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While the Sony PlayStation 3 is one of the best values for high-definition movie buffs, it's always been somewhat of a pain to integrate in a standard home theater because it lacks an IR receptor. That means popular universal remotes, such a Logitech Harmony, can't control the PS3 and you're forced to either break out the PS3 controller or buy the Sony PlayStation 3 Blu-ray DVD Remote. For those who can't live without an activity-based remote, like us, it's a considerable drawback.
The only mainstream product to address this issue has been the Nyko Blu-Wave, which is a cheap fix, but can't turn the PS3 on or off, which means you'll need to do power the PS3 on and off manually or use a controller. To address this problem, a small group of basically homemade products have popped up on independent Web sites, offering the capability to convert standard IR commands to Bluetooth and use some clever macros to get around the PS3's peculiarities. The IR2BTci ($150) is one of these devices, and it offers the most functionality out of any of the IR-to-Bluetooth converters we've tested, although it comes at a hefty price. If you have a complex home theater or just want the most flexibility, the IR2BTci is the best we've tested, but the vast majority of users could go for the less-expensive competitors, such as the ps3toothfairy and the Schmartz PS3IR-PRO.
The design of IR-to-Bluetooth converters is pretty much uniform, as they all consist of a small black box about the size of a pack of cards, with one side featuring IR receptors. There are two red indicator lights on the front of the unit, which can be useful occasionally when configuring the device. On the downside, you don't have the option of turning them off, like you can on the ps3toothfairy.
Setup on the IR2BTci is relatively simple. The first thing you need to do is "pair" the IR2BTci with your PS3, which lets your PS3 know that it will be controlled by a remote. To do so, as you navigate to the appropriate screen on the PS3, plug in the IR2BTci and then press "2" on the remote. One slight annoyance during setup is that after we added the PS3IR-PRO to a Harmony activity (Play PS3), we had to manually associate all the PS3IR-PRO functions with that activity. It's tedious, but you only have to do it once. It's worth noting that we had to do the same thing with all the IR to Bluetooth converters that we tested.
The main purpose of the IR2BTci is to offer a way to integrate all the functionality of Sony's Blu-ray remote to a standard universal remote. The IR2BTci has access to all 51 remote buttons, so you can easily watch Blu-ray movies and perform all the standard functions, such as access the pop-up menu or skip chapters. Of course, some functions are handled better by an actual game controller, such as browsing the Web or (obviously) gaming.
The IR2BTci is powered via USB, which is convenient if your entertainment center has an always-on device, like a TiVo or cable box, with a powered USB port. If you don't have one of those devices, you can use the included USB power adapter, which plugs into a standard wall outlet. The standard USB port on the back is definitely preferable to the ps3toothfairy's less common power adapter. Note that you cannot use one of the PS3's USB ports, as they do not provide power when the PS3 is turned off.
Compared with the other converters we tested, the IR2BTci has a lot of additional connectivity besides just power. There's another USB port, called "USB sense," which is used to detect whether the PS3 is on or off by making a USB connection. There's also an AC sense port, which uses the Xantech SMMAG01 as another method of testing whether the PS3 is on or off. Next to that is an AUX port, which should be a boon for those with custom installs, as it can send and receive RS-232 signals. Lastly, there's an IR port, for those with wired IR installations. In a standard home theater, you're unlikely to use most of these ports, but they offer a lot of flexibility for custom installers.
The IR2BTci is also unique in that it comes with included software to allow for greater customization of the device. Using the software you can adjust how the IR2BTci tracks power, activate external IR control, or even build your own macros into the device. Honestly, we didn't have a lot of use for the advanced functionality in our setup, but it's a plus for those who like to tweak or have complicated setups.
There is one nonobvious advantage to the capability to tweak the macros, which has to do with how the PS3 handles powering the unit down. The PS3 lacks a discrete power off code, so converters need to build-in macros that fire off a series of commands to shut down the PS3. However, if Sony tweaks the firmware so that the same series of commands doesn't work anymore, the power-off macro won't work. Because the IR2BTci makes it easy to modify the power-off macro--as well as program up to three other macros of your choice--it's easy to make a change if there is a major firmware change. The ps3toothfairy also lets you program your own shutdown macro, although it's not nearly as simple of a process.
The competing PS3IR-PRO can upgrade its firmware, but you have to rely on the company to release an update. The IR2BTci also offers upgradeable firmware, and we appreciate having both upgrade paths--customizable macros and upgradeable firmware--available on this device.
Like with all the IR-to-Bluetooth converters we've tested, performance was impressive. We were expecting some kind of lag as the boxes convert the signal, but using our Harmony 688 felt just as natural as using the PS3 controller. We also didn't run into any problems power cycling our PS3. To be clear, the PS3 lacks a discrete command for powering down, so turning the device off must be done using a macro programmed into the device; the same is true with all other IR-to-Bluetooth converters we've used. That means the IR2BTci sends a series of commands that eventually turn the device off. These commands are conveniently programmed into the IR2BTci, so you only have to send IR signal to activate the macro, instead of having to keep the remote pointed at the IR2BTci while it sends a string of commands.
At the end of the day, we were definitely impressed by the IR2BTci compared with the other IR-to-Bluetooth converters we tested, as its abundance of configuration options easily makes it the most flexible device. At the same time, most of the advanced options just aren't necessary in a typical home theater, and the cheaper ps3toothfairy and PS3IR-PRO will do just as good of a job. If you like to tweak or have a complicated custom installation, the IR2BTci is definitely the IR-to-Bluetooth converter to get, but most buyers will be fine with the cheaper, simpler alternatives.