Review: Universal Remote Digital R50

Now that HDTVs and surround sound systems have conquered our living rooms, it takes a handful of handhelds just to fire up a movie. But with a single universal remote, you can consolidate an army of controls into one device to rule them all. 

While many universal remotes of years past were crippled by complicated setup procedures — some even involving web-based shenanigans — and a scattershot array of buttons to navigate, the Universal Remote Control Digital R50 has a bright, sharp 2-inch color LCD screen with nifty graphics that represent all your components.

The R50 is remarkably easy to set up and use, too. As you program each component into the remote using the setup wizard, you test a few controls to make sure it has the right code. It instantly recognized all of our components, and it took us about 10 minutes to get the AV rig up and running. As part of the setup, you name each component, which then appears as an icon on the screen: in my case, a Sony HDTV, Yamaha amp/receiver, Squeezebox, Oppo DVD player, and Soundmatters speaker.

The Digital R50’s layout is intuitive and easy to manipulate after you get accustomed to the routine: Hit the Main button, choose an icon from the list, and then all the buttons on the remote will control that component. For DirecTV and cable systems, for instance, all the essential controls — Guide, Menu, Play/Pause — are in the middle of the remote, along with a five-way directional pad. The buttons have excellent response, even better than the original remote in some cases. A few of the buttons are smaller than we’d like, including the fast-forward and rewind which are just big enough to get a thumb on.

The Digital R50 has a sturdy feel to it, slightly better than the Logitech Harmony 880, the primary competitor in this price range. It took only a few days to get used to maneuvering the remote, although for more in-depth stuff, like deleting and scheduling DVR programs, we sometimes found ourselves wanting to use our old remote. The Digital R50 can replace up to 18 components, and uses 4 AA batteries, which are still going strong after two months of daily use.

For super AV geeks, the Digital R50 lets you set up macros to perform multistep, multidevice actions, such as starting up the TV and surround sound when you switch the DVD player on. But most couch potatoes will be plenty happy to just have one remote to replace the pile of plastic and lead littering their coffee table.

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