PC Remote – Review

Now here’s a new product – in fact it’s so new that the serial number on my review sample was 00003. The “P.C. Remote” is hardware/software solution, from Scottish firm Concept UK, that turns your PC into a learning IR universal remote.

Unpacking the “P.C. Remote” you find the unit itself which is a small project box with 1 IR receiver LED and 2 IR transmitter LEDs protruding and a parallel cable emerging from the side. The box contains the circuit plus a PP3 battery that should easily out live the 12 month warranty on the unit. Also included is a CD containing the software (Win 3.x and Win95/98) and the documentation.

Installation is as simple as plugging into the printer port of your PC (minimum spec required is a Pentium 100) and installing the software. The unit cannot be used with the “Smart” type of printer switches (although it does work with the manual ones). It should be fine with the through ports of peripherals like Zip Drives etc though. Concept UK will shortly be offering a through port for the unit at an additional cost of around £10 to £12. Indeed, this may be built into future versions. Anyway…it was all up and running in around 2 minutes. The device also thoughtfully comes with a piece of self-adhesive Velcro to allow it to be stuck to the side of your monitor or where ever else you want to place it.

Teaching the unit a command is simple. Once the software is running click on the “Learn” key followed by the button you want to program. Then point your existing remote at the receive LED on the box and press the button for the command you want to learn. The bar at the top of the window changes colour to show when the software has sampled the signal. The documentation recommends holding your existing remote roughly 1 to 3 inches from P.C. Remote but it’s a matter of experimenting to see what gives the best results with your remotes. According to Concept UK P.C. Remote will work with equipment like B&O that uses a frequency of 455KHz (I have been unable to test this). One of the points in the FAQ that comes with the product is regarding using it on different machines. Due to “variations in clock speed” the PC that samples the IR signals must be the PC used to replay them. Obviously this means if you change or even upgrade your machine you will probably have to learn the signals again.

There are 30 buttons on screen that can have IR signals assigned to them. Buttons can be renamed by right clicking them while in learn mode (or by editing the pcremote.ini file in the working directory). You can see in the screen shot below I’ve renamed the “5” key. The software can also be used in command line mode meaning that (in conduction with System Agent or any other such scheduling software) it can be used to issue commands to your TV, Video, Satellite, IR Lighting etc at specific times to automate these appliances around your home!

After teaching P.C. Remote the codes for my Sony TV I tested it at a range of around 12 feet (the documentation says its maximum range is 20-30 feet). Some signals had to be re-learnt but once they had been sampled correctly I found the unit to be reliable. If you wish to use the remote to control equipment in another room then the parallel cable can be extended to up to 50 feet (or else it can be used with an IR extender system like Powermid etc). Here’s an example of how useful this could be. I have a WinTV/PCI card in my PC upstairs. I quite often watch satellite TV in my study while working. With P.C. Remote and a Powermid IR extender next to the computer I can now change channels on my satellite receiver downstairs from my PC upstairs! There is a free PCRemote on offer for the best “use” suggestion – by email to [email protected] had a couple of niggles with the software. For example if you forget to save your learnt commands and then close the application (using the X in the top right hand corner instead of hitting the “Exit” button) you will not get the usual warning to save before the application closes as with most other Windows programs. Thus it is very easy to lose the changes you have made (I talk from experience!). On the positive side Concept UK responded very quickly to my comments and emailed me a new version of the software which corrects this “bug” . If you wish to control 3 separate devices (each with all 30 keys) you need to create 3 separate versions of the program in separate directories and use them all independently. It would be nice for the software to emulate the one-for-all type remote where you press “TV” or “Satellite” followed by channel up for example. Concept UK say that they are considering such an improvement for a future version of the software. Free updates should be available from their web site. So…the software (at the time of writing version 1.4) could, and most likely will, be enhanced.

To sum up “P.C. Remote” is either a very versatile universal IR remote or an inexpensive introduction to IR controlled Home Automation. Which ever you use it for it’s a great little device. If you want to find out more – What Satellite magazine will have an in depth 2 page review and give-away competition in their July 1998 issue!   Good luck to Concept UK with this new product!

Approximate Price £57.58, available From – Concept Devices   –   Lets Automate

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