|Marantz RC5200 Learning Remote Control|
|Home Theater Remotes & System Control Remotes & System Control|
|Written by Richard Elen|
|Sunday, 01 September 2002|
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Setup and Operation
Once you’ve bought one of these things, it takes a while to realize what an incredible device you have acquired. When I got my original Pronto, it was basically a matter of selecting a built-in template or creating one for the kind of device you wanted to control, then (if it didn’t use Philips or Marantz standard codes) having it learn from your existing remote and labeling the functions (which was cool enough). Not so any more. You can still do that, but there are a number of far more exciting possibilities.
First of all, you go to the Marantz web site, www.marantz.com, and find the software download section and download the setup (editing) software to bring your remote’s firmware up to the latest version. These programs run on a PC, but the editor at least will operate on a Macintosh running Virtual PC, if that’s your situation.
Once you’ve got the editing software up and running, you can go off to one of a number of sites such as RemoteCentral.com and look for downloadable files that contain control sets for your home theater components. Once you've downloaded them, combine them into a set of your own and download it to the remote.
There are rather more control files available for the Pronto than for the Marantz versions, but they work, although you may have to do some minor modifications to a Pronto file for use on the Marantz, like reassigning the channel and volume buttons, which are in a different order. Of course, original Pronto configuration (ccf) files do not use all that much screen space because of the lack of on-screen buttons utilized in the hardware on the Marantz.
When you first power up the device, by touching the screen with a finger or stylus (just like a Palm) or pressing a button, you’re presented with the Home screen. The non-programmable Home button always returns you here. From this screen, you link to all your components, and touching an on-screen button takes you to that device’s control screens, at the same time switching your receiver to that input (if that’s what you want: you can defeat the input-switching on the fly by holding a button down while switching if you need to, or just program it not to switch). Each device’s controls (and Home itself) can actually occupy multiple screens, accessed by soft buttons, there simply not being the room on the three-and-seven-eighths-inch diagonal, 320 x 240 pixel display to get everything in when it comes to a complex unit like a receiver or DVD player, although the extra space compared to a Pronto means that you can generally get your screens down to a couple per device if you’re building your own.
If you can’t find a ccf file online for your particular device, you can make your own control panels, easily and quite quickly. I had to do this to suit my Dish Network 501 satellite receiver, for example. You can build new panels either in the unit or on the computer for download, the latter being a bit easier (but to learn IR commands, you have to use the remote anyway). You start by either copying an existing device or creating a new one from a standard library of 75 templates, which include anything you might want – or you can design the graphics from scratch on the computer! Then you can label the buttons and assign actions to them, typically by learning them from the device’s original controller. Buttons that appear in the template but are not assigned an action remain hidden. New devices appear in a device list, accessed via an on-screen button, and you can link them to your home screen, too.
All this is carried out with the remote’s different modes: Use (for normal operation), Learn (to capture instructions from other remotes), Label (to add symbols or names to buttons), Add (to add new devices), Del (to delete stuff), Move (to change the order in lists and menus) and Setup to configure fundamental features of the device, such as the time and date and backlight and display on-times. There’s also an RF control mode.
The hard buttons can be programmed to have specific functions when a device controller is onscreen, or you can program them to have global functionality. So, for example, you would probably want the Volume up/down and Mute buttons to control the receiver volume, no matter what device was on screen, but the channel buttons might be needed to change channels on the TV or the VCR depending on the current device, while the four-way rocker buttons could navigate around a particular set of onscreen menus for a device. Local settings override global settings for these buttons.
Once you get beyond the programming of control panels for your devices, you can have fun with macros. The macro facility in the RC5200 and its relatives is phenomenal. Built-in library sets include channel surfing helpers and a cool group of control panels that will help your family to power up a home theater system. Beyond that, you can do almost anything you want. You can jump from one screen to another, include any command from any screen in the device, add pauses of defined length, re-order and edit the steps in a macro and test it before saving it. Because the unit can send commands in any order, you can, for example, switch on the receiver, then switch on the TV before coming back to the receiver and selecting its source after it has “woken up” and is ready to take commands, without having to include delays that would make the macro unnecessarily long.
There are of course some difficulties here that are beyond a remote’s capability to fix. The main challenge is whether you know the status of a device before you run a macro on it, or not. For example, imagine your TV has a single button that steps through the available inputs, like mine does. I have four basic inputs: the receiver, which is an S-Video input; two composite video inputs for VCRs and DVD, which is a component input. The only way of selecting one is to step through them, repeatedly pressing the TV/VCR button until the desired input comes up. This means that if you have a macro that turns on the DVD player, switches the receiver to the correct input, switches on the TV, and switches to the right input on that, the last step will only work if you know how many times to press the TV/VCR button. And that depends on what you were watching at the time. Bummer. The same thing happens with power switching. Some units have On and Off commands, while others just toggle the power from one state to the other with the same command. What you really want is devices that have commands to set them into a defined state, like “Power On” or “Select Input 4.” No doubt the spread of remotes with sophisticated macro capabilities will encourage manufacturers to address this problem, and to their credit Marantz (and Philips) already have: their units are “remote friendly.”
Sometimes you can work around the problem: there may be a command sequence that will put a device into a known state. For example, if you press Play on many DVD players, they will turn on if they are off – putting it in a known state. So the command to turn on that particular DVD player might be able to be expressed as “DVD-Play” followed by “DVD-Stop”; to turn it off, you could go “DVD-Play, DVD-Power.” Generally, though, the device manufacturer doesn’t document these sequences and you have to find them yourself.
The Marantz remote also has another workaround for this problem: you can program a help list, with the aid of a special device called “Help.” With these lists, you can instruct the user to press an input toggle button until the TV displays “DVD” before continuing.
The Marantz remote makes it as easy as possible to create macros -- quite complex ones, in fact -- but it’s bound to take a bit of fiddling and testing to get them right, so don’t despair. Not only do you have the learning curve of programming the remote, you also have the challenge of working out how to control a bunch of different devices in a sequence and making the result reliable and understandable by other people. It’s worth persevering.