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Philips RC9800i review: Philips RC9800i

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We also ran into an issue when we tried to stream music from a Maxtor network-attached storage drive that had media-server capabilities. The remote and the drive are both UPnP (Universal Plug and Play) compliant, which means they should be able to talk to each other, but there was a little hitch that kept us from playing the music files that we saw on the remote. Engineers at Philips created a special firmware upgrade for us to address the problem, and sure enough, when we installed it, we were able to play tunes directly from the Maxtor drive. The advantage to this setup is that you don't have to have your computer turned on to stream music, though it's worth noting that you can't stream photos from a network drive, only from a PC. Philips says that these types of issues should be completely resolved when Microsoft upgrades from UPnP to the new DLNA (Digital Living Network Alliance) standard. When that happens, Philips says it will offer a firmware upgrade for the RC9800i.

As for programming the remote itself, it's truly a mixed bag. On the surface, Philips has seemingly made things pretty simple. This is an activity-based remote, and you run through a set of wizards for the various components that make up your system. The wizard asks mostly straightforward questions about those components, and you'll be asked to point the RC9800i at each component while the remote fires off a series of IR codes. When the component reacts (turns on), you're asked to quickly tap on the screen to confirm what, in theory, should be the correct IR code. Everything seemed to go pretty smoothly until we finally got everything set up and tried to turn on the TV. Unfortunately, the TV failed to go to the correct input. We ran through the wizard three more times, making small tweaks, but the TV refused to go to the correct input at launch. The worst thing about it? The TV in question was a Philips.

Another potential downside for some users is the inability to customize the virtual buttons on the remote. As far as we could tell, there's little flexibility in this regard. Once you finish with the wizard, the virtual buttons that you see are all you get. From what we can tell, most of what you need is covered, but some functionality is missing. For instance, Philips Ambilight TV remotes have a dedicated button for toggling through your Ambilight or Ambilight 2 backlighting options. However, we saw no easy way to get to these options with the set of buttons we were given on the RC9800i.

That said, we expect that user experiences will vary widely with this remote. Some users will breeze through the setup, and others will run into snafus similar to the ones we did. The long and short of it is, Philips has designed a really nice remote that has some potential shortcomings, depending on the complexity of your system. On the plus side, you can set up the remote for components in multiple rooms--a feature not found in most remotes in this price range--and even wirelessly download Electronic Program Guide (EPG) data. On the downside, the RC9800i is probably best suited to buyers who don't have overly complicated setups with lots of components in each of their rooms.

Summing up, this is one of those products that you really want to like because it looks sweet and has some great features. Alas, the Philips RC9800i isn't completely baked yet and probably requires a series of firmware upgrades to work out the all of its kinks and maximize its potential. The good news is that the firmware upgrades will come. The bad news is that you may be playing a waiting game.

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