Editor's note: We have changed the rating in this review to reflect recent changes in our rating scale. Click here to find out more.
The RCA RCU900 universal learning remote ($99.95 list) can operate a full range of DVD recorders, VCRs, and DVRs, including TiVo and Replay. But as RCA giveth, RCA taketh away. While there are separate buttons for each of the eight devices the RCU900 can control, only the VCR button provides the appropriate function keys for any video-recording devices you may have--there are no DVR-specific prelabeled buttons.
The RCU900 evokes many of these "that's great, but..." caveats. Its LCD touch screen, which measures a small 1.375 inches wide by 2.75 inches high, changes its array of device-specific soft buttons with each chosen device--so VCR controls won't be shown while you're using your DVD player, for example. Although each screen has plenty of empty soft key locations to program more exotic controls, you are limited to only three or four prelabeled options for each soft key. You can't write your own key label, and you can't move the keys around to accommodate your own control idiosyncrasies. You'll end up programming keys that have to remain blank or using a preassigned label that has little to do with the function it is programmed to perform.
Rather than including a hard-button numeric keypad that would be shared by all of your devices, RCA put a numeric keypad on the touch screen as part of each device control array. Unfortunately, the numbers take up almost the entire screen, often relegating more frequently accessed controls to a second page. On the plus side, an LCD remote allows for a wider variety of device-specific controls to be spread across multiple screens.
Like most RCA remotes, the RCU900 doesn't automatically map Scientific-Atlanta cable box controls such as the Guide, Menu, Info, and navigational keys, despite the presence of a complete set of corresponding soft LCD keys on the satellite/cable control screen. However, you can add whatever codes don't get mapped to soft keys via the remote's learning mode. Unlike the lower-priced , you can punch through--enable specific keys to function in the same way no matter which device is selected--your receiver's volume control. DVD or VCR transport controls also can be punched through.
And like with most LCD touch screens, you can't control the RCU900 by feel. This lack of tactile control is exacerbated by the identically round DVD/VCR transport control keys and made worse by the adjacent Record and Stop keys that are nearly indistinguishable. Making the ergonomics more frustrating, the hard keys can't be backlit like the touch screen, and the black lettering on the gray keys isn't easy to read even in bright light, much less in a dark room.
Since all current LCD remotes lack tactile feedback, RCA has programmed a double beep to correspond to soft key presses. (If this proves annoying, you can switch off the beeping.) You also can adjust how long the LCD backlight stays on to conserve battery power. The remote activates when you touch the screen, which is as susceptible to finger oil smudges as any other touch screen we've used.
Despite its numerous design and control compromises, the RCA RCU900 is a decent learning remote with a respectable touch-screen LCD. Those looking for similar functionality at around $100 should also check out the step-up RCA or the new Universal Remote URC100 Unifier. For a completely customizable LCD experience, check out Philips's more expensive .