SMR logoMadrigal IRIQ Remote Control Review
Touchscreen and advanced remote controls were once restricted to the domain of high-end home theatres, but all that changed with the popularity of the Marantz RC2000.  Now complex designs such as the IRIQ from Madrigal are more affordable, but their bewildering array of features can bemuse even the experienced button-pusher.  Nigel Pond casts his experienced eye over the IRIQ and balances complexity against convenience.

Many thanks to Dave Nauber of Madrigal for his assistance and for providing the review sample.

Madrigal IRIQ Touchscreen Learning Remote Control Review

Introduction:

Madrigal IRIQ     Regular readers of SMR A/V Magazine will recall my review of the Marantz RC2000 Mark II, which at the time I hailed as the best system remote control short of the much more expensive and complicated AMX, Lexicon and Crestron systems.  Well remote control technology, like most others, moves on and a new breed of remote has hit the market the reasonably affordable touch screen remote.  Products from Madrigal (the IRIQ) and Philips (the Pronto) bring the touchscreen, usually a feature of higher end systems, within the reach of most of us, (there are also almost identical offerings from their respective sister companies Harman Kardon the Take Control and Marantz the RC5000).  Pioneer and Kenwood now include touchscreen remotes with their THX receivers!  Naturally I was keen to get my hands on both the IRIQ and Pronto and put them through their paces and my review of the Philips Pronto is also on-line.   Madrigal kindly sent me a sample of the $399 IRIQ but before I get into the details, a few words of caution for dyed-in-the-wool button-pushers.

 

Real vs. "virtual" Buttons:

     One of the reasons I like the RC2000 so much is that once programmed and used for a little while, operation becomes second-nature I can operate it in the dark, by feel, without looking at the buttons or LCD screen which is just as well as some of the more well used buttons have lost their graphics as a result of heavy use!  By definition a touchscreen does not have real buttons so unless ones spatial awareness and brain-to-hand coordination is perfect, one has to look at the screen to operate the "virtual buttons" back-lighting helps with operation in the dark, but it does mean a change in ones couch potato habits!

 

Construction:

     The IRIQ comes complete with batteries, a cable to connect it to the serial port of a PC and a CD-ROM containing the IRIQ Editor software.  The unit itself is robustly constructed.   At 7½" x 3 3/8" it is a little shorter than, but about the same width as, the RC2000 and it is a little thicker.  With these dimensions it fits the hand very nicely well my hand anyway I have big hands so others may find it a little large to hold comfortably in only one.  The LCD touchscreen occupies just over half of the front of the unit.  In the middle is a large, rubberised roller wheel which falls right under the thumb.  The bottom of the unit contains just 5 buttons on the left the Home Menu button, in the middle volume + and - buttons and on the right backlight and mute buttons.

 

IRIQ Edit SoftwareSet-Up:

     The IRIQ was developed in association with Microsoft® and it shows.  I think I am correct in saying that the units operating system is based on Windows® CE it certainly has the look and feel of the early Win CE monochrome GUI.  The basic operating premise of the IRIQ (as with the Pronto) is that you first set up the devices which will be controlled by the remote, then you set up the various activities that will be performed, such as "Watch a Laserdisc" or "Watch TV".   Operation of the device is then activity-based as opposed to device-based.   But before all that there are some are some basic system settings to take care of and the "IRIQ Settings" option from the Home Menu is the place to start.   Selecting this option takes you to a menu where you can set the time, display contrast and time-out, turn the units speaker on and off and calibrate the touchscreen.  All of these are easily done and instructions are provided on the screen for each option.  I dont like remotes that beep so I turned the speaker off.  Display contrast required a little tweak and I set the time-out for 10 seconds.   Screen calibration was simple, though the screen did creak under the pressure of my thumb (and continued to do so throughout the period I had it).

     Setting up the devices proved simple enough but did provide some surprises.  I decided first to program the IRIQ directly without using the supplied software just to see how quickly I could be up and running.   Although it is capable of learning most infra-red commands, the IRIQ does come with a library of pre-programmed commands for many brands of equipment.  First I decided to set the unit up to control my Theta DVD player [review here], which is based on a Pioneer OEM disc transport and responds to Pioneers DVD command set.  Following the steps of the device set-up wizard accessible from the Home Menu, I was very surprised to find that Pioneer was not listed among the Madrigal IRIQpre-programmed brands in the DVD section.  In my opinion this is a serious omission there are a lot of Pioneer DVD players out there.  In response to an E-mail, Madrigals representative explained that the codes were supplied by an outside vendor and it was not Madrigals fault that Pioneer DVD codes were not supplied and of course they could always be learned by the unit.   Well thats all well and good but as far as ease of set up is concerned its a pain.  Even when I recently updated the unit with a software upgrade (to version 1.5) that I downloaded from Madrigals website, Pioneer DVD codes were still not included and that annoyed me even more.  But I got over it and followed the well written wizard screens (beginning with "Do you have a working remote for your DVD player?") to teach the unit the appropriate codes.

     Also omitted from the pre-programmed list were the Lexicon processors. I will admit that the MC-1 was a little new to expect it to be included, but the DC-1 had been around for a few years at the time the IRIQ was introduced and Lexicon and Madrigal are both sister companies in the Harman International group so maybe some intra-group cooperation was in order here, especially as the IRIQ is aimed at the higher end of the market where Lexicon products are also positioned.  Programming the DC-1 commands (and then re-programming with the MC-1 commands when I upgraded) was a bit of a chore as there are so many of them (including zone 2 and "shift" commands).  Teaching the IRIQ is, however, a relatively simple process and the visual feedback from the display is excellent.   Only a couple of times throughout the whole process did I require more than one attempt to program a code.

     The IRIQ contained pre-programmed codes for all my other gear two JVC VCRs, a Pioneer Laserdisc player and a Jerrold analogue cable box (it also has the codes for my new GI digital cable box, so that upgrade was pretty painless at least as far as remote programming is concerned), and Philips Matchline TV.  I also taught the IRIQ the three commands for my Lutron Spacer remote light dimmer switch.

     With all the devices set up, I moved onto Activity Setup.  Lets take an example.  I selected "Watch a DVD" as the first.  Via a setup wizard, the IRIQ asks you a series of questions about this activity which display device do you use to view it, which input on that devcice, which devices volume control etc.  When you are finished the IRIQ displays a DVD control panel customised in accordance with the answers you have given.  In my case I skipped the TV input selection as my DC-1/MC-1 is routes all inputs to one TV input, which is selected by my system start-up macro.  I selected the Lexicons volume control and the other appropriate responses.  When I was back at the Home menu, I now had "Watch a DVD" in the menu list.  Selecting that (either directly through the touchscreen or by scrolling down with the roller and pressing it to select), the Lexicon switched to its DVD input, the DVD control panel came up on the IRIQ, with virtual buttons for the usual functions transport, audio, subtitles etc and the volume buttons activated the Lexicons volume control.  I set up other activities the same way "Watch a laserdisc", "Watch cable" and 2 "Watch a videotape" activities (I have two VCRs PAL and NTSC).

 

IRIQ Edit SoftwarePC Interface:

     I decided to live with the IRIQ for a couple of days before experimenting with the PC interface and software.  The IRIQ performed satisfactorily without further customisation, but some of the virtual buttons were not where I wanted them and there were a few other tweaks I wanted to perform.  Inserting the CD-ROM in my laptop CD-ROM drive loaded the software automatically and it was a simple job to hook up the IRIQ to a serial port using the supplied cable.  A couple of clicks later and I had downloaded the configuration from the IRIQ to my laptop and I was able to play around with it.   I was able to move virtual buttons around and rename them, add buttons to device screens and activity screens. Version 1.5 of the Editor software which I mentioned earlier increases the flexibility of the software by allowing the user to reprogram the roller wheel, volume buttons and mute button to perform functions other than the default for example in the "watch a DVD activity" using the roller to control forward and reverse scan and pressing the roller to re-engage disc play.  It is a simple matter to upload the new configuration to the IRIQ, but I was very surprised to see that a configuration cannot be saved on the PC as a separate back-up file.

     I also used the PC interface to set up a few macros: System on; System Off; DVD Mode (system on, select DVD input, dim lights).

     In my view the IRIQ editor software is adequate for the purpose of further refining the IRIQs configuration, but it is as not as flexible as an advanced user may want.  For example, apart from the inability to save a configuration file, there is no facility to change the shape or design of the virtual buttons by importing bitmap files from other sources you are stuck with the rather limited built-in graphics.  Madrigal did tell me that as the IRIQ is aimed at the high-end and custom install market, more sophisticated configuration software is available for IRIQ dealers and installers but as they were unwilling to supply me with a copy to evaluate, I have no idea whether it deals with any of these deficiencies.

 

Performance:

     I have used the IRIQ for an extended period, alongside my own RC2000 Mk II.  The IRIQ is a very competent performer, once you get out of the habit of operating a remote by feel.  Once I had it customised more to my liking with the set-up software, I very quickly got used to it.  I particularly like the roller wheel, even more so now that it is customisable in fact I like all the "real" buttons they have just the right resistance and an audible and tactile feedback "click".  The concept of a Home button which quickly gets you back to the, er& Home screen is very useful Madrigal IRIQand removes the need to click several "Back" buttons.  Most of the time I got on fine with the touchscreen too, though occasionally it fails to respond to a touch and a second or third attempt is required.  This has become a more frequent occurrence the longer I have used the unit, so maybe this is a problem that only shows up or worsens with age.  I will be monitoring development of this problem.

     The screen also seems to attract more than its fair share of dust, but it is easily cleaned.  I have had a little trouble programming the volume up and down buttons to adjust volume by 1dB per click -- the closest I could get it was 2dB per click -- but I am sure that with a little more patience (not one of my strong points!) I could crack it.

     I have been following the Take Control/IRIQ forum at Remote Central and users of the Take Control in particular have been reporting some unusual problems poor visibility of the screen, erratic performance from the screen itself, the unit sending the wrong commands and a few other annoyances.  Some have even been threatening legal action.  In my experience only the screen response problem seems to be carried over into the sample IRIQ that I have been using.  The only explanation I can think of, if we assume that the Take Control and IRIQ share the same code base, is that there are a few, early production run, lemons around which have these problems, or maybe the recent software upgrade fixed those problems that were code based.

 

Conclusion:

     The IRIQ is a very competent performer and definitely worthy of consideration for those seeking a customisable system remote.  I am somewhat disappointed that the software does not allow for even greater customisation, but the buttons can be moved around and renamed, even if not changed completely.  If you are not of an artistic bent or not the sort of person who really likes stamp your personality on your system configuration this should not be a problem.

 

© 1999.

 

More information can be found upon the official Madrigal web site.

Text © Nigel R. Pond; HTML © SMR Home Theatre and Images © Nigel R. Pond, Madrigal & SMR Home Theatre cannot be reproduced without permission. The images on this page are digitally watermarked: Digimarc http://www.digimarc.com/

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Last updated 07 March, 2000

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