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The URC-200 Automator is the middle child of three similarly featured models from Universal Remote. Available for $150, the Automator controls up to 10 devices--five fewer than its more expensive sibling, the URC-300 Customizer; however, the URC-300 is more full-featured than the step-down URC-100 Unifier.
The Automator's dimensions (8.5 inches long by 2.5 inches wide by 1 inch deep), weight (8 ounces), and power requirements (four AAA batteries) are identical to those of the Customizer. In fact, the only notable physical difference between the two are their LCD screens: the URC-200's is smaller than the URC-300's. And instead of the four-line, two-column touch screen, the URC-200 has five hard buttons that correspond to adjacent soft-key labels on the five-line screen. That may sound like a drawback, but by eliminating the touch screen, the URC-200 is actually easier to use than its big brother because you get tactile affirmation that you've activated a function. There's also less of a chance that you'll accidentally touch and activate an adjacent command when using a hard key.
Both the LCD and hard-button keypad offer backlighting, a necessity for watching movies in a darkened home theater. Almost all of the frequently used commands you'll need are on the well-apportioned keypad, while the rest are soft keys on multiple-screen "pages" on the LCD (accessible through page-up and page-down keys). But with three fewer soft-key functions per page compared to the URC-300, you'll find yourself scrolling through more pages to get to more device-specific commands, especially for A/V receiver functions, such as simply changing source devices.
The URC-200 is preprogrammed with the codes of more than 2,000 makes and models of varying components (you enter the codes after locating them in the instruction manual). You can also use the Automator's learning function to clone more than 700 separate commands from other remotes. Additionally, the URC-200 can be programmed to run more than 400 macros of up to 190 steps each. That means you can automate scripts that carry out specific commands in a predetermined order, such as switching to the correct A/V input on your TV and A/V receiver when you power up your DVD player. Like most current remote controls, the URC-200 offers punch-through capability, so key functions such as volume or channel control will work the same way no matter which device you've selected.
Clear, plain English text and plenty of illustrations make using the manual a dream. Better yet, there's an instructional DVD included that makes programming even easier. With the DVD and the manual, you should be able to completely program the URC-200--the basic functions and even some macros--in less than an hour. The only thing lacking is an option to program the remote via PC. If that appeals to you, check out the similarly priced Harmony H659 or H688.
The IR blaster supplies a generous dispersal, which is a comfort when running macros on widely spaced gear. Best of all, the URC-200 also transmits radio frequency (RF) commands, although you'll need to buy the optional MRF-100 Expander ($75) to take advantage of this feature. The URC-300's RF transmissions are turned into IR signals that the MRF-100 base station blasts at your A/V rack. This enables you to control all your devices from up to 100 feet away, regardless of line-of-sight obstructions such as walls or floors--great for multiroom music systems, for instance. If you have more than six pieces of gear, you can hook up a second MRF-100.
What didn't we like? The Automator shares some problems with the Customizer. The Fav button displays 40 broadcast and cable channel labels (NBC, HBO, CNN, and so on) across eight LCD screen pages but requires a laborious mapping process to work. Also, there are no dedicated hard macro keys, so you're forced to use LCD soft keys instead.
But our minor quibbles are easy to overcome or ignore. While the very similar URC-300 controls more devices and has macro capabilities that approach overkill, we found the URC-200's lack of a touch screen to be more attractive. The URC-200 Automator hits the sweet spot of design, features, and ergonomics. It's an excellent remote available at an affordable price.