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 very 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 designated as 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 infrared (IR) and radio-frequency (RF) capabilities, the latter being useful for components hidden behind cabinets or doors. 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.
Like Logitech's current crop of color-screen remotes, the Monster Home Theater Controller 100 (a.k.a. the MCC AV100) comes with a docking station for recharging the removable lithium-ion battery. While we don't think the design of the Monster remote is particularly slick, we do like its button design and layout better than that of the Logitech Harmony 720 and the Harman Kardon TC 30 (though, as with all such subjective calls, your opinion may vary). 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 AV 100 isn't exactly svelte, but it's not really 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. With the Monster's high price tag, we were hoping it'd be a little sharper. Monster uses its own more text-based, activity-based icons, and while they're not superclean looking, they're at least easier to read than those on the Logitech remote. 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 want to assign the button to.
As noted, the Monster 100 comes with a tabletop charging station for juicing up the included rechargeable lithium-ion battery; you simply lay the remote down in its cradle. Not only is this nice for saving dough on batteries, if you're good about leaving the remote in its cradle, you'll always know where it is when you need it.
The Monster 100 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.