference 50 preamp came with its own programmable remote control, a custom-branded version of the Home Theater Master MX-700. And, believe it or not, this remote does exactly what I need it to do—probably better than the ProntoPro would.

Both the best thing and the worst thing about the ProntoPro is that it's operated via an LCD touchscreen. While the touchscreen lets you design your own operating screens for each of your components, a touchscreen isn't always the best way to operate your system. I had a touchscreen remote with my old Sony receiver, and I can tell you that they're often finicky, go through batteries like a runner goes through water on a hot day, and have readability problems in low lighting. Besides, some people (like me) just prefer the feel of pushing a real button to pressing a virtual button on a touchscreen display.

Which is why I like the MX-700. It offers almost all the programmability of the ProntoPro, but with standard pushbutton operation. You don't get fancy LCD graphics, but the MX-700's onscreen labels are more than sufficient.

You program the MX-700 via the supplied software program. You can assign any function from any component to any key on the remote. You can create multiple "pages" for each remote, and mix and match functions and commands on any page. For example, I programmed the first page for my Media Center PC (which I've labeled "Music") to include commands for stereo/surround on my B&K preamp, and for standard/widescreen mode on the Sony TV. You design the key and page layouts on your PC, and then connect the remote to your PC via serial cable and do the download thing.

Commands for most components are included in the software, and new commands are available via download from the manufacturer's website. You can also teach the remote to learn commands directly from another remote, by holding the two remotes head-to-head while the MX-700 is connected to your PC. The command from the original remote is fed to the MX-700 and stored in the software's memory; you can then assign that learned command to any key on the MX-700.

You can also program the MX-700 with multiple-device macros, which enables one-button operation of complex operations. For example, when I press the "Movie" button on the remote, it activates a macro that sends a chain of commands that turns on the B&K preamp and power amp, switches the preamp to the DVD input, turns on the Sony TV, switches to Video 7 input (which is where I have the DVD player connected), and turns on the Denon DVD player. (If I wanted, I could have added an additional command to initiate Play on the DVD player, but I figured I first had to insert the DVD into the player by hand.) That complex set of operations is done with the push of a single button. I love this remote!

The range on this remote is fantastic; it hits all my components from the next room over, if I want. (It's an infrared remote, so line-of-sight is necessary.) It's a big remote, but not overly so. It feels good in the hand, and all the buttons have a nice firm feel. Given that this remote ($200 or so if purchased separately) was included free with the B&K preamp, what's not to like?

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