It’s been nearly 2 years since the first iPhone/touch universal-remote solutions hit the market. There are now a score of such products, each promising to turn your Apple pocket-pal or tablet into a powerful A/V system-remote touchscreen solution.
One of the latest, Griffin Technology’s Beacon, which comes from a longtime maker of Mac-centric computer peripherals, falls into the class of iMotes that depend on a permanent hardware base station to communicate infrared codes to your TV, cable box, and so on. (The other class requires a plug-in IR dongle.)
The Beacon’s hardware is a vaguely turtle-shaped pod that you place somewhere within line-of-sight to your components, which it “blasts” with infrared signal. Griffin’s solution communicates with the iPhone/touch/iPad via Bluetooth, not Wi-Fi, so you need not have a wireless home network established for the system to work. However, the hardware’s lack of an external power supply hookup means you’ll have to swap out its four AAA batteries three or four times per year.
Beacon integrates with an iOS program-guide app called Dijit that provides the system’s user-interface side. As part of Dijit’s setup routine, you can specify your ZIP code and ID your cable/satellite TV provider for a comprehensive guide that is fully integrated into the remote functionality. And that’s not all: Tell Dijit your Netflix account info and it adds a Netflix tab, integrating Big Red’s streaming offerings via an adjacent tab. Nor is even that all: Dijit incorporates Facebook and Twitter hooks, so your social-media “friends” can keep track of your viewing in real time and vice versa. (Why anybody would want this escapes me, but I’m just your antisocial-media reporter…)
I found setting up and configuring the Beacon/Dijit system to be straightforward and intuitive enough that most folks — at least those without an irrational fear of technology — should manage it without undue trauma. Griffin’s library of IR codes was fairly comprehensive and included sets that worked well with all my mainstream devices. However, a recent NAD A/V receiver was not included, and although Dijit has an IR learning routine to harvest missing codes via an IR “eye” incorporated into the Beacon, it couldn’t acquire codes for the NAD — though it succeeded on a few random Pioneer and Onkyo ones. So those with more exotic or older gear might want to take note.
Otherwise, Griffin’s solution sets up and operates much like several others, depending on metaphors of “devices,” “activities” (“Watch TV,” for example), and “rooms” to establish component-control and macro sets, control zones, and more. (You can carry the Beacon hardware to additional rooms, as it only works within Bluetooth’s 10-meter radius.) What sets the Dijit/Beacon apart from most competitors is the ability to browse programming in the guide, make a selection, and have your system silently respond by changing channels, inputs, and modes to accommodate the new source. It’s a smooth system, and one that any iHead (or A/V fanatic) should thrill to. – Daniel Kumin
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