Universal remote controls are a great idea. Dispense with millions of controllers that clutter up your lounge, save on AA batteries and reduce the confusion suffered by the less technical members of your household. The problem is, universal remote controls are also universally disappointing. So when we got introduced to Gear4's new UnityRemote, we were more than a little bit excited.
Instead of some proprietary hardware controller, you get to use an iPhone or iPod touch to manage all of your AV equipment via an app and a Bluetooth receiver (pictured above). As a result the user interface is high-quality, responsive and user-friendly, which isn't something you can say about most universal remotes.
We also love the fact this app allows you full access to all of the controls you'd find on a remote. Most universal controllers either can't do this, because they have too few buttons, or won't do it, because they want you to build everything into an action macro. The Gear4 does macros too, but it's just part of the way you interact with the device.
The downsides for this system are fairly obvious. You need an iPod touch or iPhone to start with, and you need to make sure it's near your TV when you want to use the Gear4 UnityRemote. At the moment, there's no app specifically for the iPad, although the company tells us one that makes use of the larger iPad screen should be available around Christmas time. At the moment, there's no Android app either, although the company is almost certainly going to make one at some point.
The only other problem we could see was the slight lag in sending a command from the iPhone, via Bluetooth, to a device that then passes it on as an infrared command to your AV equipment. In the brief time we spent with the product, this didn't seem to be a massive issue, but commands weren't instant and that might become annoying.
The UnityRemote is available from next week, and will be sold on Gear4's website and in-store at John Lewis, exclusively until Christmas. It costs £99, and we're told that people buying the device with a new TV will get £30 off, which sounds like a pretty tasty deal to us. We're due to get a sample in soon, and we'll be putting our thoughts into a full review when it arrives. In the meantime, have a butchers at our photo gallery above.