Universal Remote Control, the aptly named company behind the well-regarded Home Theater Master brand, has introduced three affordable clickers designed for people who don't need quite as much mastery of their home-theater domains. The URC-300 Customizer ($200), the flagship of the new line, incorporates many of the features found on its more expensive cousins.
The relatively slim URC-300 (8.5 inches long by 2.5 inches wide by 1 inch deep) has a contoured, rubberized underside that provides for comfortable one-handed operation. Its controls consist of an array of hard keys and a 1.38-by-1.88-inch LCD touch screen, and they benefit from the most intelligent division of labor we've seen in such a combination. The keys are spaciously laid out, and many have distinctive shapes to make the URC-300 easy to operate by touch. There are plenty of buttons for most frequently accessed functions, so you'll need the LCD touch screen only for more esoteric controls. Eight customizable commands can be placed on each of up to four separate touch-screen "pages," and you can add, delete, relabel, and move commands at will. The entire remote--hard keys and LCD--lights up at the touch of a button, just in case.
Our lone complaint in the URC-300's design has to do with the LCD touch screen. We prefer the layout of the step-down model, the Universal Remote URC-200, which has hard keys adjacent to non-touch-screen LCD labels. We like the tactile feedback of a button push.
The URC-300 can control up to 15 A/V devices and is preprogrammed with the codes of more than 2,000 makes and models of varying components (you enter the codes after locating them in the instruction manual). You can also use the Customizer's learning function to clone more than 700 separate commands from other remotes. Additionally, URC-300 can be programmed to run more than 600 macros of up to 190 steps each. That means you can automate scripts that carry out specific commands in a predetermined order, such as switching to the correct A/V input on your TV and A/V receiver when you power up your DVD player. Like most current remote controls, the URC-300 offers punch-through capability, so key functions such as volume or channel control will work the same way no matter which device you've selected.
Setup was relatively fast and easy. Programming the URC-300 for a five-device home-theater system--including programming punch-through commands, cloning functions from existing remotes, macro programming, and relabeling some special keys--took less than 90 minutes. And if you're puzzled by Universal Remote's well-conceived instruction manual, don't fret: the company has even included a helpful DVD video that takes you through setup routines step by step. The only thing lacking is an option to program the remote via PC. If that appeals to you, check out the similarly priced Harmony H659.
The IR blaster supplies a generous dispersal, which is a comfort when running macros on widely spaced gear. Best of all, the URC-300 also transmits radio frequency (RF) commands, although you'll need to buy the optional MRF-100 Expander ($75) to take advantage of this feature. The URC-300's RF transmissions are turned into IR signals that the MRF-100 base station blasts at your A/V rack. This enables you to control all your devices from up to 100 feet away, regardless of line-of-sight obstructions such as walls or floors--great for multiroom music systems, for instance. If you have more than six pieces of gear, you can hook up multiple MRF-100s.
Overall, the URC-300 is intelligently designed, easy to program and use, and a great value--one of the best universal controls we've used.