For Father’s Day I bought Dad a universal remote control. But it isn’t just any universal remote control, it is the All For One URC-8810w. While most universal remote controls can control some number of devices by entering codes from a book, this one takes it one step further by not just providing control over up to 8 devices, but also allowing the remote to “learn” functions from the original remote (by pointing the original remote at this one and recording its infrared signal). There are four learning keys so you can learn up to 4 functions that otherwise are not available by default from each remote. It also allows the use of macros which can perform different functions even on different devices with the touch of a single button. Lastly, you can re-map a button, so you could assign power and volume for the TV to unused keys for Satellite mode. Then you could leave the remote in Satellite mode all the time and not have to switch to TV mode when you want to change volume or turn the TV off. Likewise, for the DVD you might want the volume keys to control the surround sound stereo instead of the TV volume.
But this remote is one of the few things you can buy that gives you more than advertised. It turns out that you don’t have just the learning keys to use but you can store learned functions in *any* key. The memory of the remote prevents you from learning more than about 30 keys, but still that’s enough. For instance, I was disappointed that the remote couldn’t control Mom and Dad’s Mintek DVD player. There wasn’t a code available for it. But that’s okay because I just had the remote learn from the Mintek remote for Power, Play, Pause, Forward, Reverse, etc.
The company even offers a plan where if it doesn’t operate your device you can send it to them and they will upgrade your remote so that it can control the device. I gave Susan one of these remotes and it wouldn’t control her KLH receiver and they gave me an authorization code to have the remote reprogrammed to control it. I didn’t end up doing this because there weren’t that many functions and it was easier to learn them all into keys.
So that’s neat but it gets better. It turns out there is a whole community of people on the internet who have figured out how to hack into the remote using homemade cables that connect to 6 pins inside the battery compartment labelled “JP1” on the exposed circuit board. They have written software that gets all the settings on your remote and backs them up into a file so that you can reload the settings on another remote if yours breaks (or you accidentally mess it up). They’ve also learned how to do their own upgrades like the manufacturer does. And they amass the files for the these upgrades so other people can do the same upgrades.
I never felt like I needed the cable and all the software though I did use some of their information to learn some keys by using advanced code numbers instead of learning from the original remote by recording the infrared signal. This saves memory and means you can learn a lot more than just 30 keys (again, this isn’t documented anywhere). Anyway, after buying 2 of these for myself (some of the buttons on the first one broke after a couple of years and orange juice spills so I had to buy a successor), one for Susan, and one for Dad, plus recommending them for Jenny at work, I decided it was time to get a cable so I could interface too. I ordered it last night, so we’ll see how it goes. Hopefully I won’t get so into this that I end up buying EEPROM memory chips to augment the remotes memory like one guy who can control 13 devices now.
But here’s the best part. Similar remotes that can do learning and control 8 devices cost anywhere from $70 to $300. This one is $18 at Walmart.
See a follow-up entry about programming this remote.