Bang & Olufsen's new universal remote, the Beo5, is most striking in that it doesn't look like a remote control. With a small square touch screen perched atop a round control dial, it resembles a small futuristic speaker box -- well, that's our take anyway. According to the press kit, B&O designer David Lewis drew "inspiration from an ancient symbol of power and control, the sceptre." Yes, Bang & Olfusen owners may have delusions of grandeur, but ruling over your home cinema with a sceptre is kind of extreme. On the plus side, we presume a control with this shape would be less likely to disappear into the sofa cushions than your traditional long, thin candy-bar-style remote.
The Beo5 will allow you to control other devices, as long as they are connected through a B&O TV or sound system. So if you have, for example, a game console or Blu-ray player attached to your, you will be able to control everything through the Beo5. It will even command other remote controlled systems like automated lighting and blinds, as long as they have been programmed to interface with the B&O gear.
Its split design allows for the segmentation of controls. The functions that are common for several devices -- like menu navigation buttons and the volume wheel -- have dedicated tactile buttons on the aluminium ball that forms the lower half of Beo5.
The LCD screen on top stores hundreds of logos and icons, so a simple to use touch-sensitive interface can be set up using channel logos and other graphic symbols. Macros can also be programmed to activate a sequence of commands with the press of a single icon, such as close curtains, dim lights, drop down screen, activate surround system and projector, start DVD, etc.
The touchscreen is made of chemically hardened front glass which B&O claims is resistant to chemicals, scratching, temperature extremes and most importantly, sturdy enough for dropping on the floor a time or two.
This is not the type of universal remote you can tinker with yourself. It was developed to be customised professionally at installation, and once it's been programmed, it's locked down so you cannot inadvertently change the settings. There is an extra charge for this of AU$129, which is over and above the AU$795 price of the unit itself.
Furthermore, if you add to or alter your system in some way, you'll have to go back to your Bang & Olufsen retailer to reprogram the necessary changes to the Beo5. B&O says that there should be no further charges at that stage, as the specs for your installation will be stored on their database and the modifications required should be a simple matter of updating the firmware for whatever new device you want to add on. The few settings you can alter yourself are limited to minor things such as changing the show/hide buttons and setting the time for backlight dimming on the display.
It's always a bit dicey to recommend a universal remote until it's been put through some real world testing to see how well it does its job with a mix of devices, but if the Beo5 controls what you want it to, the biggest downside we can see is the need to stay on good terms with your installer should you need changes programmed down the track. It looks pretty easy to use and will surely lend some quirky Bang & Olufsen style to your coffee table.