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Philips Pronto Intelligent Remote Control Print E-mail
Saturday, 01 July 2000
Image Good things really do come in small packages. The 5"x4" Pronto from Philips is a unique and flexible touchscreen learning remote. It is pre-designed with a number of pages and buttons for a wide array of AV products. For a mere $399, this impressive remote will learn the commands of any infrared controlled device. Moreover, just like the most sophisticated learning remotes, macros can be created which initiate a series of commands at the push of a single button.


When I broke open the 100-page manual, I shuddered at what initially looked like a complicated programming process. In actuality, it only took a few minutes to learn Pronto's basic programming functions and about two hours to turn this unassuming little remote into a powerful personal command center for my entire home theater.

A simple tap on the screen automatically activates it. On the right side of the screen are direct access buttons labeled "Mute," "Channel" and "Volume." They can be programmed to always control the same component, such as a TV, or they can be programmed to operate different devices when those devices are activated. Below the screen are two buttons. Each can be programmed for different functions depending on the device chosen.

There are several pre-arranged panels (or pages) with buttons that represent a myriad of functions common to certain components such as a receiver, DVD, LD, VCR, TV, etc. Other devices can be added by using any of the existing device panels as a template. The sophisticated customization of the Pronto allows any button or device to be reconfigured and relabeled.
Let's say you want to program a DVD player. Choose the DVD button from the Home menu and a panel appears with common navigational symbols. The scrolling button reveals additional panels, such as a numeric pad for direct chapter/track access and a separate set of navigation buttons for a DVD's interactive menu.

Tapping the Mode button at the bottom of the screen activates the options Learn, Label, Add, Delete and Move. In preparing the panels that will be used for controlling the DVD, buttons are either added or deleted as the user defines them. Buttons can be relabeled from their default name using a virtual keyboard that displays a wide range of letters and symbols. When in the Learn mode, place your DVD's remote controller directly behind the Pronto's learning eye. Command by command, the Pronto is taught the new IR codes. First a command button is tapped on the Pronto and then the corresponding command on the DVD's remote is depressed. The Pronto indicates whether the command was learned. The entire process takes a couple of minutes per remote.

While it is a good idea to set up your panels before you start teaching the Pronto IR codes, buttons can be activated at any time: just switch from the Learn mode to the Add mode. It's important to note that any button that has been deleted is still in Pronto's memory and can be re-activated at any time. In the Learn mode, active and deactivated buttons are present. If you decide that a button you initially deleted should be used, teach it an IR code and it becomes active. If you don't want to always go to your preamp/receiver to switch sources, the Pronto can be set up to switch sources simply by choosing the device you want to control.

Macro programming is amazingly simple, with the ability to store up to 255 commands per macro. Once in the macro record mode, the Pronto records a sequence of commands. For instance, a macro can be set up to turn on all components, or to run through a series of commands to turn on a DVD and switch your preamp's source and surround mode. Editing macros is a breeze and doesn't require redoing the entire process. The Macro button can be given any name you choose, defining its function. There is no limit to the number of macros that can be created.

The Pronto works off of either four AA batteries or a rechargeable battery pack that comes with the optional recharging dock ($80). When using the recharging dock, the Pronto can run for several days on a single charge.

What separates the more expensive touchscreen systems from the Pronto is their ability to customize individual pages, from layout to the size and number of buttons on a page. While Pronto's pre-designed panels have a wide assortment of buttons, if you program all the buttons on a panel, there's no accommodation for adding more buttons. Also, the size and shape of a button cannot be changed. In late December, Philips announced the availability of Pronto Edit, a Windows-based software program offering more extensive customization features. Pronto Edit is free to all Pronto customers and is available online for download ( The two-way RS-232, communication serial port connection cable, is also available at no additional cost.

Pronto Edit includes the ability to store, cut, paste and share buttons and device panels. The program also allows for changing fonts and the size of buttons, plus the ability to import graphics, such as network logos. It can clone or import complete device configurations including IR codes, macros, panels and buttons. The Emulator, a graphical representation of the Pronto remote, allows users to test configurations and layouts on the PC prior to a final download.

The Pronto is the perfect controller for me, as I'm constantly removing and adding devices to my system. Instead of juggling four or five remotes at a time, all I have to do is take a few minutes to enter the IR codes of any new remote into the Pronto and I'm on my way.

Defining a new era in handheld devices, the Pronto shatters the price barrier of previous touchscreen controllers and doesn't require expensive programming dealer fees since it is completely user programmable. In fact, programming the Pronto is so comprehensive and uncomplicated, especially with the addition of Pronto Edit, you'll have fun setting up all the pages and buttons to your personal taste. Never again will switching inputs or turning on a myriad of gear frustrate you or other members of the household. With Pronto you can tame even the most complex home theater.

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