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Monster Home Theater Controller 100 review: Monster Home Theater Controller 100

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Both of Monster's 2006 universal remotes feature color screens, but the Monster Home Theater Controller 100 ($350) is IR only, while the step-up Monster Home Theater and Lighting Controller 300 ($600) comes with both infrared (IR) and radio-frequency (RF) capabilities, the latter being useful for components hidden behind cabinets or doors. The Monster 300 is also able to control lights in your home using the optional IlluminEssence lighting modules, which work on the Z-Wave wireless technology standard.

8.0

Monster Home Theater Controller 100

The Good

Monster's Home Theater Controller 100 universal remote is powered by a modified version of Logitech's highly regarded Harmony software that makes programming it relatively easy. It features a well-designed button layout and a rechargeable battery with a docking station. The remote also supports multiroom setups.

The Bad

First, the Monster Controller 100 is overpriced. Second, even though the remote is generally user-friendly, if you do have a multiroom system, setup can be a challenge and frustrating at times as you must continually test and refine your settings. And at this price, we'd like to see RF functionality included.

The Bottom Line

The Monster Home Theater Controller 100 universal remote arguably offers a superior design to competing models from Logitech and Harman Kardon, but it's comparatively pricey.
Ever since Logitech started licensing out its highly regarded PC-based Harmony universal remote software, a handful of Harmony clones have gradually trickled onto the market. Some, such as the , look very similar to their Logitech counterparts and are essentially rebranded products. But Monster's Harmony-powered remotes offer completely new designs that keep them from being designated as true clones.

Like Logitech's current crop of color-screen remotes, the Monster Home Theater Controller 100 (a.k.a. the MCC AV100) comes with a docking station for recharging the removable lithium-ion battery. While we don't think the design of the Monster remote is particularly slick, we do like its button design and layout better than that of the Logitech Harmony 720 and the Harman Kardon TC 30 (though, as with all such subjective calls, your opinion may vary). The remote feels pretty comfortable in hand, and the buttons are more thoughtfully laid out and more tactile. We particularly like the raised Select button in the center of the remote and the raised/angled transport buttons (play, pause, skip forward/back) buttons that surround it. The rockerlike buttons for volume control and channel up/down are also well placed and easy to get to by feel alone using your thumb. The remote offers a good amount of blue backlighting that makes the keys fairly easy to distinguish in the dark.

Measuring 8.1 inches long by 2.4 inches wide by 0.75 inch deep and weighing 6 ounces (with battery installed), the AV 100 isn't exactly svelte, but it's not really a monster. In addition to the screen's color capabilities, the LCD is larger than those of Logitech's monochrome Harmony models. The increased screen real estate offers room for a total of eight activity-based icons that correspond to adjacent hard buttons.

We were a little disappointed by the low-resolution (read: early Palm color screen) 128x160 color display. With the Monster's high price tag, we were hoping it'd be a little sharper. Monster uses its own more text-based, activity-based icons, and while they're not superclean looking, they're at least easier to read than those on the Logitech remote. One item for the wish list: it'd be nice if you could create custom-labeled icons simply by typing in the text to describe the activity you want to assign the button to.

As noted, the Monster 100 comes with a tabletop charging station for juicing up the included rechargeable lithium-ion battery; you simply lay the remote down in its cradle. Not only is this nice for saving dough on batteries, if you're good about leaving the remote in its cradle, you'll always know where it is when you need it.

The Monster 100 has a built-in motion sensor so that when you pick up the remote, it automatically turns on (this feature is now available in other, less expensive Harmony remotes). You can add your own digital images as backgrounds and screensavers--there's a slide-show feature--though we found that we had to crop our images into vertical shots or they'd appear hideously stretched on the screen. And it really wasn't a good idea to have a picture as a background because it made the icons difficult to read; stick with the default blue background.

In terms of programming the remote, the Monster 100 works the same way that other Harmony remotes do, but it comes with its own special flavor of Harmony desktop software, as well as a Monster-modified interface on the remote itself. As we noted in our earlier reviews, programming a universal remote can be a frustrating and time-consuming process, involving punching a series of multidigit codes for each component in your A/V system. By contrast, Harmony remotes are programmed by connecting them to your Internet-connected Windows PC or Mac with the supplied USB cable, installing the model-specific version of Harmony software (in this case, Monster software), and following a fairly straightforward wizard.

You choose your home-theater components from a list; explain how they're connected; and define their roles in activity-based functions, such as Watch TV, Watch DVD, and Listen To Music. For each function, you specify which devices and inputs the remote must enable. You can also choose which keypad functions will punch through to which specific devices--always having the channel buttons control the cable box or the volume controls dedicated to the TV, for instance. After you've completed the setup, the software uploads all the relevant control codes to the Monster 100. Depending on the system, sometimes setup is a snap, other times it isn't.

One advantage of the Monster software is that it does a better job guiding you through multiroom setups. We actually set up the remote to work in three rooms in our house, and there's a dedicated A/B Sys button at the bottom of the remote that's a shortcut to controlling multiple systems for multiple rooms.

Once you finish setting everything up in the Web-based software wizard, it's easy to toggle between rooms on the remote, but it's not necessarily the most elegant solution since you're left with activity-based icons that read Watch TV2 and Watch TV3 for your second and third rooms. On the plus side, you can add advanced, macro-style options for delay times, multistep commands, and other functions. Also, the remote's Help key aids in troubleshooting by asking natural-language questions on the LCD. For instance, the screen might read, "Is the digital set-top box on?"

Even as user-friendly as the remote generally is, you will probably encounter a few snags. And as one might expect, the more rooms and components you have, the more time you can expect to invest in getting everything to work properly. A certain amount of trial and error is involved. You must verify that the commands work with your equipment as intended, then modify them as necessary. This can get a little tedious as you run through the software wizard, connect and reconnect the remote to the USB cable, then wait for the remote to update itself.

If you're pairing this remote to only one system, you can conceivably set it up in less than an hour. It's also worth pointing out that Monster, like Logitech, will continue to offer updates to the desktop software and firmware upgrades to your hardware. This should improve the user experience with time.

As for battery life, Monster says you should be able to go a few weeks without recharging, but obviously, if you leave the unit in its cradle, the battery will remain fully juiced. It's also worth noting that the battery is replaceable, so when it eventually wears out--and it will--you'll be able swap in a new one.

When all is said and done, the Monster Home Theater Controller 100's slightly superior design (from the standpoint of button design and placement) give it an edge over the similarly featured Logitech Harmony 720 and Harman Kardon TC 30, which is why we gave it the high score we did. That said, some buyers may prefer the sleeker look of those competing remotes and more certainly, their much lower price tags. In other words, we'd be willing to pay a small premium to own this model, but not a big one--and you shouldn't either.

8.0

Monster Home Theater Controller 100

Score Breakdown

Design 8Features 8Performance 8