SMR logoCrisp Solutions UC-515 Remote Control Review
We're all looking for ways to streamline our home theatre systems, but not all of us can afford a Pronto, Marantz or Harman/Kardon learning touch-screen learning remote control. Ken Simmons, a man with an eye for a bargain discovers the delights of the Crisp Solutions UC-515, truly a remote for the people.

Crisp Solutions UC-515 Touch-screen Learning Remote Control Review

The Problem...

Crisp Solutions UC-515Like many in the A/V world, I have managed to acquire a "collection" of remote controls for my home theater gear. So needless to say, I looked for a way to consolidate them all into one package. Thankfully, there are a number of inexpensive pre-programmed "universal" remotes on the market, companies such as RCA, Sony, Jensen, even Radio Shack market/carry multi-brand universal remotes that, for the vast majority of A/V gear users, are more than adequate.

Unfortunately, yours truly doesn't fall into the "vast majority" category where his equipment is concerned and to prove it, here's my list of home theater gear:

Many of you are probably asking, "what's so special about your list? The pre-programmed universals I see at WalMart, Target, etc. look like they'll handle those brands!" Good question, deserving a good answer. I tried those remotes and they all failed to handle the two "key" pieces of my system: the Denon receiver and the Emerson cable box. Moreover, the key layouts were unattractive and (to me) extremely restrictive. It was time to start searching for the perfect remote.

The Quest...

I next looked to the area of programmable remotes; there are a number of excellent offerings from very reputable companies such as Sony, Marantz, Philips, and even Harman/Kardon. In fact, I seriously considered the LCD touch-screen offerings from Sony (the RM-AV2000) and the Philips Pronto as they looked like they would fit the bill in terms of programmability and "customizability".

Unfortunately, there was only one teensy, weensy problem: the more-than one-hundred-dollar price tags that accompanied these items. If you looked closely at this review's title, I'm a budget-minded kind of guy. Therefore, as much as I was impressed with the Sony and Philips offerings, I had to pass.

Back to the drawing-board (catalogs, search engines, etc.) where I found a couple of promising offerings from the well-known universal remote company, One-For-All; their Home Producer (URC-9800) and A/V Producer (URC-8800), both claiming full programming capabilities. The price was right for both these units (under $100), but once again I was back to the dilemma of a "restrictive" keyboard layout. Oh well...

The Guiding Light...

Fortunately, it appeared all was not lost as for a while I had been admiring a nifty-looking unit offered through MCM Electronics, item #80-4145, the E-Pilot Universal Remote Control model #SRC-9200, with a price tag of $99.95. I wrote to MCM and asked for more details on the unit; they wrote back saying "so sorry, this unit is purchased overseas and we don't have any information". Drat. I was back to searching the web.

During my web surfing I discovered a company called Crisp Solutions. Interestingly enough, they carry a remote control that looks suspiciously like the aforementioned MCM offering: the UC-515. A quick E-mail to them confirmed this - Crisp Solutions manufacture the MCM remote! Their price (through their web site) is the same - $99.95! It turns out that this remote is carried by a number of electronic-oriented web sites and the Crisp site has links to them. Needless to say, I was excited. However, the $99.95 price tag made me hesitate.

They say "fortune smiles on fools, etc.", and this fool is no exception. At the end of November 2000, I received an MCM "Sale Flyer". Guess what was in the flyer? That's right, the #80-4145 remote with a sale price of $69.95 ($30 off)! Being the bargain-hunter I am, I ordered the unit that same day. Roughly a week later, it arrived at my house and I was ready to play!

Crisp Solutions UC-515 Virtual KeysFirst Impression...

The unit is packaged in a plain white cardboard box with a hanging tab and a label that says 80-4145, Made in Taiwan. Like many items I've ordered from MCM over the years, this didn't surprise me. Inside the box was a flocked plastic tray holding a plastic bag containing the remote but the user manual wasn't immediately visible. However, examination of the box revealed it was just "stuck", a quick tap on the box and out it fell. A point to note: to read the manual, you need to have excellent eyesight, it is small and the type is even smaller! If this proves to be a problem, you can download the original user manual (in Acrobat .PDF form) from the Crisp Solutions web site and print it on letter paper.

The remote itself is fairly spartan in appearance, it also has a bit of "heft" to it, especially once you install 4 AAA-size batteries. However, the remote is extremely comfortable to hold, and the battery compartment bulge actually gives the sense of balance in the hand. While its physical size of 3" × 7" × 5/8" (it tapers to 1" at the battery compartment) fills the hand, it's size is not a detriment. Simply hold the remote with your fingers and let the thumb dance around the touch screen (area of 23/8" × 4¼"), it's very natural-feeling and the entire screen can be accessed with minimal thumb-action. With the batteries installed, the slightest touch of the blank screen wakes-up the remote and displays a generic key layout.

Important Information: the remote is totally dumb right out of the box, in other words, it must be programmed before you can use it as there are no (zip, zilch, nada) pre-programmed codes, you must use your existing remotes to program the functions. If you've lost a remote, you're basically out of luck unless you can borrow one for programming purposes.

The Testing...

Now comes the nitty-gritty. Open the user manual to the "Programming the remote" section. Unlike many programmable remotes, the programming eye (the IR receiver) is located on the rear end of the remote. This means you keep your source remote in the same vertical orientation as the UC's keypad. No room for confusion here, sports fans!

But before I go any farther, I must make this declaration. The keypad is not a bitmap that you can customize. Rather, it is fixed-format with 21 programmable virtual-keys and each key can contain one of a number of pre-designed icons. Yes, on the surface this looks like a limitation, but with a little ingenuity and forethought, a very workable layout can be achieved with the aid the user manual which details how to change button icons.

The remote itself can hold definitions for 8 separate devices (see the bottom 8 buttons of the icon diagram). In UC-speak, they're referred to as "layers". Each layer can have up to 27 defined keys (leave the 'POWER' key for controlling power!), and you can combine different remote key definitions on each layer. For example, I defined the VOLUME and MUTE buttons as the Denon Volume/Mute on all the layers. Only your ingenuity limits your button programming, you can even erase (hide) layer buttons - which is useful for de-cluttering a layer when programming only the most important functions. Finally, every programmable button, on every layer, (except the 'POWER' and 'Device' buttons), can be programmed as a MACRO with anything up to 25 steps. That alone should cause many eyes to widen! As an extra bonus, the UC-515 will readily accept and transmit X-10 remote codes (for all you home control fanatics out there.

Programming the remote is ridiculously easy. After selecting a layer to program, and after entering "program" mode (see the user manual), the 'LEARN' icon illuminates and the remote itself prompts you on what key to program next! That's right - a button flashes, corresponding to the key on your source remote. Press the 'source' key for a couple of seconds, the UC beeps, the 'OK' icon at the top of the screen flashes (indicating success), and the next button starts flashing. If for some reason the 'ERROR' icon appears, reposition the source remote and repeat the programming operation - the remote will stay put until it receives a valid signal. It doesn't get any simpler than that! If you want to skip a button, just tap the desired layer button and it will start flashing, ready to accept the source's IR code.

Remember what I typed about the buttons/icons above? It's a good idea to define each layer's keys (desired keys and icons) before programming. That way, you can save some programming/editing time. I learned this trick after I programmed a couple of layers and went back to edit the buttons/icons.

Remember that because we're dealing with an LCD touch-screen here, you must take certain precautions to keep from damaging it:

All these precautions, and more, are covered in the user manual.

Conclusions...

As I recall, it took me all of 30 minutes to initially define my keys and program them based on the "most-used functions of all my devices, the only snag being my DVD player; I needed two layers ('DVD' and 'AUX'), one for the keypad and the other for the cursor arrows, remember that ach key can only hold one function or MACRO. Once you get over that limitation, as well as the hardwired layout restrictions, you'll have no problems.

Crisp Solutions UC-515As I mentioned above, the slightest pressure on the screen, even lightly rubbing it on your shirt, wakes-up the remote which greets you with a bright and noticeable yellow-green backlight glow that disappears after a few seconds. You can program the backlight on-time to 10, 20, or 30 seconds (default is 10 seconds). The ultra-bright backlighting is extremely useful in darkened rooms and, as far as I can tell, doesn't give you residual night-blindness afterwards. The remote has a built-in room brightness sensor (sensitivity user-definable) that determines the level of ambient light in your room must be for the backlight to become active after the remote wakes up. In a brightly lit room, when the remote is activated the backlight won't come on - useful for saving precious battery power!

Once the remote is active, it's very responsive with instantaneous IR transmission after a virtual-key press. The IR beam is also very powerful - you don't have to point it directly at your gear, just bounce it off walls, ceilings, paintings, etc. within the operating range of your A/V gears' sensors. The remote will power off (screen goes blank) after approximately 10 minutes of inactivity. Again, this is a battery-saving feature. Just touch the screen to wake up the remote for more use. According to the user manual, a set of AAA batteries should last 6 months. However, depending on how often the backlighting is activated and keys are pressed, expect maybe 3 months tops? The "Your Mileage Will Vary" maxim really applies here. The 'battery low' icon will illuminate, telling you it's time to change the batteries (don't waste time, according to the manual!). But fear not - the programming is retained while you change the batteries, however, if you take the batteries out and leave them out for more than a couple days, the remote will become "dumb" again.

The remote has an audible feedback feature that informs you of successful key-presses. This can get annoying in a quiet room, so the feature can be disabled at any time by pressing the 'layer' button again. Once disabled it can just as easily be re-enabled by another 'layer' button press. Only if you have dexterity issues this could be a problem.

No commentary would be complete without a fault list and the UC-515 does indeed have its faults:

The Summary...

All things considered, I'm extremely pleased and impressed with this remote. While not as "flashy" and "snazzy" as the Philips Pronto, the Marantz RC-2000 (MK I and II) or the Harman/Kardon RC-500, it's definitely better than stock remotes and much better than any of the universal designs. Yes, it does have limitations/drawbacks, but they can be worked around. Perhaps most importantly, it's loads cheaper and more powerful than many programmable designs, making it a great option for those on a budget. While the perfect remote has yet to be invented, and the UC-515 is far from being perfect, it certainly rises to the challenge. For all its strengths, and despite its weaknesses, the Crisp Solutions UC-515 (and it's OEM clones) is definitely worth a look as an economical method of consolidating up to 8 separate IR controllers.


2001.

 

More information can be found upon the Crisp Solutions web site.

Text Ken L. Simmons; HTML SMR Home Theatre and Images SMR Home Theatre cannot be reproduced without permission.  The images on this page are digitally watermarked: Digimarc http://www.digimarc.com/ This page resides on the SMR Home Theatre server at: https://smr-home-theatre.org/Reviews/xantech/ and contains JavaScript to prevent it being opened within a frame on another site.
Last updated January 2, 2001

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