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Universal Electronics NevoSL review: Universal Electronics NevoSL

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The Good Sleek universal remote with sharp color screen; solid mix of touch-screen and hard buttons; highly customizable interface; built-in Wi-Fi; allows you to wirelessly stream digital music around the house (with a PC or digital audio receiver).

The Bad Pricey; professional installation and maintenance a must; Wi-Fi drains the battery quickly.

The Bottom Line Built-in Wi-Fi and extensive control options make the Universal Electronics NevoSL a strong competitor to Philips's high-end Pronto remotes.

7.9 Overall

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For several years, companies such as Philips, with its Pronto remotes, and Crestron, with its touch-screen consoles have dominated the high-end universal-remote market. Now Universal Electronics, long an OEM provider of components and software for other companies' remotes, enters the high-end fray with its NevoSL. Like those pricey Prontos and Crestrons, this slick-looking command module is designed to be programmed by a professional home-theater installer. What's evolutionary about the NevoSL is that it--along with the less expensive Philips RC 9800i--is among the first to feature built-in Wi-Fi, providing the ability to tap into your home-wireless network to access and play your PC-based digital music collection.

The base package, which retails for around $800, consists of a remote and a cradle/recharger. To accommodate the 3.5-inch, 240x320-pixel, 64,000-color LCD screen, the remote itself is wider than your standard universal model, measuring 7.5 by 3.0 by 0.75 inches. However, it isn't vertically oriented, and it has a nice, comfortable feel in your hand. That QVGA screen's resolution isn't terribly high, but icons look sharp and digital photos--which you can use as background images--look decent enough.

The LCD is a touch screen (you can use your fingers or the included stylus), but it has an array of 17 well-placed, backlit hard buttons that play nicely with the virtual buttons on the display. With the powerful built-in IR, response time is quick: tap a button on the screen, and the component immediately responds, even if you haven't pointed the remote directly at it. Those with gear hidden behind cabinet doors or tucked away in closets will have to purchase one or more of the company's Nevo Link IP-addressable Intelligent Bridges, which feature built-in and external IR emitters as well as built-in Ethernet ports. Those extra modules will run you $199.

You can program the Universal Electronics NevoSL with your Windows-based PC (sorry, no Macs), but the process really isn't designed for the average consumer; it's more for a home installer with experience using the Nevo Studio software suite. That said, from the limited time we spent with the software, we think it's no less user-friendly than the Pronto's--and arguably more powerful from a customization standpoint, with plenty of themes, buttons, and assorted graphics to completely personalize the remote's interface. However, if you're at all familiar with Pronto remotes, you know that it can take several hours or days to get your remote just the way you want it, even if you tap into to a huge, ever-expanding database of IR codes and master the art of creating macros. The Philips RC 9800i, which is available through standard retail channels, will probably better serve those wishing to go the DIY route.

It's worth mentioning that that Nevo works well with most but certainly not all components. For instance, the Nevo rep who set up our test system had problems with a certain projector because of the way it turned on and off. Chances are, if you're working with a home installer, he or she will know exactly what equipment to pair with the Universal Electronics NevoSL. That said, those looking to integrate the Nevo with older systems would also do well to check with an installer to see whether the remote is right for you.

As previously noted, you can use the Universal Electronics NevoSL as a remote for your digital music collection. The Nevo uses the Universal Plug and Play (UPnP) standard, so it should be compatible with a wide variety of UPnP digital media services and software. To test this aspect of the remote, we installed NevoMedia software on three networked computers around the house and connected the computers either to PC speakers or home stereos.

Once the computers were visible to the NevoSL, music and album art living on those systems automatically appeared on the remote, and we could easily navigate through our collection and play tunes in separate rooms or simultaneously in all of them. Though not quite as snazzy as the Sonos Digital Music System, the setup made for a decent whole-house music-distribution system. Of course, if you'd rather not use multiple computers as part of your setup (you need one PC on your network loaded with music), you'd have to buy multiple UPnP-compliant media receivers to distribute music to stereos or powered speakers in various rooms.

If you're looking for a cheaper alternative to the Nevo, one of the Logitech Harmony PC-programmable universal remotes, such as the Harmony 880, would be at the top of the list. At just $250, it's far cheaper than the NevoSL and doesn't require professional installation. Alternately, if you're a fan of the Nevo interface, you may wish to check out the embedded version of Nevo's software on some HP/Compaq iPaq handheld PDAs, such as the rx3715.

If we had a small gripe with the Universal Electronics NevoSL, it would be that the remote's rechargeable battery wears down pretty quickly (in about 2.5 to 3 hours) if you set the remote's Wi-Fi to Always On and forget to leave the remote in the charger after use. You can go with a setup that allows you to turn the Wi-Fi on when you need to access your music, but doing that all the time gets a little irritating. We opted for Always On as the lesser of two evils. The Nevo rep said the company would continually upgrade and tweak the remote's functionality with software updates, so hopefully the NevoSL will improve with age.

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