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At first glance, the $190 Home Theater Master MX-500 looks like just another oversize universal remote. The nine-inch wand tapers to provide an easy grip for either hand, and a generous amount of space separates the backlit buttons. The control runs on four AAA batteries.
The MX-500's 10 most important buttons are customizable; they flank the LCD, which shows a label for each. Atop those two columns, just below the IR blaster, are two red power keys: one for the entire A/V system and the other for individual devices. Working your way down from the screen, you find the oblong volume- and channel-up/down rockers enclosing the Previous Channel and Mute buttons, the round navigator encircled by intuitively shaped VCR/DVD/PVR transport controls, the numeric pad, and three rectangular macro keys. A backlight toggle lives on the remote's right-hand side.
The MX-500 can control up to 10 A/V devices. The manufacturer preinstalled the codes of more than 1,000 makes and models, but you can also teach the remote up to 530 specialty functions. The customizable keys can actually govern 20 commands, each with its own editable five-character LCD label; you toggle between the first set of 10 and the second with the Page button. And as with all worthwhile universal controls, your gear can share the same volume, channel, and transport commands.
From a features point of view, the MX-500 is about as thoughtfully planned and flexible as a universal remote can be. Within about 90 minutes, we easily programmed it to control an A/V receiver, a cable box, and a VCR that were covered by the built-in codes, plus a plasma TV and a DVD recorder that were new to the MX-500. We punched through A/V volume adjustment, as well as our cable box's channel and keypad commands. We also made buttons trade functions, created macros, taught the remote new tricks, and changed some labels. The IR blaster supplies a generous dispersal, easily encompassing even the most widely arrayed gear collections. The only trouble we had was with the LCD, which can be a bit difficult to read in daylight.
The MX-500's primary drawback is in the looks department: the control's big, bulky body won't win any beauty contests. But cosmetic considerations pale beside the MX-500's impressive feature list and ease of use. This is a great value and a top-notch universal remote.