|Madrigal IRIQ Learning Remote|
|Home Theater Remotes & System Control Remotes & System Control|
|Written by Kim Wilson|
|Friday, 01 October 1999|
Gaining control of our sound systems is more critical than ever, as more devices are required to complete the home theater setup. Filling the gap between inexpensive universal remotes and state-of-the-art desktop touchscreen systems is a new breed of controller, the handheld LCD touchscreen panel.
Entering the market at $399, Madrigal Labs (Mark Levinson and Proceed), in partnership with Microsoft, has released the IRIQ™ Learning Remote. Following a different scheme than other such devices, the Microsoft programmers created the unique Setup Wizard for faster, idiot-proof programming and the development of a method called "Activities" that issues commands to multiple devices from a single screen.
The curvaceous and slightly bulbous chassis contains a 2x3-inch screen with a selector wheel and several buttons underneath. The selector wheel is a fast and efficient way to change TV channels or scroll through the remote’s menu items. Pressing the wheel selects items in the menu. A Home button returns to the main menu from any screen. The "+", "-" and "Mute" buttons raise, lower and mute the volume of the selected device. A backlight button dims or lights the touchscreen itself. Menu screens consist of menu items or text. Button screens show the actual commands for a specific device or devices.
The unit provides two IR (infrared) windows. One is an IR transmitter that sends commands to your components, while the other is used for learning IR codes from existing remotes.
The Setup Wizard ingeniously helps you move through the teaching process efficiently when your component is already stored in the IRIQ’s bank of preprogrammed IR codes. Selecting your component will automatically load all of its commands into the IRIQ.
When a particular device is not listed in the Setup Wizard, its IR codes need to be learned from the device’s original remote controller. The Setup Wizard will then ask you to program specific commands such as Power, Play, Stop and so on. This is a great process until you reach the end of the Setup Wizard’s preprogrammed commands and you find that your remote has many more commands left over.
Great care seems to have gone into considering all possible combinations of products, yet there are some obvious omissions. There is no inclusion of a CD/DVD Changer, thus no preprogrammed command for changing disks as well as tracks. Everyone knows that Pioneer is famous for its "+10" key to enter track numbers of 10 or higher. Since there is no provision in the Setup Wizard for this key, I couldn’t advance beyond track 9 on my Pioneer DVL-91 LD/DVD combi-player. For these commands and more, the IRIQ requires an advanced level of programming using a PC.
The IRIQ™ comes with a proprietary program on a CD-ROM and a serial cable for connecting the remote directly to a PC. The PC program extends the capabilities for defining buttons and configuring the IRIQ. In fact, it provides the only method for customizing buttons. They can be moved from one screen to another using drag and drop. Buttons may be added, deleted and renamed on any screen.
A Setup Wizard pops up on your PC screen when you hook up the IRIQ for the first time, assisting you in adding any remaining devices or commands you were unable to program when using the remote’s built-in Setup Wizard (such as changing disks in my CD Changer).
The real power of IRIQ’s PC program is the creation of the Madrigal exclusive know as Activities, which provides a new approach for controlling A/V products by combining controls from all devices that are needed to complete a specific activity. For example, you would combine controls from a TV, VCR and stereo to create the activity "Watch TV". This prevents you from shuttling between different screens to control three separate devices.
Out of the box, the IRIQ comes with three Activities: Watch TV, Listening to a CD and Watch a DVD. However, with the PC program, up to 32 separate Activities may be defined.
The first thing I created was Watch a Movie, combining the commands from my processor, DVD player and TV. When you select an Activity from the main menu, all the buttons you’ve chosen for that activity, regardless of what device it is on, will appear on a single screen. In the event that you have a lot of commands, it may require more than one screen for a specific Activity, though shuttling between screens is easy with the selector wheel.
In addition to Activities, macros can be established, sending a series of commands to multiple devices at the press of a single button. Macro buttons added to an Activity screen allow you to consolidate a group of commands into one simple control. In making my Watch Movies Activity, I created a macro that switched the TV input to Video1 and the processor to DVD, then started the DVD player.
Macros are great for turning on gear as well. However, when a unit receives an on/off command, it just toggles between the two. An example: imagine in my above macro, that my processor is already on because I’m listening to music. If that macro includes power commands, activating it would cause the processor to turn off while turning on the macro’s other components. A better strategy for me was to create an "all on" or "all off" macro. I could even customize power macros for specific types of listening and viewing habits.
Macros sometimes exhibit slight delays, so in programming them, it was often necessary to include short gaps, giving devices a chance to respond before the next command was sent. Plan your macros wisely: only 30 can be loaded into the IRIQ.
The IRIQ only works on AA batteries. You’ll go through battery power quickly during the setup process, as you’ll be using the remote continuously for long periods of time. Once you use the remote on a more regular basis, batteries should last longer. Still, it’s a good idea to keep a stockpile on hand.
I don’t really care for the overall physical design of the IRIQ. The screen is small and the buttons are large. It should be the other way around. The bottom portion of the remote, where the buttons reside, is fat and awkward for someone like myself with petite hands.
The level of programming without a PC linkup is limited, requiring me to go outside my own arsenal of Macintosh computers, since the IRIQ program requires Windows and a computer with a 9-pin serial port. As a devoted Mac-head, I’m somewhat frustrated by the trend toward PC-only interfaces on convergent products. Clearly it’s time to add Windows to my home theater.
After several hours of programming, the IRIQ performed well, although I did find that the sensitivity of the membrane keys took getting used to. Just tapping a button didn’t always initiate the command.
Using the PC linkup to program the IRIQ didn’t intimidate me, as I live on computers. However, convergence isn’t here yet and I don’t think that most consumers are predisposed to using PCs with their audio gear. One of the mistakes often made with convergent products is that they tend to be computer products first, audio/video products second.
I believe Madrigal’s intentions are good, especially with respect to the Activities feature. It is truly a great idea and shows that the developers are attempting to think outside the box, demanding an "A" for effort and creativity. Unfortunately, the heart of the IRIQ’s Microsoft programming is on the CD-ROM and not the internal Setup Wizard, making this controller feel more like a computer product or at the very least, computer-dependent.
The IRIQ would have earned higher marks if more of my own components IR Codes were already stored, requiring less PC intervention. (By the way, your dealer does have the ability to upload Madrigal-supplied updates.) Moreover, learning all of a remote’s commands without a PC should be included in the next software version, as this function gives the similarly priced Philips Pronto a seriously competitive edge.