For several years the Hippo household was rocking the Logitech Harmony 650 as the universal remote of choice. But over time, some of the buttons had stopped working, and it’s horrible Mac app that requires Java to change buttons and program it was more trouble than it was worth. Outside of Logitech there are not any big name companies that make universal remotes, but it turns out there are quite a few other options.
An aptly named company Universal Remote Control, Inc. makes several different remote models as well as remotes for other devices like home automation and security systems. The URC-WR7 is one of the more basic and doesn’t feel a screen like some of their higher end models. It can support up to 7 devices, and while that’s one less than the Harmony 650, the Harmony gets annoying if more than 3 devices are used independently with any frequency.
The WR7 is a simple remote that runs on two AA batteries. Like the Harmony, it seems to last quite a while, as the original batters are going on two months already. The buttons are the typical rubber(y) material of most remotes, and are easy to press. The remote seems easy to hold, and whether a person has to move their hand much depends on what functionality they use the most. The backlight button is all the way at the bottom which is unfortunate because having it on the side or back would have been more convenient.
The remote will be easy to setup for any setups that don’t have duplicates of the same type of device. The AUD, TV and SAT/CABLE buttons were easily programmed with built-in codes. The AUX button worked well for the Microsoft Xbox as well. But when it came time to add the Xbox One, it had to go under a non-obvious button (CD, VCR or DVD). Unfortunately these buttons are only capable of using the codes associated with that type of device. In other words, the CD button can only be auto-programmed with device codes for a CD player. Fortunately the device has an easy-to-use “learning system” (like many universal remotes) that can be programmed by pointing the device’s actual remote at the WR7 and programming buttons one by one. This doesn’t take as long as it sounds and seems to work flawlessly.
Similar to the Harmony, the WR7 can have macros programmed into certain buttons. In other words, the SAT/CABLE button can be programmed to turn on the TV as well when it’s pressed. Now this much not make much sense because that means switching between device inputs would keep triggering the keyboard power. Fortunately the macros can be programmed to only trigger when holding one the device buttons for two seconds. This makes things much more convenient and really create a lot of possibilities. For example, since most setups are always going to require the receiver being on, someone might program holding the receiver button for two seconds to turn off all devices. Also like the Harmony, “pass thru” buttons can be configured. This is basically so that the volume button can be programmed to control the receiver in certain modes, like TV or DVD watching.
The only real downside seemed to be with the independent On/Off buttons for devices. It didn’t seem like those functions could be learned by the remote. Some searching around the web seems to indicate this has something to do with memory limitations, but it’s unclear. That means in order to setup independent on/off functionality, someone would either need a device remote with these capabilities or an existing universal remote (like the Harmony) that can be used to teach commands. This really only matters for creating macros, and the average user might not even mind.
Overall the remote is great. It currently only costs about $24 on Amazon and that is an absolute steal. There is some work involved to program it exactly how someone might want, but it’s nothing a technically inclined person can’t handle. For other people, as long as there isn’t a need to stray too far from the default functions of the device buttons, chances are that it will work just fine.