I love my Apple iTouch! Of all the electronic toys I’ve acquired in the past two years, it’s the best, and I imagine that other owners of it (or the iPhone or iPad) are just as enthusiastically in love with theirs. Apple gets some details wrong, but overall, they create communication devices that are cool enough to match one’s wildest imagination. One of the coolest things about them is discovering, through applications (or apps), the diverse and wonderful tasks they can accomplish. Thanks to apps, I have such different things on my iTouch as the complete plays of Shakespeare, access to all of my e-mail, three different weather forecasts complete with Doppler radar, workout moves, bird calls to help identify feathered friends in the backyard, and now, thanks to the young and innovative company ThinkFlood, a powerful universal remote control.
iPeng pointed the way to this several years ago by producing an app that would allow an iTouch (assume from here on that when I say iTouch, I also mean iPhone and iPad) to act as a remote control for the Logitech Squeezebox family of products. When I installed that app, my mind raced forward to a time when the iTouch might control everything in my audio/video system. Sure enough, it wasn’t long before several apps appeared that could do that. RedEye isn’t the only one, but it’s the only one that uses a base-station transmitter.
The basic idea is simple: RedEye allows my iTouch to send signals through my WiFi network to the RedEye base station, which converts them into infrared signals that can control my preamplifier, power amp, television, cable box, three Blu-ray players, one HD DVD player, an SACD/DVD-Audio player, a Squeezebox Touch, and an HDMI switcher. Pretty cool.
What’s in the box?
The RedEye hardware ($188 USD) comes packaged in an attractive and sturdy box that contains the base station, a power cord and transformer, four adapters to allow your particular iTouch device to dock with the station, a Quick Start Guide, and an Important Product Information Guide, the latter containing safety, licensing, and warranty information. What’s not in the box is the application itself, which is free and can be downloaded from the Apple Application Store. Since I knew I’d be using RedEye regularly, I placed the icon for the download in the row of four at the bottom of the iTouch screen, so that it appears on every menu page.
The plastic base station is about the size of a bar of soap, 3.5” x 2.75"x 1.5". Its sides are smooth and transparent, and the top has a typical iPod dock. The bottom has channels so that the power cord can be plugged in and run out the back, left, or right side for a neater installation. Though called the RedEye, my sample was blue, either in dormant state or when its LEDs were illuminated. Lighted, the base station is very bright and might be distracting; the RedEye software includes a switch to turn off the lights.
Setting up RedEye
For the RedEye, you’ll need a computer, a WiFi network, and, of course, an iTouch. To initially set up the RedEye, you plug the base station into AC power, and make sure you’ve downloaded the application software to your iTouch. Then you can set up WiFi networking. RedEye initially sets up its own network, which you discover by viewing your iTouch’s WiFi settings. Following instructions in the Quick Start Guide, you then incorporate the RedEye device into your home network. This is the easy part. Now you’re ready to set up your devices and activities. First you must pick and name a room (mine is Home Theater). Doing this will take you to an Identification page; scroll down and you’ll see a tab to add new devices. This procedure is similar to setting up a Harmony universal remote, with some major differences. When you set up devices in RedEye, you enter the manufacturer’s name, the type of device (Blu-ray player, etc), a display name (what you want to call it), and, optionally, a model name and description. You choose manufacturer and type of device from lists that RedEye displays and you type in the other information.
RedEye’s list of manufacturers seems very thorough, but if yours isn’t there, you can tap the plus sign and enter it yourself. The list of device types is not as complete. Blu-ray player was absent, so I picked the closest thing: DVD player. Your device-type choices will determine what initial keypad configuration the RedEye suggests as you later set up activities using your devices. After you pick the manufacturer and device type, the RedEye will present you with several code sets. You need to fish around with some basic commands, such as power off or on, till you find the code set that works for your device. This is more labor-intensive than setting up a Harmony remote, where you can pick a specific model and be rewarded with just that model’s code set. RedEye tech support told me that, eventually, the RedEye code information will be set up by specific model number as well, which would surely make the setup process easier.
You continue to set up your other devices until you run out of them, and then you can set up activities -- say, “Watch TV.” RedEye will ask you what devices are involved. I picked TV, preamp, and cable box. You can then add special commands. Say your TV needs to be set on the HDMI 3 input and your preamp on the Cable input. You can easily add those settings. For that matter, you can set the channel you want to come up initially. The result would be that every time you go to your room and tap “Watch TV,” all of the devices you need for that activity would be powered on, and the inputs set accordingly. Since I have so many players, I have eight activities involving a total of 11 devices. I asked how many device activities one could set up and was told that no one had run out of space yet.
You can alphabetize your lists of activities and devices or put them in any order you want. At this point you should start to realize one of the true joys of the RedEye system: it is entirely customizable. As you set up the activities, you’ll note that each one gets a set of “buttons” laid out in arrangements that look similar to those on other remote controls, but you don’t have to accept that. You can delete and add buttons, rename them, even resize them, and create a screen that is exactly what will work best for your needs and preferences. Don’t ever use the Fast Forward button? Delete it. Need an Angle button? Add it. You can also specify what type of button you want: toggle, repeating, or regular. I’ve had the most fun with this setup by getting the basics up and running -- Play, Pause, Chapter Skip, etc. -- then tweaking the system as the occasion arises. The other night I discovered I needed a Setup button for the Oppo Blu-ray player. I was able to add it to my “Watch Blu-ray 1” screen in just over a minute. The trick is to get your device menu set up accurately so that it lists all the commands you use or might need to use -- RedEye’s code sets usually omitted some commands that I needed, but these are easily learned and added. Then, all the commands you need will be there when you want to tweak buttons in activities two or three weeks down the road. Of course, you can always go back to the device menu and add them at any time, but that creates frustrating extra steps when you’re in the middle of a disc or program.
Once you’ve set up RedEye the way you want it, it’s a good idea to back up your settings; RedEye provides a way to do this online.
How does it work?
The RedEye app works smoothly for me now, but it took a lot of tweaking and calls to tech support. First off, the transmitter wouldn’t work where I had originally envisioned placing it. My equipment is spread over a wide area, and though the RedEye base sends out signals in a 360-degree pattern, it couldn’t activate all of my devices. I had to abandon the idea of using it as a docking station right at my listening/viewing chair, and put it way to the left, where it was in the line of sight of each piece of equipment. That took care of everything but the Logitech Touch, which is behind me and to my right; the RedEye wouldn’t send a strong enough signal to the Touch with my body in the way. To use the Touch, I have to scoot my chair back a little to be out of the line of sight, which is OK -- I need to do that to see the Touch’s screen well enough to scroll through titles.
The big difference between the RedEye and a regular remote control is the iTouch’s absence of actual buttons. I was having some difficulty knowing if a touchscreen command had actually been sent and received, and this caused a lot of fumbling around, but the RedEye had a solution that worked for me: a click sound and a modest vibration from the iTouch for every successful engagement of a RedEye virtual button. Now when I touch a button, I hear a click, I see the button expand slightly, and know that the signal has been sent. Enabling the sound-and-vibration feature made all the difference in the world. You can also set up the RedEye for motion gestures: change channel when you swing your iTouch up, mute the sound when you shake it, etc. I didn’t find those actions comfortable, but they did work -- many users will have fun playing with them.
After all the tweaks, I’m happy with the way the RedEye performs and know it will get only better -- the RedEye team is constantly working on updates, and, as with any app, any changes and upgrades can be easily sent to each user. A tweak just released lets you scroll through available TV stations, see what they’re programming at that time, then tap the screen to get a description. If your RedEye is set up for it, you can tap again and be taken right to that program. The network icons all appear in full color for easy identification. RedEye has recently added capabilities for the iPad and a way you can get your RedEye account on the Internet, where you can safely store your settings, move buttons, and change configurations, then update them on your iTouch as you would any app.
ThinkFlood’s technical support, which some will need more than others, is the best you can get. When I asked how many people handled it, I was told seven.
The products the RedEye is mostly likely to be compared with are Logitech’s family of Harmony remote controls. The most expensive of these can control 15 devices, and the buttons make a sure connection each time they’re pressed. Even when one is used to the feel of the RedEye and has a good WiFi system set up, control is not as certain, though it’s very close -- I’d say around 95%. The RedEye is admittedly a little slower than the Harmony, since the commands have to go through WiFi to the RedEye base station, then back to the equipment. Much of the certainty of commands will depend on your WiFi setup. I get 100% on starting overall activities, but if I try to use the direction buttons rapidly, as in scrolling through a TV menu, it’s more like 85-90%. I’m relatively sure this is the fault of my WiFi setup, not the RedEye.
The overall feeling of control via RedEye-iTouch was totally different from that of a regular remote control, but I was able to quickly master it. After using the iTouch as a remote control and becoming familiar with it, I felt comfortable with all functions except scrolling and Fast Forward/Fast Back, which the Harmony accomplished significantly better. The higher-end Harmonys have power-charging cradles, but the RedEye acts as a dock to charge your iTouch, and if you can’t place it conveniently to do that, an Idapt docking station is an inexpensive and effective solution to achieve the same effect, so the Harmony and RedEye are about even in that respect. One thing the Harmony remotes do that the RedEye doesn’t (for now, anyway) is control devices that require RF signals. I can’t yet control my RF X-10 lighting modules with the RedEye as I can with the Harmony, but I’m looking into an IR-to-RF converter.
Speaking of RF: To have the same range of physical distance with the Harmony as with the RedEye, you need to add the Harmony RF Extender ($100). With the Harmony, you can add devices and change commands as with the RedEye, but it won’t take such flights of fancy as the RedEye, with its App Store updates, such as the imminent one of surfing TV. Though the Harmonys are powerful remotes, the RedEye is as powerful as the iTouch -- i.e., pretty potent -- and it lets you customize your surfing activity in ways regular remotes can’t. It will be interesting to revisit ThinkFlood in a year and see if their RedEye has put a dent in the sales of universal remotes, or if makers of the latter have come up with their own, competing apps.
If you have an iTouch or iPhone and think it as cool as I do mine, and you have a good audio/video system and don’t have a universal remote for it, you should seriously consider ThinkFlood’s RedEye. If you have a WiFi network and an A/V system but no remote and no iPhone or iTouch, it’s worth considering getting an iTouch plus RedEye. The initial investment will be about the same as a quality universal remote with an RF extender, but what remote do you know that can check your e-mail and let you read the complete plays of Shakespeare? And that’s just for starters.
A final caution: The RedEye is not for those who expect everything to work perfectly out of the box. There are too many variables involved, not to mention a few remaining early-development glitches. But ThinkFlood has top-notch tech support and can take care of small problems through online updates. If you own an iTouch and love its apps, it’s likely you already have a spirit of adventure; if so, the ThinkFlood RedEye is a natural for you.
. . . Rad Bennett
ThinkFlood RedEye Universal Remote Application and Transmitter
Price: $188 USD.
Warranty: One year, limited.
225 Bear Hill, Floor 2
Waltham, MA 02118
Phone: (617) 299-2000