|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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With the increasing complexity of modern home theater systems, it’s vital to have a good method of controlling all the components. Of course, many systems these days come with remotes that can handle more than one device – the one you just bought plus another, such as TV and DVD player – but before long, you find you have a whole bunch of remotes on the coffee table, and while you yourself might be able to work out what extensive combination of devices is required to switch on the TV, set it to the component input, power up the receiver, set that to the correct input, and switch on the DVD player, the chances of your girlfriend being able to manage it are minimal (not because she's female, but because she didn’t put the system together and therefore doesn't know anything about it).
The answer is a single learning and/or programmable remote control. You might think you got one of those with your receiver – after all, it has a whole load of buttons for different sources, and claims to be able to control a whole bunch of devices: all you have to do is configure it. And this is where you find that the supplied remote is woefully lacking. Maybe it doesn’t control any devices other than those by the same manufacturer, and of course you don’t have any other gear made by the same people. Alternatively, it will learn commands from any other remote you point at it, except there are 300 different commands to program in, and you don’t have all day, and that’s just the DVD player. Or, finally, it will operate all kinds of other gear as long as they’re on a short list of manufacturers in its database. Which covers everything except your satellite receiver -- and that new DVD recorder. And although it claims to be able to talk to your make of device, none of the 10 different four-digit codes provided seem to do anything.
What you need is something that includes both these capabilities – learning via infrared, plus, if possible, an extensive product database – and then some. Like macros, which enable you to define a button to, say, power up the system, switch to the right input, set the remote up to control whatever it is, and actually play the thing. Well, thankfully, they now exist, and the Marantz RC5200 is one of the nicest around in what we might call the “entry level” price range for this kind of device (although it doesn’t have the product database). The majority of programmable, large-scale remotes are aimed at the expensive end of the market, with prices well over $1,000. Finding a device of this kind with a $599 MSRP is definitely “entry level,” yet these devices can give the expensive remotes (which generally need to be configured by your installer and not by you) a run for their money and offer at least comparable performance for much less outlay.
The real pioneers of super-sophisticated remote technology, chock-full of features but also affordable, has been Philips. I bought one of their original Pronto remotes the moment I saw it at a trade show: it was the obvious solution to the entire gamut of remote control woes. It’s been a few years since then and the technology has moved forwards by leaps and bounds. Thanks to the software-based nature of these beasts, your can keep up to date almost (but not quite) indefinitely via on-line firmware updates, computer-based editors and goodness knows what else.
During the time that Marantz was part of the Philips empire, they took the Pronto engine and did a few things to it to release their own devices. With the RC5200 and its sister 9200, they changed the shape of the case from a very curved and European-looking contraption (which I happen to like, presumably as a result of being a European) to something a bit more Space Age and a tiny bit bigger. They moved some of the soft buttons that appear on the screen on a Pronto and made them programmable hardware buttons while adding a four-way rocker-type central control button assembly, thus opening more of the display area for device-specific controls – a major benefit that Philips should have thought of themselves.
There are actually two Pronto-derived devices available from Marantz (an earlier one, the RC5000i, which was essentially just a re-badged Mark I Pronto, is no longer current). They are essentially identical, but the RC9200 has a color screen, 8MB of RAM and a more powerful processor, while the RC5200 reviewed here has a mono screen and 2MB of non-volatile RAM.
At the heart of the RC5200 is the green touch-screen, strongly reminiscent of an early Palm PDA, with a green backlight for operation in the dark. To the right of the display is a set of five programmable “hard” buttons that generally control volume up/down and mute, plus channel selection. Under the display are six push buttons, including a pair that a normally programmed to offer forward and back functionality like a Web browser, plus Enter, Menu, Exit, Home and the central four-way rocker assembly. This is a good deal more hard buttons than the original Pronto offers. An RF Extender adds RF control functionality to either unit (it’s included with the 9200 and optional with the 5200), while a special four-pole miniature socket allows connection of a serial cable to a computer. Also on the left side of the unit are a backlight on button and a contrast wheel. At the bottom of the unit is a multi-way connector that plugs into a mating connector on the “docking station” base/charger, pointing the controller at a useful angle and keeping the NiMH battery charged. Unlike my original Pronto, the connector is a cell phone-like latching type that requires the remote to be angled up to release it, and provides a firm contact while charging.