It may not be the height of haute design, but the Home Theater Master MX-700 is among the most functional and flexible universal remote controls available. With the ability to control up to 20 devices, it offers easy PC programmability and a great balance between hard keys and programmable, customizable keys.
All of the "pro" Home Theater Master remotes share the same dull but functional design. There are 10 programmable keys with corresponding LCD labels aligned in two rows of 5 at the top, but the accompanying Page Up key makes it easy to assign multiple LCD options to each button. Frequently used volume, channel, video transport (play, pause, rewind, and so on), and DVD onscreen menu navigation and numeric keys are located below. The key array on the gray MX-700 differs only slightly from that of its less expensive black sibling, the MX-500. The remote is powered by four AAA batteries, and the keys and the LCD become brilliantly backlit at the touch of a button.
The best attribute of the MX-700 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-700 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 not quite as streamlined and easy to use as the Web-assisted programming seen in the Harmony universal remotes, but detail freaks with high-end systems may find the Home Theater Master version more intricate and flexible. 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 some additional cash on a serial-to-USB adapter for our newer PC.
The Home Theater Master MX-700 is highly recommended for home-theater aficionados for whom a $350 remote is a small investment in a high-end system. There's also an RF-enabled step-up version, the Home Theater Master MX-800 RF, but that one is available only through custom installers. If you want the functionality of the MX-700 but can live without the PC programmability, check out the much more affordable MX-500 or the consumer-friendly URC-300 Customizer. If the PC programming aspect of the MX-700 appeals to you, the Logitech Harmony 659 or 688 are excellent--and more affordable--alternatives.