Home Theater Master MX-500
What Is ItThe HTM MX-500 is a programmable remote control, designed to operate up to 10 devices. It has a good range of "hard" buttons (i.e. not touch-screen LCD buttons), plus an LCD screen and 10 more nameless programmable buttons.
I got my MX-500 in an effort to replace at least some of my eight individual remotes. My previous attempt was the HK TC-1000 / Madrigal IRIQ, but the lack of hard buttons (most were soft LCD-screen buttons) made controlling my TiVo almost impossible with it. The very popular Pronto was ruled out for the same reason.
The Remote ItselfThe remote is pretty long, but not too wide to hold in one hand (unlike the HK). It is well balanced and has a nice feel - yes, I mean the surface plastic actually feels "nice". I can't really describe it any other way. At the top of the remote is a good LCD screen with ten unnamed buttons (called device buttons) down both sides. The LCD displays up to ten sets of 5 characters for each of the device buttons. This way you can label the buttons with exactly what you want, overcoming one of the biggest problems with lesser programmable remotes: the fact that the legends printed on the remote cannot be changed.
Below the LCD are Page, Main and Fav buttons - I'll get to these later. Next are the Vol+/- and Chan+/- buttons which are nicely arranged and sized. Below those is the most important section for me - the cursor pad and associated buttons. In order to usefully control a TiVo (and other PVRs) you need a cursor pad plus buttons for FF/REW/Pause, and the existence of all of these on the MX-500 was the clincher that sold it to me. Below the cursor pad are the number keys, then three more general macro buttons labelled M1/M2/M3. The very top of the remote has a System Off button (which is really another general macro button) and a Power button.
Basic OperationThe remote is designed to control up to 10 different devices. Each device can have up to three "pages" of controls on the 10 device buttons, plus of course most of the hard buttons can be assigned a function too. The idea is that from the Main page you select a device button, then the screen changes to Page 1 of that device. Further presses of the Page button go through the 2nd and 3rd pages, and Main takes you back to the device menu. This might sound a little complicated but its actually pretty straight-forward.
The 10 device buttons will normally just change the Page to that of their device, but when you hold them down for a couple of seconds, they send a macro sequence of your choice. You can use these macros to switch devices on, set inputs correctly and so on, and are very useful.
The Fav button brings up ten pages of TV station names that you can configure to suit your preferences and channel numbers. This is probably a great idea, but as we do no TV surfing in the media room at all, I have never set them up.
ProgrammingIf you have anything other than a simple system then you should carefully plan your programming before starting. Unlike a PC-programmable remote, you can't back things up, mess about, then restore the previous version if things go wrong. Maybe I'm just anal, but I knew what I wanted to achieve and carefully wrote my ideas down before I even started programming.
To begin with I determined which devices I wanted to control (in my case I had eight) and edited the labels of the Main page to suit. Many were already correct (e.g. DVD).
For each device, I then looked up the code(s) in the manual and entered them. Once I found codes that could power off the device, I went through the Pages for the device to check the individual functions that I required were there, and that they worked. I was very successful at finding codes that worked, but some codes were strangely incomplete (e.g. the TiVo device had half of the buttons missing!). For the buttons that were absent I then taught the codes from the original remote into the MX-500. I did not make sure every single button was present and correct - life is too short, I just verified that all of the buttons that I use were present and correct. For example how many times have I used the Shuffle button on my DVD player? Never, so I spent no time verifying that one.
With each device now configured, it was time for the macros. Ideally I wanted my macros to be able to do this sequence for each device:
I discovered that if I sent my Sony Receiver an Input signal (e.g. "DVD") when it is turned off, it will actually power itself on, then switch inputs. The same is true for my Sony DVD player as well - thank you so much Sony. It was not true for any of my other equipment though (including, strangely, my Sony VCR), so I had to make a compromise in my macros: they had to assume everything was turned off when they were used. This has proven to be a reasonable decision that seldom causes me any bother. I never never found any discrete codes for any remote that can switch my TV to a specific aspect ratio, so that goal was removed from my plan.
Once the macros were set, the last task was to program the volume button as punch through - this means that when in any device (e.g. DVD) the volume control will always send the signal to the amp. This was easily achieved, though had to be set for every device individually. You can also set punch through on Channel and the Transport buttons, but I had no need to do this.
The details of how I programmed my MX-500 can be found at the end of the review, in case they are useful for anyone else.
The worse thing about how the macros work is the fact that the remote ends up on the Page of the device that you last used a command from. A classic example is when I want to watch TiVo - I use the TiVo macro to set things up, then I put a Tivo/Tivo command on the end of the macro just to make sure the TiVo page is the one left current on the remote when I am done. This works great, but I had programmed the M1 button with a TV Mode macro. This has the annoying habit of switching to the TV page (a page I never use), so I then have to switch back to the device page that I was previously on. I wish the macros could include a "dont change the Page" option.
The MX-500 cannot be connected to a PC, which is a shame. Its bigger brother, the MX-1000 can be, but it didn't have the right hard buttons for me, and its PC software is pretty rudimentary. The MX-500 can clone itself via IR to another MX-500, so it would be great if there was a PC program that could read the IR stream for backup purposes.
Additional InfoHTM Official page
My MX-500 Setup
MacrosAll of the macros assume all devices are off, especially the TV as I have no discrete Power On codes for it.
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