All of the devices in our homes are smarter. From kid’s toys to coffee makers, from alarm clocks to DVD players, all the way to full home automation, custom programming, computer accessibility and inter-connectivity are the signature product features of our time. Obviously, today’s manufacturers have realized the enormous appeal of Value Added by Convenience.

Nowhere is this more evident than in the ever-evolving world of home entertainment technology. Before our very eyes, new technologies (and their acronyms) emerge and we stand at the edge of tomorrow wondering what will become of VCRs, TVs and CDs.

One curious practical concern within these waves of change is the fact that each smart device is equipped with a remote control. By the time your home entertainment system has expanded to include a satellite dish, a DVD, a VCR, a TV, a digital stereo and an hard disk audio recorder, you will also have accumulated as many remote controls. Each has the ability to program its respective device to perform a variety of sophisticated functions.

In short, you can quickly become the “average person” who owns between 5 and 6 remote controls. So as you sit in the middle of a wonderful home entertainment system, a universal remote control becomes central to your enjoyment and success.

For years, universal remote controls came to the rescue for those of us who had lost one. Without our “clicker,” we quickly were forced to take an unacceptable and backwards step of inconvenience – in this case, getting up off the couch to change the channel. These ten-dollar wonders were loaded with IR codes and by selecting the correct code – Presto, Change-o-channel!

In time, however, the universal remote began to evolve. A proliferation of buttons appeared as manufacturers tried to keep up with the variety of devices appearing in our living rooms. Some universal remotes began to look like the control panel for a power plant and were nearly as big. True, they could operate 4 devices, but menu programming features often were not available and some buttons that should work didn’t or visa versa. In fact, the “average person” may have preferred using 5 or 6 remotes to one confusing, oversized universal.

Thankfully, a new age is upon us. Remote controls no longer perform just the simple tasks of controlling power, volume and channel. There are a large variety of programmable universal remotes on the market today ranging in price from $650 to less than $100. Many offer an amazing spectrum of features. The least expensive (those in the $10 to $30 range) feature all hard buttons and perform the basic functions. They are limited in that the same buttons may perform different functions for different devices. It is easy to be confused as to what buttons perform what functions or even what device you are operating. At the other end of the spectrum, there are remotes that are totally customizable. You can download screen savers, rename all the buttons, relocate all the buttons, resize them and so on. The drawback is that the units are expensive and require a fair amount of know-how and time to set up.

The best mid-level remotes are designed to strike a balance between performing complex functions and being simple to operate. To do this effectively, some combine hard buttons with a customizable touch screen. This approach allows basic functions, such as power, volume and change of channel to be located consistently by touch; while the touch screen displays the necessary controls for full-function operation of multiple devices. Thus when you select a device, the appropriate control panel instantly appears on the screen. Some remotes display the entire control panel while others are smaller and display less information relying more on the hard buttons. A good universal remote should also create macro command sequences and operate at least eight devices. One remote that meets all these requirements is the SUR-25 Universal Remote Control from Sima Products Corporation.

People are creatures of habit and no entertainment habit is more ingrained than watching TV. The SUR-25 is designed to make operating your TV as intuitive and personal as possible. Sima has reached the pinnacle of practicality with the Quick Channel feature in this remote. The unit is pre-set with five Quick Channel categories: News, Sports, Education, Kids and Movies. These appear on the right hand side of the touch screen when the TV layout is selected. A simple finger touch activates the category and by using the hard Channel button, you scroll through channels that you have loaded into the chosen category. A total of 50 channels can be distributed among the five categories. Quick Channels are entered in their respective categories by selecting a channel and touching the category icon – no computer necessary. Even for those of us who have no desire to learn how to operate a powerful remote, Quick Channels are a one-touch wonder.

Another valuable convenience is the ability to customize the control buttons that appear on the touch screen. Like other IR learning remotes, the SUR-25 can be programmed by accessing built-in manufacturer’s code numbers or by “learning” the IR codes from existing remotes. However, even using pre-programmed codes, there are sometimes extra buttons that do not do anything or that you want to assign functions to buttons that are not appropriately named. The SUR-25 touch screen provides several name choices for every button and unwanted buttons can easily be eliminated. While you cannot rename buttons arbitrarily, in most cases, you can customize the touch screen to operate your equipment with the control panel of your choice.

A common feature among the better universal remotes is the ability to construct a series of commands. For example, with a single button press you can turn on the TV, switch it to video mode, turn on the DVD, wait a few seconds and play a movie, adjust the volume on your receiver and then turn everything off two hours later. Called macros, these command sequences make it possible to automate using your equipment to a degree not possible a few years ago.

The SUR-25 not only provides macro-ability (up to 100 macros using up to 60 commands each) but it allows you to set the macros on a timer. Timers can be activated on a daily or weekly basis, or any given time and date. The unit will “wake up” and send the macro command at the pre-selected time. Being clever, you can program several timers to turn on music, TVs, etc., giving the appearance that someone is home even if you’re not. This is truly a remote control at its best. The unit can store eight separate timers at once.

One of the pitfalls in bringing intelligent products to market is that technology changes rapidly and what’s possible keeps expanding. The SUR-25 is equipped to keep up with the times. The unit is outfitted with a port that allows connection to a USB port on a personal computer. Thus you can download software revisions and updates from Sima as they become available.

A famous song warns us that, “The times, they are a changin’…” and boy are they ever. The challenge for “smart” products is to be in touch with what people really need or want. Accessories like remote controls are no exception. And among universal remotes, the SUR-25 from Sima Products is exceptional!