Editor's note: We have changed the rating in this review to reflect recent changes in our rating scale. Click here to find out more.It may not be the height of haute design, but the Home Theater Master MX-800 is among the most functional and flexible universal remote controls available. With the ability to control up to 20 devices, it offers easy Internet and PC programmability; a great balance between hard and programmable, customizable keys; and an RF option that allows you to control your devices from nearly anywhere in the house without wiring. If not for the MX-800's two major flaws--it costs a whopping $500 and is available only from custom retailers--this excellent remote would be an easy Editors' Choice.
All of the "pro" Home Theater Master remotes share the same dull design. There are 20 programmable keys with corresponding LCD labels aligned in two rows of 10 at the top, with frequently used volume, channel, video transport (play, pause, rewind, and so on), and DVD onscreen menu navigation and numeric keys below. The key array on the silver MX-800 differs only slightly from that of its less expensive black sibling, the MX-500. The remote is powered by four AAA batteries.
The best attribute of the MX-800 is its software-assisted programming, an enormous time-saver. Once we downloaded the software from the Home Theater Master site, we managed to complete an entire MX-800 programming process--eight devices, including the rearrangement and customization of LCD labels and programming a couple of macros--in less than an hour; and that was with an incomplete list of models and some unidentified alternative code sets. (Sorry, Mac fans--the software is for Windows only.) It's the same great idea that we've seen used in the Harmony universal remotes, and Home Theater Master makes the process a breeze. You almost don't need the manual--or the custom retailer who is supposed to program the remote for you. The only drawback was the included serial cable. While its inclusion is understandable for custom installers used to the familiar RS-232 serial interface, we were forced to spend another $50 on a serial-to-USB adapter for our newer PC.
The MX-800 package includes the MRF-200 base station. The tiny MRF-200 receives radio frequency (RF) signals transmitted by the MX-800 and turns them into infrared (IR) signals that the base station blasts at your A/V components. This enables you to control all your devices from 50 to 100 feet away, regardless of line-of-sight obstructions such as walls or floors.
If you keep your gear stashed behind closed doors, the base station can accommodate up to six 10-foot wired flashers equipped with adhesive IR transmission "eyes" that get pasted to the IR panel on the front of each device. Setting up this wired system sounds harder than it actually is, and it worked completely as advertised. And the subsequent torrent of RF signals didn't seem to bother the cordless phone or the Wi-Fi network in the room. If you have more than six pieces of gear to be controlled, you can order additional MRF-200s ($99.95), and provisions are made for differentiating between identical devices.
The Home Theater Master MX-800 is highly recommended for home-theater aficionados for whom a $500 remote is a small investment in a high-end system. If you want the functionality of the MX-800 but can live without the RF control and the PC programmability, check out the much more affordable MX-500 or the newer, consumer-friendly URC-300 Customizer. If the PC programming aspect of the MX-800 appeals to you, the Harmony SST-659 or SST-688 are excellent alternatives.