The One For All Kameleon 8 RF URC-9964B00 ($129) is an eight-device universal remote that simultaneously transmits both IR (infrared) and RF (radio frequency) signals. The IR signals operate devices, such as your TV, that are within your line of sight, while the RF signals and the included RF receiver module enable you to control A/V components that reside behind obstacles, such as closed cabinet doors. An AC adapter and an IR-blaster extension cord accompany the diminutive receiver module. The aptly named Kameleon's blue-gel interface remains mysteriously blank until you pick up the remote; at that point, the interface automatically turns on and silvery icons, numbers, and function labels appear, seeming to rise from the pad's depths and float just under its surface.
The remote is a near double for its non-RF predecessor, the Kameleon 8 URC 9960. At the top of the display are eight device mode icons arrayed around a home-theater mode icon. Pressing a device icon calls up the control buttons for the selected device type, such as a cable box. In home-theater mode, you can conveniently control the primary features of multiple devices from a single remote-control screen. For day-to-day control of our test setup, which includes a home-theater-in-a-box (HTIB) system, a cable box/DVR, and an HDTV, we rarely had to leave the device's home-theater mode. A small animation lets you know when the Kameleon has carried out your orders.
The bright white-on-blue presentation is easy to see in the dark but fades a bit with the lights on; to save power, the pad will shut down and turn solid blue after a user-selectable period of inactivity ranging from 8 to 20 seconds. However, the sensor tended to awaken the remote without any obvious stimulation on our part; in our tests, this caused the batteries to die in as little as two weeks. This would be a crippling flaw if the Kameleon 8 RF didn't let you disable the sensor; luckily, you can also power on the remote by picking it up and pressing anywhere in the blue gel area.
Like most universal remotes, the Kameleon 8 RF can either learn commands from other remotes or operate according to the programming codes listed in its manual. Fully setting up the remote for our system took about an hour, which is to be expected from any remote that's not Web programmable. Thanks to its built-in acoustic modem, the Kameleon 8 RF can download new device codes while you're on the phone with tech support; all you have to do is hold the unit to your receiver.
Unlike some remotes, such as the LCD-based Sony RM-AV3000, the Kameleon 8 RF doesn't allow for any button customization. You can remap unused keys, but all the labels are unalterable, so you have to remember where you put your commands. Furthermore, the absence of real buttons means you can't feel your way to what you want. The Kameleon 8 RF did offer a straightforward macro-programming feature, so you can easily package a series of commands (such as a system power sequence).
Within a range of 10 feet, the remote's IR performance was good enough to control exposed devices even when pointed in the opposite direction. From longer distances, we had to point the remote more directly at the gear. With the RF receiver module connected, the remote control could operate our devices through a single plaster wall, though performance became inconsistent when more than one wall separated the devices and the remote. The RF receiver, which has an integrated IR transmitter, suffered from a spotty communication link with our Scientific Atlanta cable box, though it worked fine with our other components; neither repositioning the IR transmitter nor using the IR-blaster extension seemed to help.
The Kameleon 8 RF is recommended for modest home-theater setups (TV, cable box, DVD player, and one or two other devices) that would benefit from the RF capability--devices in a cabinet or an oddly shaped room, for instance. Those who prefer hard buttons and don't need radio-frequency support should instead consider the step-down Kameleon 6 Hybrid, which retails for considerably less. Those willing to spend around $100--and who don't need RF--should check out Logitech's soon-to-be-available Harmony 520, which adds PC programmability to the feature mix.