With a wide range of ever-improving offerings, Logitech's Harmony line of PC-programmable remote control have gobbled up a large share of the universal remote-control market in recent years. Still, there are plenty of people who just don't like the fact that you need to do the bulk of the setup duties for those units while they're tethered to a computer. For that crowd, the URC Digital R50 will be a breath of fresh air. (URC is short for "Universal Remote Control," the aptly-named company that also makes remotes under the Home Theater Master brands, as well as many of the "generic" remotes that are packaged with cable boxes and other devices.)
The Digital R50 combines a color information screen with a standard control wand full of DVR-friendly buttons, and uses a built-in programming wizard that makes it fairly straightforward to replace the remotes of up to 18 component devices. It is 9 inches long by 2.25 inches wide; once you load the 4 AA batteries (included), it feels substantially solid in your hand. It has 44 hard, rubber keys, plus a five-way directional pad. The top quarter of the unit is a 2-inch, 176x220 color screen flanked by eight contextual buttons, the functions of which change depending upon what's on the screen (the bottom two are usually "page back" and "page forward," allowing you to move between multiple screens). Screen brightness and resolution is excellent, and the unit's device icons and channel logos look great.
Below that are the volume and channel controls. The directional pad dominates the center of the remote; it's encircled by DVR-friendly "guide, "menu," "info," and "exit" keys. Below that are the video-transport controls (play, pause, fast-forward, and rewind, as well as dedicated "skip back" and "skip forward" buttons). The bottom quarter of the remote is a standard 12-digit keypad. (DTV fans will appreciate that there's a dedicated "dash" key, perfect for punching in digital channels.)
In a perfect world, we'd prefer the video-transport controls to be closer to the center, and we wouldn't have gone with the hourglass key layout that pushes some keys too far to the periphery. But all in all, it's a good key layout--better than the Philips Prestigo SRU8010, which made the mistake of isolating the video-transport keys at the bottom. All of the R50 keys are also completely backlit--just click the button on the remote's right-hand side, and the resulting amber glow provides easy visibility, even in complete darkness.
The "main" key underneath the screen could be better called "home." Press it for 5 seconds, and you'll enter the setup mode. Main options include basic and advanced setup, as well as favorite channels and preferences, which are the user settings, such as screen brightness and low-battery warning settings. Using the basic setup option, you can get most of your devices programmed in rapid succession. Follow the onscreen prompts, and the built-in wizard guides you straight through the process. Most mainstream devices will be built into the Digital R50's internal database. Once you choose a device button on the screen (up to 18 devices can be controlled), pick the type of device (TV, audio, DVR, VCR, and so forth) and the manufacturer, and the remote will automatically begin cycling through the codes. Once the device powers off, it asks you to double check the codes, and you can lock them in or try again. We tried several products--TVs, AV receivers, iPod clock radios, and game consoles--and the Digital R50 nailed every one without a problem.