I’ve just come back from a trip to beautiful Harrison, NY, home of URC (formerly known as Universal Remote Control) for a bit of face time with the company and a firsthand look at its new Total Control line.
If you’re not familiar with URC — or, I should say, if you’re not aware that you’re familiar with URC — the company has produced more OEM remotes than anyone else, and its Home Theater Master controllers are nearly legendary in the remote control aficionado community. Its Complete Control line is also a favorite of mine, offering advanced programming capabilities, custom touchscreen interfaces, and bulletproof reliability at a fraction of the price of systems like AMX and Crestron. Until now, though, even URC’s most advanced systems have been mostly limited to home entertainment control (as well as third-party lights and drapes).
Total Control changes that. Well, expands upon it, actually. By removing the brains of the control system out of the remotes themselves and into advanced control boxes with IR, RF, IP, and RS-232 functionality, URC has developed an amazingly expandable line that takes the company into the sort of second-tier, complete-but-not-ridiculously-overpriced automation territory presently dominated by Control4.
At the heart of the system is the MRX-10 Advanced System Controller, which every Total Control system requires, even if you’re merely designing a home theater control system with an eye toward future expansion. It controls and communicates with everything, from your AV gear to in-wall keypads, digital amps, music systems, local system controllers, lights, thermostats… all of which URC will be providing as part of the Total Control line.
It’s an ambitious launch, to be sure (although not every announced piece in the line will be available right off the bat: the TRC-1280 remote, for example, which is built on the same form factor as my beloved MX-5000, won’t be available for a few months; for now, the TRC-780 is the only handheld remote available for use with Total Control systems). And for what it does, the price is surprisingly good. The MRX-10 runs $699, and the TRC-1280 is expected to come in at $899. That’s not much more than my MX-5000 ($1199) and MRF-350 RF Base Station ($249) together, but with the MX-5000/MRF-350 combo, I’m limited to pretty much home theater control alone. With the MRX-10 and TRC-1280, you’ll have a platform that’s easily expanded to true home automation control, not just home entertainment.
URC had not only the expected keypads and in-wall touchscreens on display, but also new digital multiroom audio products, designed to deliver latency-free, CD-quality music from room to room with no muss or fuss. And with any remote on the network (because the entire Total Control system is network-based from the ground up), you can monitor music streams in other room, take control of them, or join in on the stream with no degradation of sound quality in either location.
Granted, URC isn’t claiming to have invented the wheel here. Or even reinvented it. They’re merely bringing this level of control and customization to a mid-level market that may not have experienced it before. And from what I could tell, it won’t be that much more complicated to program a Total Control system than URC systems of old. I didn’t get any hands on time with the new Total Control Program Accelerator, but from the demonstration given at URC headquarters, it looked like an evolutionary upgrade over the Complete Control Program I use to maintain my existing URC system and the system at my dad’s house.
Speaking of my dad, I can’t count the number of times I’ve had to drive to his house to modify his system because his cable lineup changed and his favorite channel buttons don’t work anymore. With Total Control Program Accelerator, installer truck rolls for such simple changes will be a thing of the past thanks to off-site programming capabilities (which the customer has to enable and allow, so no worries about unscrupulous programmers sneaking in and tinkering with your system).
The only real downside here is that my existing Complete Control products won’t work with Total Control. At all. So if you’re an existing URC customer with an eye toward Total Control, understand that your system will have to be scrapped and redesigned from scratch. URC also promises that Complete Control isn’t going away. The MX-5000, 6000, and all of their accompanying accoutrements will still be sold and supported. But if you’re a total newbie to the URC experience, I’m struggling with why you wouldn’t make the leap to Total Control, even if home theater is your only concern at this point. Total Control seems to do everything Complete Control does and more, with barely any additional fuss in terms of programming,
Here’s a rundown of the major Total Control products that were on display:
TRC-780 Wand-style 2-way remote: $299
TRC-1280 Wand-style 2-way remote: $899
TKP-2000 In wall 2-way Total Control Series Network Keypad: $TBA
TKP-100 In-wall Keypad with Hard Buttons: $199
MRX-10 Advanced Network System Controller: $699
MRX-1 Network Base Station: $399
SNP-1 Streaming Network Player: $599
DMS-1200 Multi-Zone Network Amplifier: $2199
DMS-100 Single Zone Network Amplifier: $599
Total Control starts shipping this week, and Total Control Program Accelerator should be up on URC’s dealer website on Monday.
PS: While I was at URC, I also got a sample of the company’s new URC-R40 – “My Favorite Remote.” Look for a full review to follow soon.