Editor's Note (February 19, 2009): The rating on this product has been changed due to competitive changes in the marketplace. Readers interested in this product should compare it to the more recent Logitech Harmony 1100.
Ever since Logitech started licensing out its highly regarded PC-based Harmony universal remote software, a handful of Harmony clones have gradually trickled onto the market. Some, such as the Harman Kardon TC-30, look similar to their Logitech counterparts and are essentially rebranded products. But Monster's Harmony-powered remotes offer completely new designs that keep them from being true clones.
Both of Monster's 2006 universal remotes feature color screens, but the Monster Home Theater Controller 100 ($350) is IR only, while the step-up Monster Home Theater and Lighting Controller 300 ($600) comes with both IR (infrared) and RF (radio frequency) capabilities, the latter being useful for components hidden behind cabinets or even in other rooms. The Monster 300 is also able to control lights in your home using the optional IlluminEssence lighting modules, which work on the Z-Wave wireless technology standard. Because of its RF and multiroom capabilities, the Home Theater and Lighting Controller 300 most closely resembles--in terms of features, anyway--the much less expensive Logitech Harmony 890.
Like the Harmony 890, the Monster 300 (sometimes referred to as the AVL300) comes with a docking station for recharging and one RF-to-IR receiver, or what Monster dubs Central OmniLink. The OmniLink is a little box that you can mount underneath a cabinet and plug in to up to four dual-headed IR blasters; this allows you to control up to eight components that sit behind a closed door or cabinet. If you have more components in other rooms, you can purchase additional OmniLink units and add them to your system.
While we don't think the design of the Monster remote is particularly slick, we do like it better than that of the Harmony 890. The remote feels pretty comfortable in hand, and the buttons are more thoughtfully laid out and more tactile. We particularly like the raised Select button in the center of the remote and the raised/angled transport buttons (play, pause, skip forward/back) buttons that surround it. The rockerlike buttons for volume control and channel up/down are also well placed and easy to get to by feel alone, using your thumb. The remote offers a good amount of blue backlighting that makes the keys fairly easy to distinguish in the dark.
Measuring 8.1 inches long by 2.4 inches wide by 0.75 inch deep and weighing 6 ounces (with battery installed), the Monster 300 isn't exactly svelte, but it's not--excuse the lame pun--a monster. In addition to the screen's color capabilities, the LCD is larger than those of Logitech's monochrome Harmony models. The increased screen real estate offers room for a total of eight activity-based icons that correspond to adjacent hard buttons.
We were a little disappointed by the low-resolution (read: early Palm color screen) 128x160 color display. It's on a par with the Harmony 890's screen, but with the Monster's high price tag, we were hoping it'd be a little sharper. Monster uses its own text-based, activity-based icons, and while they're not superclean looking, they're at least easier to read than those on the Harmony. One item for the wish list: it'd be nice if you could create custom-labeled icons simply by typing in the text to describe the activity you wanted to assign the button to.
As noted, the Monster 300 comes with a docking station for juicing up the included rechargeable lithium-ion battery; you simply lay the remote down in its cradle. Not only is it nice to have a recharging option to save dough on batteries, but if you're good about leaving the remote in its cradle, you'll always know where it is when you need it.
The Monster 300 has a built-in motion sensor so that when you pick up the remote, it automatically turns on (this feature is now available in other, less-expensive Harmony remotes). You can add your own digital images as backgrounds and screensavers--there's a slide-show feature--though we found that we had to crop our images into vertical shots or they'd appear hideously stretched on the screen. And it really wasn't a good idea to have a picture as a background because it made the icons difficult to read; stick with the default blue background.