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Wi-Fi: The next frontier for your universal remote

Wi-Fi: The next frontier for your universal remote

We've got a few universal remote controls on our review agenda this season, including the Philips RC9800i. It's the first model we've seen that incorporates Wi-Fi, which opens the door to interacting with compatible Universal Plug and Play (UPnP) devices on your home network. For instance, just by running Microsoft's free Windows Media Connect application, I was able to use the RC9800i to access and play back all the music on my PC's hard drive (the remote's recharging base station includes a line-out port). We'll have a full review of the RC9800i in the next few weeks, but it's looking to be a worthwhile successor to Philips's Pronto line, which has since been retargeted as an installer-only brand--that is, not available directly to consumers.

The RC9800i will have some company later this year when the SimpleRemote (pictured) becomes available. Announced at CES, the SimpleRemote is a Wi-Fi-enabled universal remote that promises an "interview-based setup," access to PC-based digital media, a built-in electronic programming guide that's updated via the Web, and a full-color QVGA (320x240) color screen--and that's just for starters. Interestingly, the SimpleRemote is designed by a company called OpenPeak, which previously contributed technology to Philips's RC9800i. The SimpleRemote will be released under a different brand (OpenPeak is an OEM, or original equipment manufacturer) later in 2006 and is expected to cost around $250. We'll have a review as soon as the hardware is available.

In the more immediate future, we'll soon be posting full reviews of two of the latest remotes from Logitech: the Harmony 520 and its Xbox 360-friendly doppelgänger. The Harmony brand wasn't the first universal remote that users could program and customize via a connected PC (Philips's aforementioned Pronto line was the trailblazer there), but its Web-based product profiles and task-based macros really sold me on the concept of programming remotes via a PC. It's far from perfect, but I think it's a huge improvement over punching in an endless series of numbers on a cramped remote keypad. The hope is that these more affordable models--they list for $100 and $130, respectively--maintain the same flexibility and strong feature set that have made their more expensive predecessors (such as the Harmony 880) such a hit.

On the high-end, Logitech has upped the ante with the Harmony 890 (basically, the 880 with the addition of RF support for sending control signals through walls and obstructions), but the company's got some serious challenges in the rearview mirror. Enthusiast brand Home Theater Master has expanded its line to include PC-programmable models such as the $400 MX-850 Aeros, an upgraded version of the capable MX-800. And if you think spending even $100 is still too much for "just a remote," HTM's more widely available Universal Remote brand offers two LCD-less models, the R5 and R7, for less than $50.

For a complete listing of all the universal remotes that CNET has reviewed so far, check out our iniversal remote roundup. And use the comments section below to let us know which remotes you love--or hate--and which ones you're looking forward to.