REMOTE CONTROLS

04 Oct 2004, 03:13:14 PM

Reporter: Chris Simond

New remote control units known as 'universal remotes' allow you to control your hi-fi, TV, video, DVD, all with the same set of buttons.

If you're not remotely inclined, don't know your VCR from your DVD - and perhaps the kids (bless them) have inadvertently re-programmed your entire entertainment system - turning yourself on is a major achievement.

You might swear there were only four remote controls last month. Now there are six. and you can bet your digital widescreen to a set-top box you'll soon be expecting a seventh. Soon you're living with a small family of remotes.

One household we interviewed for this story had 14 remote controls: four for televisions, three for DVDs, one for car stereo, two for VCRs and three for stereos.

Robert and Kathryn Breen-Wyatte's family has adopted the catchcry "wheres the remote?".

"It would be great to have one remote," Mr Breen-Wyatte said.

Help may be on the way. The idea of combining multiple handsets into one master control unit has spawned a small industry, producing what are now called 'universal remotes'. Audio specialist Len Wallis explains.

"You go then into more sophisticated designs like the Meridian system, which is a $299 design," Mr Wallis said. "You then go up to things like the RTI where you have much more control over macro controls."

After paying $649 for the RTI you then program your entire handset collection into it. Like all universal remotes, you can also download instructions from the Internet – or pay someone to program it for you.

A $1,200 touch-screen remote control is available from Marantz for those willing to go a bit more upmarket. But for true touch-screen sophistication an all-purpose Crestron can switch on every aspect of your life for $4500.

"You say 'I want to watch a DVD, you hit the DVD play button, it turns the lights down for you, it can drop the blinds, the projector drops out of the ceiling, it selects the right input on your amplifier," Len Wallis explains. "Theres no guesswork, it's very intuitive."

There's even a remote control for $15,000. It covers all your audio-visual needs: tuner, CD, DVD, all the radio stations Ah, but there's more.

The Crestron Media Centre also controls your security cameras and the heat, light and air conditioning within each room.

Fortunately you don't have to spend thousands to escape remote control madness – you can do it for as little as $19.99. At Aldi, Tevion remote control units available from November will channel up to eight handsets into one.

But the Breen-Wyatte's are now wondering whether combining 14 remotes into one is such a good idea after all

"There would be an argument about who would have control of the remote and someone would invariably want to use the stereo, whilst another was using the DVD and TV, so that would cause a problem," Mrs Breen-Wyatte said.

But there is one clear advantage of going 'universal': you can finally ditch all your old handsets. They'll be worthless -.interest in them will be well, remote.

Len Wallis audio is at www.lenwallisaudio.com.au