Marantz RC9500 Universal Learning Remote 
Home Theater Remotes & System Control Remotes & System Control
Written by Matthew Evert   
Tuesday, 01 March 2005

Introduction
Like many Audio Video Revolution readers, I have a table adjacent to the main seat in my theater room completely covered with various remotes to run my AV system. For years, this situation has been acceptable because, barring the morning after a big night out on the town, I can manipulate my system by grabbing one remote after another to fire up my gear. This has long been a safety mechanism that prevents my roommates from using (or abusing) my gear, as they can’t figure out how to start it up even if I left them alone for a week with a stack of NetFlix movies six inches high.

The problem is that I personally have the whole remote routine down, but I am getting to the point where I want to let others use my system from time to time. However, none of them can figure out the system and often leave it in worse shape than when I left them alone at the helm. So how do I solve such a perplexing issue? I need a universal remote to consolidate my seven remotes and simplify the knowledge of a home theater nerd into a press of a button. I could just get a cheap learning remote with rubber buttons that probably won’t describe exactly all the functions represented on my other remotes, but why not improve the whole experience? Why not add color graphics, macros to automate tasks and fully personalize it to my taste? Enter the Marantz 9500 universal remote and not a moment too soon. The Marantz is a full-color, lightweight, simple to use remote that can eliminate some headaches within your theater for the price of $1,099. I realize that this remote is pricey compared to a $20 universal remote from Radio Shack, yet properly controlling a higher-priced AV system is not child’s play.

Under The Hood
The RC9500 is about six inches long, three-and-a-half inches wide and an inch-and-a-quarter thick. It comes in black with metallic gray accents and is easy to read, with an LCD screen size of about two-and-a-half by three inches. Its rounded base fits nicely in my palm, making it easy to operate with just one hand. A 600mAh NiMH battery powers the unit for several hours of intermittent usage and can be easily recharged using the included docking station. There are silver-colored hard buttons that can be used in addition to the soft buttons that are featured on the LCD screen itself. The hard buttons are commonly used for things like navigating the menus and tabs of the device, controlling volume and changing channels. Both the hard and soft buttons can be fully programmed to do whatever your heart desires. A mini-USB jack on the left side of the unit allows for the RC9500 to be programmed from a PC. The screen has a sensor that will detect when the unit is tilted or picked up, resulting in the unit’s backlight buttons and LCD screen turning on.

The generously-sized color screen uses thin film transistor (TFT) LCD technology to yield a color pallet of 64,000 colors. This 320 x 240 pixel touch screen allows for creative and rich custom graphics to be displayed on this unit. With an impressive 16MB of RAM (this will be increased to 48MB with a firmware upgrade from Marantz later this year), the sky is the limit as to how much customization can be done with this unit. The range of the IR signals from this unit is about 30 feet, but if you have greater needs or you have components in other rooms, you can get the RF-77 extender to solve this issue for $169. This extender sits in front of your IR components and converts RF signals from the RC9500 into IR signals that the components can understand.

Programming
Ah, here is the dicey part: programming this puppy. Fortunately, Marantz has made this easy by including the Wizz.it 9 configuration software for your PC. The software installed easily on my Windows XP PC. Once installed, this allows you to add your own devices, macros and graphics to the RC9500. First, I suggest you gather up all your remotes and place them in a box. Carry the box to your PC. Now you can add all the buttons present on each remote into the appropriate device list on the software. It is easier to edit an existing sample component (like a DVD player) than creating one from scratch. I basically took the default DVD player and edited the text and layout of all the buttons, so I could emulate the old DVD player remote. Once this is done for each device in your collection, you can then put the RC9500 into learn mode and program all of your newly-created buttons on the remote with your old remote codes.

Prior to starting the IR learning phase, you will need to save the configuration file (with the new buttons created) to your PC and download the file to your RC9500. I would suggest doing the IR learning in a room distant from your stereo. The learning part goes quickly and then you can place the old remotes back in that box and put it in the garage. Naturally, many Marantz components are already programmed into the RC9500. You will need to upload and save the configuration file (with the learned IR codes in it) from your RC9500 to your PC.

Next, you will need to create your macros. This is where this remote starts to pay for itself. Everything is adjustable on this remote. Using the Wizz.it 9 software, I made a macro for when I select “watch” on the top menu and then select “DVD.” It launches a macro instead of just jumping to the main device tab on the DVD section of the remote. This remote first turns on the projector, waits five seconds, turns on my preamp, waits three seconds, switches the inputs on the preamp to the DVD setting, switches the projector to DVI input, turns on the lava lamp and dims the other lights, turns the DVD player on by giving it the play command and then finally signals the end of the macro with a loud beep. You can program up to 250 individual commands in a single macro. Despite what the specifications on the Marantz website may lead you to believe, it will not memorize RF remotes (like my x10 lighting system), just IR. I had to get a $40 special IR remote for my x10 system just so I could promptly toss the remote out after learning the x10 IR codes into the RC9500. This was a bit frustrating.

At this point, you are done with the basic functions. However, why stop there? With 16MB of memory, why not download an entire Washington Redskins football theme to your remote and make all the buttons little footballs, with a background that looks like a football field? Better yet, you could make a “Sex in the City” theme for your significant other and have totally different graphics for the DVD player buttons and not have to change the macros or the IR codes. You basically can create two or more user profiles for each potential user of the remote. When the remote is first picked up, it can display a top-level menu to ask the user which person is using it and it will launch the corresponding theme. This is incredibly cool and, although it takes a little patience to set up, it’s well worth it and makes your remote a special gadget worthy of your beloved AV system.

The power of this remote grows with the much-awaited 48MB upgrade, which will allow for more intricate customization like animation and even more goodies to rock this remote out. There is an entire website devoted to themes, usable graphics and macros for this remote. Visit www.remotecentral.com to get more details, then look in the file archive for the Pronto NG (these will work on the RC9500) for sample themes. The themes are basically html and jpg files, so creating your own themes is not difficult. (Note: The RC9500 and Wizz.it 9 are also compatible with bmp and png files.) I particularly like using the logo graphics for the Discovery Channel, ESPN, etc. to replace having to memorize which channel number corresponds to each. This is a must-have.

Alternatives
So what are my other options? There are many. You can get learning remotes from a few dozen companies, ranging in price from $100 all the way up to an entry-level $6,000 AMX system (not including the hours of programming it needs from a technician at a cost that is comparable to the remote hardware cost). The cheap remotes offer little improvement in the ease of use department and will frequently not learn all the codes for every function on the remotes. Also, who wants to look at bundle of non-descriptive rubber buttons? If 8MB is enough for your themes and you don’t mind a monochrome screen, the Marantz RC5400 could be a good alternative for $649. With a little creativity and some effort, you can create a remote that will attempt to emulate the big boys like AMX and Crestron. There are even aftermarket converters that will translate some IR codes to serial RS-232 ports on the back of your components, the way an AMX unit will do. One thing to keep in mind is that Marantz offers a three-year warranty and a killer amount of customer service to aid you along the way with customizing this baby. I spent a few hours on the phone with a helpful tech free of charge. Crestron and AMX owners more often than not have to call their technician at $125 per hour every time they add a component or want to change a preset on their TiVo page.

It is important to note that an AMX or Crestron remote system can do things that this Marantz simply can’t dream of, including successfully controlling sophisticated multi-zone HVAC, circuitry and far beyond. The big boys also connect your gear mostly via RS-232, which allows for a more reliable, secure system. Make no mistake, you get what you pay for with the big gun remotes, but boy, do you ever pay.

The Downside
Although this is an amazing remote, there is always room for improvement. First priority is the battery. This battery runs out after a couple of hours of moderate use. It currently has a 600mAh NiMH battery and, in my eyes, needs at least a 1000mAh Lithium ion in the next revision. Lithium ion batteries last longer, recharge faster and have no memory, so you do not have to deplete them entirely before recharging. If my $150 cell phone has a lithium ion battery, then so can a $1,100 remote.

The pick-up sensor sounds like a loose plastic ball rolling around in the remote. This may annoy some, but it is part of the design. We are used to things feeling solid. yet other than changing the design to a liquid-based switch, it is something we will have to live with.

This remote could use some rubber feet and some bumpers, since it is small enough that it may likely be dropped. This would serve to protect your furniture and your remote alike.

The Wizz.it 9 software has some quirks. When I rename a device tab like the “numpad” to “joystick,” it does not change this in all the views for the device. This means I have to rename the label for each tab I may have, which adds up to a lot of extra effort when you have four or five tabs per device.

Conclusion
Although the addition of this remote to my home theater has not improved the sound or picture of my system, it has won over my friends who try to use my theater. My tech-adverse father can totally figure out how to control my system when he visits, thanks to the macros on this remote. I have a little more comfort with letting my roommate use my system, knowing the macros will power up and down all my components in the correct order and not damage anything. Best of all, the themes allow for this remote to be completely personalized to your taste and that of the whole family. Indeed, the price is steep for this power; however, if you consider the level of customer service that you get and the cost of the big boys, this is very affordable. This remote has definitely made an impact on the wow factor of my system. The Marantz RC9500 will make you the undisputed “coolest kid on the block.”
Manufacturer Marantz
Model RC9500 Universal Learning Remote
Reviewer Matthew Evert
Type Handheld





Like this article? Bookmark and share with any of the sites below.
Digg!Reddit!Del.icio.us!Google!StumbleUpon!Yahoo!Free social bookmarking plugins and extensions for Joomla! websites!
 
Joomla SEF URLs by Artio