Logitech

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5-in-1 remote white

5-in-1 X10 remote

Logitech Harmony remotes are a bit pricey, though worth it if your system has more than 2 or 3 devices. Ours does double duty: in our complex home theater environment, and in the bedroom (see the just-previous post for details).

But a universal learning remote like this $10 one can do the job quite well if you don’t have a separate sound system. The major caveat is that you will probably need to program some of the buttons in a non-intuitive, spouse-unfriendly way.

My wife uses a standard cable remote for TV/cable in the den (yes, we still have cable, to date).  I prefer to have all devices and controls on this single remote.

My X10 Universal 5-in-1 Learning Remote controls the den TV, cable box, DVD/VCR combo, Roku box, plus all X10 devices in the house. (X10 commands are sent via RF, all others by IR.)

I had to teach it some of the cable buttons, like Page Up, Page Down, Guide, Info, A, Last, DVR List, Live, and the 7-seconds-back button. My choice of buttons to repurpose is basically arbitrary (though I made up a few mnemonics to help me).

(2/26/2015 update: we have cut the cord, so the cable buttons now control a TiVo. Details in the post, Teaching TiVo to the X10 universal remote.)

The VCR/DVD player had to be handled as 2 separate devices (I use the SAT button to select the DVD side). The Eject function, I taught to the B button, and a couple of other functions had to be learned on the C and D buttons. When we use the player (infrequently in these days of streaming media), I usually need a refresher from my notes.

When you select X10 (home automation), all buttons are fixed and cannot learn other functions.

I even found a way to include the Roku controls, making it a 6-in-1:

When TV is selected, most of the buttons are needed for the TV, except ENT, A,B,C,D and the transport buttons (REW, PLAY, PAUSE, etc.)

However, if you turn the remote to the right by 45 degress, the A-B-C-D buttons can form a set of screen navigation arrows for Roku. ENT becomes the OK/Enter button, and REW, FF, PLAY, PAUSE can become the Roku version of themselves. Since there is no way to record with the Roku, the REC button can be the Home button. Use the Learn button to make it so.

Beats reaching for another remote.

Turn off the decorative lights on the patio before going to bed? Turn on a bedroom light? No problem, the remote can do it with X10 automation.

I can remember which buttons are repurposed from frequent use, and I did document the changes, but it would be cruel and unusual to ask a normal person to use the remote this way.

So it’s best for the poor (or at least budget-minded) man with a good memory.

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L to R, top: Roku, digital TV converter, remote A/B switch. Bottom: Harmony remote, manual A/B, X10 receiver.

This is our bedroom TV, fed since 2002 by a cable box at a charge of $8.50/month, which works out to over $1200(?!) for those years.

Here’s how I replaced the cable box using set-top boxes with one-time-only costs.

In the middle on top is a Mediasonic HW-150PVR HomeWorx Digital TV Converter Box with PVR (about $35). This provides HD as well as SD digital content. If you have a newer TV, it’s built-in.

The PVR (DVR) part functions, but was just too primitive for WAF (wife acceptance factor) in the den, so the box was demoted to the bedroom, where it works just fine.

We use a flat, square, amplified HDTV indoor antenna. You may not find an amplified antenna necessary. There is a noticeable, though not huge difference.

I found a location for the antenna where all the good stations have decent signal strength. You must experiment. If it doesn’t work well enough for you, an attic or outdoor antenna may be needed.

Broadcast TV might well be, and probably should be totally adequate for your bedroom, but we have other content available.

The leftmost set-top box is a Roku, which lets us take advantage of our Netflix, Amazon Video, and Hulu subscriptions, as well as all our local content on the free Plex channel. On this old TV, we have Roku on channel 91, an equivalent of L1 or L2 line-ins on “newer” sets.

Since we still have a cable subscription (though only one converter box/DVR in the den), we can still get the old analog stations by hooking up to the cable outlet without a converter box. We see channels 2-63, pretty much the basic and extended cable of the 1990s, (now called “Essentials”; what were once luxuries are now necessities?) Together with broadcast TV, especially the new digital subchannels, we have a full complement of channels available in the bedroom.

On the right-hand side, to switch between broadcast TV and analog cable, we have a remote control A/B switch for 75 ohm coax cable. The cost was less than $10, amazingly. I use one in our theater room, too.

I described the funky little UFO box on the far right in a previous post about our workout room TV. Since we use it infrequently in the bedroom, the manual A/B switch is adequate for it.

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Harmony “soft” buttons

It would be highly impractical to keep a bagful of remotes at the bedside to operate all this. I was able to shoehorn all these functions into the same Logitech Harmony 890 remote I use in the much more complex theater room.

I created the blue screen-labelled “soft” buttons to do important functions that could not be logically assigned to the other buttons: power on/off for the TV and converter box, remote A/B switching, special Roku buttons, and TV auto-shutoff timer setup. The buttons needed for changing channels, navigating the Roku and converter box, etc., are assigned to the “hard” buttons.

Sounds complicated (I did make a chart of the buttons for my wife), but it seems fairly natural to us both now.

(9/29: Bought a Logitech Harmony 650 for $34 on eBay to have a dedicated remote for this TV. Big improvement.)

She can again watch Mrs. Bucket or Basil Fawlty on our own Plex channel Sunday nights, which endeared the arrangement to her.

Another monthly charge eliminated.

RemoteRack

RemoteRack

In 2009, there was a bucket of remotes in our theater room.

I had tried velcroing some of my remotes to this RemoteRack product. Not bad, except newer remotes were curved, and wouldn’t stay on.

Monkey grip

The tool that sparked a revolution.

A friend at work suggested the Logitech Harmony 890 as a way to consolidate all functions into one remote. I found a refurbished one on Amazon, and it was the best money I ever spent.

The Harmony was also capable of controlling electrical devices in the home, e.g., lights, fans, coffee maker, etc. I soon purchased the X10 modules to implement this.

I felt like a megalomaniacal Bond supervillain with all these devices under my control, a good feeling, by the way. (More detail in the TTM X10 Amazon Store)

This year, after receiving a $200+ cable bill upon the expiration of my year-long $50/month whining discount, I didn’t feel so good. I wanted to get control of this insanely high expense (and we didn’t even have any premium channels!)

New mission: cut or at least whittle down the cable TV cord. My progress will be documented in this new blog.

I don’t know how the story will end. Stay tuned.