Universal remote controls have become increasingly popular due to the consolidation and convenience they provide the home theater buff with an increasingly burgeoning rack of gear. While manufacturers have approached the technology in a number of different ways, we tend to be partial to the PC-programmable technique used onLogitech Harmony remotes. There are alternatives to this concept; we've looked at remotes that use Wi-Fi to display TV programming schedules like with the Acoustic Research Universal Smart Remote ARRU449 and we've seen basic remotes that simply offer button-based programming (no PC at all). The Philips Prestigo SRU8015 falls into that final camp. There's nothing truly innovative or outstanding about it; it's just a relatively easy-to-use universal remote that falls within the $80-to-$120 price range. But while the predecessor SRU8010 model offered simplicity and the potential for customization at a great price, the Prestigo SRU8015's addition of a scroll-wheel makes it a bit more polarizing from a usability perspective.
When you first pick up the SRU8015, you'll immediately notice its weight --at a half pound, it's definitely among the heavier wand-style remotes we've tested. There's not much of a disadvantage with a heavy remote, just the louder smash it'll make if you happen to drop it on the floor or onto something else.
The remote is outlined in a silver plastic that should mesh well with today's home theater devices. While it's ergonomically designed for using the rotary wheel located in the middle of the remote, you may find yourself stretching or even using two hands to reach buttons north and south of the wheel. Most of the buttons have a satisfying tactile feel to them, with the exception of a few vanity buttons that are tougher to sense whether or not they've been pressed. The SRU8015's full-color screen is nice and bright with plenty of customization options that allow you to control brightness and dimming. Every key on the remote is backlit, allowing for operation in dark situations.
The main difference between the previous Prestigo model and the SRU8015 is the rotary wheel. While it seems like it might be a great way to control the remote's settings, we just weren't happy with its performance during our testing. Even though you get a physical click sound when turning the wheel, those clicks aren't always in sync with the onscreen action. We wish more of an effort was made so that the click wheel and the remote's onscreen cursor were more in tandem. Also, the "OK" button located in the middle of the wheel is not the "enter" button you're most likely going to press after using the wheel to select a function or option. Instead, the check-mark button below the wheel is the "enter" button. This resulted in a frustrating reoccurrence of hitting the wrong button after we highlighted a command. To us, it just makes more sense to include the rotary wheel's "enter" button right in the center of the wheel.
As for the rest of the remote's buttons, they all feel a bit cluttered--much more than what we saw with the Prestigo SRU8010. The number keys feel like they're on top of each other, and the set of play control buttons above them are quite small. We found ourselves hitting the incorrect button numerous times. Overall response time on the keys is quick, something Harmony remotes are known to suffer from.
When you first power on the SRU8015, you're instantly entered into a setup mode that'll take you through the steps you'll need to configure your various home theater devices. You'll need to manually enter the names of the manufacturers using a cell-phone style text entry keypad. The remote houses thousands of product codes and commands. When you've selected your manufacturer, you're asked to point the remote at the device--when the unit turns on, you immediately have to press a button to lock in that specific set of working codes. If you miss the chance to hit the button, you'll need to start over. This can be quite annoying as some manufacturers have dozens of codes.
If your device isn't listed within the remote's internal database, you still have the option of teaching the remote new commands via its IR window. We successfully used this option while configuring our Nyko Blu-wave PS3 remote, which was not in the product database. You simply point your original device's remote into the SRU8015's IR window and follow the onscreen directions.
You can control up to 15 devices with the SRU8015 in addition to setting up 15 activities. We were happy with the amount of customization an activity provides, including settings for adding IR (infrared) delays. Since home theater devices all turn on and boot up at different speeds, the SRU8015 allows you to compensate for that so the remote isn't sending IR commands to a device that hasn't fully powered on yet.
The activity settings also allow you to decide what device is controlled by default once the activity process is completed. You can then direct the remote to use certain buttons for a specific device while in activity mode. For instance, we set up our remote as such so that after our "Watch TV" activity completed, we could use the volume buttons to control our receiver and the channel buttons to control our cable box. If a key isn't being used or doesn't do what you'd like it to, you have the option of changing individual buttons as well. We also liked the ability to program in favorite channels as the remote has hundreds of cable and satellite logos preprogrammed into its database.
The SRU8015 operates on three AA batteries (which might be the reason for its excessive weight). We would have liked to have seen a rechargeable option here, as some remotes are now offering that kind of functionality. Philips does not quote a battery life estimate, but the remote will warn you when it is running low on power. In our 5 days of testing we didn't need to replace them. There are power-saving measures in place to protect battery life such as an auto dimmer and auto shut-off. The remote should also remember your settings if you replace the batteries in a timely fashion. If you do plan on using the SRU8015, we recommend purchase a set of rechargeable batteries to go along as it will surely save you money in the long run.
Overall, the Prestigo SRU8015 performed smoothly, albeit with a few bumps in the road. Unfortunately, we think its predecessor (the Philips Prestigo SRU8010) has a superior design, and if you can still find it, we'd recommend it over the SRU8015. At the end of the day, we don't think anything can touch the experience of using external software to set up a remote as found in the Logitech Harmony series. If for some reason you are turned off by that concept, the SRU8015 is simply a mediocre alternative. Priced around $95 online, we think you're better off with something like the URC Digital R50. Of course, should you choose a software-based Harmony remote, the solid-performing Logitech Harmony 550 can be had for $90 online.