If you've got something a bit more obscure, though, you can use the R50's learning function. Take any existing remote, and you can teach its function to the R50, one button at a time. Likewise, if you've added a device and need something more specific than the default options, you can add a specific function with the learn command as well.
Adding favorite channels is just as easy. The Digital R50 can hold up to 48 favorite channels (eight screens of six each). There are 60 icons from which to choose, including some generic colors. That's not nearly enough for the 2,000-channel universe, but the inclusion of such familiar channel logos as NBC, CBS, Fox, USA, and VH-1, and the capability to add your own labels (on the keypad, a la cell phone text messaging) go a long way.
For those who just want the basics, that will pretty much cover things. But the URC Digital R50's advanced menu offers two other key functions: punch-through functionality and macros. Punch through refers to the capability to take some key functions--volume, channels, video transport, menus (menu, guide, info), power--and have them assigned to specific devices, regardless of what's active. For instance: You can assign volume up, down, and mute to always activate those functions on the TV--or the AV receiver--even if the VCR, game system, or cable box is the current active device. Or, for instance: Most folks would assign channels and menus to the cable/satellite box, or video transport to the DVR. URC calls this "cut and paste," and the screen prompts make it pretty easy to "cut" the volume function from the TV and "paste" it to all devices (or just individual ones).
Macros are multistep actions that you can program into the remote. The Digital R50 lets you program more than 800 macros of up to 255 steps each. The macros can be multidevice, as well. Just start the macro "recorder," and punch in the functions you want in the order you want. So, if you'd like to set up a macro that prepares your home theater system for watching a DVD--for instance, powering up the DVD player, TV, and AV receiver; flipping the latter two products to the right inputs; and setting the TV to "cinema mode"--you can do it.
It's not called "advanced" mode for nothing, however--beginners will probably want to steer clear. Macros work better with premium devices, such as TVs and receivers that have discrete inputs, and the more elaborate ones take a lot of knowledge and patience to get working correctly. That said, the only problem we had was in not knowing how to program pauses (to allow a TV some power-up time before switching inputs, for instance). As it turns out, you just tap the pause button while in program mode for a half-second delay (5 seconds equals 10 pause commands). But that wasn't clearly explained in the Digital R50's quick-start guide.
The other problem we had was that you can't create a new soft button (onscreen) while in macro mode. Instead, we had to create a fake device or function first, and then assign the macro to it thereafter. The fact that we had to hack that process together was an oversight in the R50's otherwise-straightforward setup routine.
So: Is the URC Digital R50 worth buying? Certainly, there's a lot to like here, and the benefits easily outweigh the few quibbles we had with the unit's design and ergonomics. We'd place it somewhere in between the Philips Prestigo SRU8010 and many of the Logitech Harmony models. But that's where preferences and pricing will begin to play a big role. We generally prefer the task-based control options and PC-programming offered by the Logitech remotes--many of which can be had for less than the URC Digital R50's $150 asking price. Likewise, TV-centric users looking for more flexible channel-favorites options (separate fave lists for each family member) and who are willing to sacrifice more advanced macro-programming capability will probably find the cheaper Philips Prestigo the better buy. Conversely, if you want a powerful remote that's well-designed and easy to set up--without the need to connect your computer--the URC Digital R50 is a great choice. We'd just like to see it priced closer to the $99 level.
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