Zero1.tv and Griffin Want to Give Your iDevice Universal Control

Two gadgets that turn iOS devices into universal remote controls.

By , Columnist

Image courtesy of Zero1.tv

In the same week that I poked fun at Research in Motion, the makers of the BlackBerry, for euphemistically calling 2,000 staff layoffs a 'cost optimization program,' it seems only fitting that I should hear about another cool application for the iPhone: Zero1.tv's VooMote One.

Why an application and not an app? Well, because this is more than just a software add-on for Apple's ubiquitous smartphone. The VooMote One is the latest in a string of products that attempt to turn iDevices into universal remote controls. Since any self-respecting user of an iDevice doesn’t keep it more than an arm's length away, this sounds like a good idea.

The question is how to make it work. One implementation is ThinkFlood's Red Eye mini and, from what I've seen, it's not a big success. You can expect a more detailed review soon but in summary the Red Eye mini doesn't have a big enough code database, the code selection process is clunky, and the associated iOS app is unstable.

On the face of it, it looks like the VooMote One is a big step up from the Red Eye mini (I'm hoping to get my hands on one for a proper test nearer to its North American street date on August 5). Aesthetically, it is definitely superior. Zero1.tv's app, which can be downloaded free from the iTunes App Store, looks polished and easy to follow, whereas that for the Red Eye mini is basic and not always intuitive.

In terms of its capabilities, the VooMote One appears to do everything you should expect a universal remote to do. According to the manufacturer, it automatically captures more than 30,000 infrared codes and thousands of electronic devices, including 574 TV brands, 995 set top boxes or DVR brands, and 151 audio and CD brands. I have yet to see, however, whether it allows you to select by model or go through a list of codes to find one that works with each of your devices. The former process has been mastered by Logitech with their Harmony remotes and in my experience no manufacturer has yet matched their process for simplicity.

On all but its most basic Harmony remotes, Logitech also allows you to create 'activities': sequences of button presses that you can program as a macro under one button to initiate multiple tasks (e.g., turn on your TV and DVD player at the same time). I'm not a big fan of this feature because I've found that if one device doesn't respond, it screws up the whole sequence. I may be in the minority, though, because the VooMote One can do this, too.

Like the Red Eye, the VooMote One also allows you to group devices you are controlling by 'Rooms.' Hence, you won't have to search for the controls of the DVD player in the garage among those for all the separates located throughout your house. Another neat feature is what Zero1.tv calls One View. This apparently lets you create personalized remote control layouts that can have separate buttons for different devices. I'll certainly be testing that if I get a chance.

Whereas the Red Eye mini is just a knob that plugs into the earphone socket on an iDevice, the VooMote One comes in two parts: a base that wraps around the bottom of the phone and an adapter that fits over the back. One particularly impressive feature, based on the specs given on the company's website, is that each VooMote One comes with three adapters that make it compatible with all the major iDevices except (not surprisingly) the iPad. This is a great idea because it means that the device can be used by people with an iPod Touch or older generation iPhones (the 3G and 3GS) and they won't have to chuck it away if they upgrade.

griffin small.jpgChallenging the VooMote in the iDevice-to-universal remote market is the Griffin Beacon (left). This gadget, designed by Griffin Technology Inc. and Dijit Media, uses a fundamentally different approach. It consists of a table-top wireless AV controller that is paired with an iOS device via Bluetooth.The controller relays the commands it receives from Dijit's remote app on an iOS device. The remote app has what Dijit describes as an 'Intuitive Program Guide' that allows users to change channels, volume, and input and program a DVR. The Beacon is said to be compatible with more than 200,000 components and, like both the VooMote One and Red Eye, has a learning feature for those devices that are not in its code library. It also has a smart interface and the ability to initiate 'activities.' Unlike the VooMote, it is also compatible with the iPad.

Of course, manufacturers of TVs and Blu-ray disc players such as Samsung, Sony, and LG now have remote apps in the App Store that work with their devices over Wi-Fi. Among the disadvantages of these are that they are manufacturer-specific and they rely on the day-to-day temperament of your home network (which is unpredictable if it’s anything like mine). If you want to put your iDevice in charge of your entertainment system, The VooMote or Griffin Beacon might be a better answer.

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Michael Simpson is a freelance writer, editor, presenter, researcher, instructor, gadget freak and sci-tech consultant based in British Columbia’s beautiful Okanagan Valley. Formerly from the UK, he’s converted from tea to coffee and written and presented on film, TV, science, nature, technology,…

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