The End of an Era


On October 23, 2003, a great tragedy struck the Wolfgang Household: Pinball broke our Philips Pronto remote control. The Pronto was an amazing remote, better than any universal remote I've ever seen. For us, it controlled six A/V devices (TV, receiver, ReplayTV, VCR, DVD player, and Nintendo 64), the lights in our apartments, and the ease with which we could enjoy the evening. It served us well for 3 years.

For those not in-the-know, a Pronto is not your average universal remote control. It's a touch-screen-based remote. Every device screen is configurable any way you can imagine; the interface is programmed through the ProntoEdit software on your computer. Timers can control devices whenever you see fit. Each screen can have any number of buttons, any size, that do anything. There really isn't any limit to the number of devices the Pronto can control, the number of buttons/functions per device, or the number of functions per button. What all that means is that the A/V equipment was quite easy to use. One button (labeled "Watch TV") turned on the ReplayTV, turned on the receiver, set the receiver to the right input, and put the Pronto on the "Guides" screen so that you could find whatever show you wanted. The Pronto was a complete remote replacement, too--other universal remotes will learn only some functions of any given remote; the Pronto can be taught all functions of any remote. You're really limited by your other equipment and its capabilities, not the Pronto's.

So anyway, Pinball broke the Pronto. Being unable to watch TV, I hunted out the other remotes packed away in a box. I found all of them but the one for the ReplayTV. After a bit of frantic searching I located the remote hidden in the bowels of the couch. Phew! We can watch TV now! We remember one of the reasons for not using the ReplayTV remote anymore, though: the "Select" button doesn't work. And the Select button is integral to using the ReplayTV.

I wasn't sure I wanted to buy another Pronto; I got mine for $170 back in the .com days, but today a Pronto will run nearly $400. The Pronto was certainly worth $170, but I don't know about $400. While thinking on that we'll still want to watch TV and since the ReplayTV remote doesn't work, I decided to hunt out a cheap replacement for it.

I headed out to Best Buy and found several remotes for $20-25 that would do the job. I couldn't resist looking at the better remotes, though. A few of them intrigued me but one in particular grabbed me: Sony's RM-VL1000 for $54. It's fairly flexible, offering a handful of programmable macros, timers, labels and programmable keys. It's does much more than the universal remotes of 3 years ago could--when I bought the Pronto--but isn't capable of but a tiny fraction of what the Pronto could do. But still, for the price... I decided to get it and try it out.

So far I'm pretty happy with it; I think Sherree is, too (though she doesn't care about these things as much as I do). It's programmed with the most-used functions of all of our A/V equipment and works pretty well. The joystick button seems a little quirky, sometimes requiring a second press. I've added a "Watch TV" macro, along with several others, but they aren't as useful as they were on Pronto. The RM-VL1000 doesn't recognize discrete codes, it seems, so power can only be toggled on and off. That is, if it's on and you hit "Power" it turns off, and vice-versa. This is a problem because I might be switching devices and might not need or want the power state changed. Those are really my only complaints about it. It's a pretty good remote; maybe I won't buy another Pronto.

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I think you ought to teach Pinball to change the channels and turn the lights off and on, and hey how about getting a soda from the fridge. Oh the bottle may be bigger than her!:)

We have a Replay TV but not the remote for it. Is it possible to operate our unit with a "universal" remote ?
Thank you

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