Provides: Universal IR remote control docking for iPhone
Minimum Requirements: iPhone OS 2.2.1+
You’ll soon have many options for using your iPhone as a Universal Remote, but ThinkFlood was the first to the market with their RedEye IR dock for iPhone and iPod touch. Did they release an amazing product, or were they too quick to market?
The ThinkFlood RedEye system is a bit different from what you might expect with an iPhone Universal Remote setup. Instead of being a dongle that attaches to the bottoom of your iDevice, ThinkFlood decided to use your WiFi network to relay the commands innitiated by your iPhone to their IR dock, and then to your TV. This may be unnecessarily complicated, but thankfully, after setup, it works great. And depending on how your room is setup, it may actually be better than the dongle method, as once you pick a spot for this thing, you won’t have to worry about IR signal reception since it will never move. Still, a dongle is appealing because of its portability. I’m leaning towards the flexibility of the dongle, but the dock works very well.
Setting it up is a bit more difficult than I would have liked, but it’s not too bad. First, you have to plug the dock into the wall for power, and then install the RedEye app. Now put your iPhone onto your RedEye unit’s WiFi network. [Quick tip, turn on airplane mode before doing this, and then enable WiFi to prevent bluetooth interference. For some reason, this gadget is sensitive to other radios, and I actually had quite an issue with the first unit I tested out.] Now, launch the RedEye app, and it will attempt to update the firmware of the RedEye unit. This is a great feature, when it works. Sadly, the first unit I tested was wounded by this process. On a better note, ThinkFlood is great about replacing these things in a jiffy, but then again, for the price of this unit, they should be. After the update, you can change the WiFi network that it’s attached to. You’ll want to do this, as you probably won’t want to change WiFi networks every time you change stations, right?
Let’s talk about hardware. The RedEye dock works very nicely. All IR signals it sent during my testing were received by all of my gear, so there is definitely no problem there. And after the update was applied successfully to my review unit, it had no lags or any difficulties of any kind. The only real problem here is placement. You want it to be in front of all of your gear, but not obviously in view. Your experience will vary here. Thankfully, the dock can send IR signals in pretty much any direction, so you don’t have to face it a certain way. If you have a shelf or bookcase behind your couch, this is probably optimal placement. Sadly, the actually dock connection isn’t used for anything other than power. You can’t connect it to a computer or from the app to the phone either. This would have been a great place for improvement. If the app could apply firmware updates using the dock connection, they would happen much faster and with more success than the WiFi method. I’m not certain if this will be possible via a firmware update, but I can hope.
Now to the juicy part: the app. Devices can be added to the app with little difficulty. You can specify the type of device and maker and it will attempt to do a lookup for the remote in their database. Numerous matches are often found, so it gives you a test button to fire at your gadget to see if it that works, and then you hope the rest of the codes work as well (which is usually the case). Entering a remote manually by learning IR codes is a pain, but this is the same for all universal remotes, so let’s just hope you don’t have a really obscure remote, K?
Now that you have IR codes, you can assign that device to a room and and numerous activities. This is so you can generate a more useful remote, and honestly, it isn’t that different from future iPhone remote apps. Let’s say in your living room you have a TV, a cable box, an audio receiver and a DVD player. You’d add all four of these devices to RedEye under Devices and add them to a virtual room, the Living Room. Now you can make two obvious activities: Watch TV and Watch a DVD. Watch TV will have buttons relating to the TV and the Cable Box. Channels will be controlled by the cable box and volume will control your audio receiver. When you press Watch TV, it will go through its startup procedure. This means it will likely turn on your TV, audio receiver and Cable Box.
The remote interface that you access every time you go into one of these activities is customizable. That’s the whole reason for a universal remote, after all. Each button that’s put onto the remote is editable, and you can always add more. Each button can control numerous devices, which is great. Actually, you don’t even need to hit a button in all cases. You can set up gestures, like Flick Up or Shake. This is probably my favorite feature. It’s just fun. You can swing your iPhone Up to change the channel, Shake it to go back to the last channel or whatever. Make it do what you want it to do.
Note that you don’t have to use Activites if you don’t want to. You can just use the remote on a device by device basis, but this kind of defeats the purpose of a Universal Remote. Still, there may be pieces of gear that you don’t want integrated into your normal remote interface that only require a change every so often; that’s covered here.
Just in case my description of the whole setup process wasn’t vivid enough, RedEye has a video detailing the process. Take a look.
Overall, the RedEye system works very well. As long as all of your gear works with IR, then you’re set. The app is pretty slick looking and has enough functionality to shake a stick at. But there are two huge problems here. First, the dock isn’t intended to move. So either you’ll want to have all of your IR gear in one room, or, to ThinkFlood’s delight, you could buy more than one RedEye dock. But now we’re to problem two; it costs way too much. At $188, it’s expensive, and don’t even think about more than one dock to cover more than one room, that’s a bit ridiculous at $370+. That premium does get you some pretty awesome customer service (they overnighted me a replacement unit free of charge when the first failed to update correctly). But when other remote solutions are about to hit the market at substantially lower prices (that work in every room you carry it to), the price of this unit becomes its worst enemy, and the reason I have to give it a 3 out of 5. I could recommend this system at a much lower price, say $50-$100 per dock. But maybe the stationary dock transmitter is something you really need. If so, this product will do what you want it to do, if you’re willing to pay for it.