Remote controls - you have lots of them. You wish they worked better. You wish 'universal' really meant universal, (adaptable layouts, universal control of everything). Most of all you wish they didn't always leave out that 'one function' you need.
Now, home theater control is getting a shot in the arm from iOS.
You probably already have remote apps like Apple's Remote for iTunes/Apple TV, FiOS, or maybe your Blu-ray player. Most of these work over wifi with one dedicated device each. Not everything in your home theater is on your network and switching around between lots of apps is so 2009. To truly 'control everything,' you need an app that integrates TV, surround receiver, and all your components, with an IR blaster that translates iPhone taps into infrared signals which everything can understand.
MiCommand might not be the first with an IR blaster/iOS app combo, but they've entered the universal remote market with a slightly different approach. Their flagship 'Control It All Remote with AirDoc' module includes an audio output for wireless music streaming directly from your iPhone. This gives similar functionality to AirPort Express or AppleTV's AirPlay, (for just audio) with a bonus feature of allowing 4 users to take turns playing 'DJ' streaming their music directly from their iOS device. And that's a bonus on top of all the remote functionality.
MiCommand's solution consists of two parts: the deck-of-cards sized MiCommand Control It All Transceiver
(that you pay for), and the Control It All-Remote app
(that you download free on iTunes).
Immediately setting Control It All Remote apart from many other apps is control over Bluetooth rather than wifi. In our tests, the range was excellent, controlling multiple MiCommand transceivers throughout a 2-story house unaffected by distance, floors or walls. Just like wifi, it's uni-directional so line-of-sight is for wimps. Bluetooth's only downside seems to be decreased battery life, but the huge benefit is instant-on readiness.
Swiping to unlock and tapping remote commands is quick and reliable, only a second or less from locked screen to ready.
In contrast, wifi takes much longer to connect and reacquire a device. Reaction time doesn't seem like it would be a big deal until you're trying to adjust volume or pause playback. A few seconds can be an eternity fumbling to mute that obnoxious commercial, waiting for that wifi status bar icon.
In a quick-draw death-match of Bluetooth vs. wifi, Bluetooth is the clear winner.
The first two steps are the fastest - install the Control It All-Remote app and while that's loading up, unpack the MiCommand transceiver and plug in the power adapter. As long as it's pointed in the general direction of your components, the IR blaster has a pretty good radius and should be good to go. You may have to experiment with placement a little, but at least it's a very small unit and blends in well.
Bluetooth pairing is straightforward, nearly automatic. It gets a little more complicated when setting up multiple MiCommand transceivers, but it's documented pretty well in their instructions. The multi-unit setup effort is worth it and this is where MiCommand really shines. Multi-transceiver setups allow you to take control of your whole house controlling everything from one iPhone, or everything from multiple iOS devices.
Once an iPhone running Control It All Remote and the MiCommand transceiver(s) are paired, you can begin adding components. Rather than fumbling through pages of codes and awkward trial and error typical of universal remotes, Control-it-All presents you with types, brands and then a list of specific codes right there within the app. And you don't even need to pick the code. Hit 'Power-on test' and the app cycles through the available codes and asks you whether they worked.
MiCommand has done a great job compiling the codes. We tested everything from a vintage Pioneer Plasma display, to modern TVs and components from Sony and found codes for each with no trouble. That's not to say we weren't missing a few functions, but for those the learning feature worked well.
A really great feature is the favorite channel listing (heart icon). You can setup names and numbers of your favorites for one-touch access. Over-the-air HDTV users should also note that the number entry pads have the necessary channel separator key (shown as a '-' or a '.') in order to key in '8.1' for example. Many universal remotes don't have this key at all.
Contrasting Control It All Remote's setup with something like the Logitech Harmony One, some tasks are actually a little easier. On the Harmony remotes, you have to return to your computer every time you want to change or update something. Control It All Remote's setup is all within the app making it a little more intuitive and much quicker to test.
Obviously there are plenty of reasons to go with one solution over another - some people just like physical buttons, but Control It All Remote is less expensive than the touch-screen Harmony versions and more adaptable since an app can always be updated with new features. The Harmony doesn't fit in your pocket either, and don't your regular remotes always get lost (maybe that's just me)?
A similar feature to the Harmony is Control It All Remote's 'Activities' view. This presents four common control modes with component commands grouped together for 'Watch TV,' 'Channel Surf,' 'Watch Video,' and 'Listen to Music.' These are really nice, and at the same time have their weakness.
Nice in the fact that you can easily perform common activities like navigating your Roku player and then adjust the volume on your tv without having to switch between multiple component pages.
But the weakness of the Activities modes are constraints on customization. You can edit individual buttons setting which component will respond to that button, but you can't edit the button name/function. You can't for instance change the 'Guide' button to 'Home' or change the layout in the current app version (3.2 as of this writing). There are editing options but you may still find yourself switching back to the straight 'device' view to access some needed functions.
When you tap a button that has no preset function assigned for that screen... a little red 'X' appears in the corner. Not a huge deal, but it would seem simpler to have that button gone from that display page and dimmed on the 'edit' page in case you'd like to map it to something, or have the ability to assign it to something you do need.
Right now Control It All Remote has no programmable macro capabilities and this could mean huge leaps in customization similar to the Harmony remote... even improving upon them. Since you're controlling over bluetooth (non-directional, remember), there would be no "point the remote until all commands have been issued" as required by the Harmony. MiCommand's blaster is there in your component rack and in theory should never have line of sight issues. Control It All Remote does allow one-tap multi-component power-on sequences, but can't do one-touch macros for switching inputs and modes - all those things that make operating a home theater less confusing to moms and wives.
So, these are just a couple of features that could make a great remote app into a truly killer remote app. In just a few months, MiCommand has updated Control It All Remote to include several big features already and so we hope they will continue to build upon this great foundation. Here lies the dilemma for MiCommand: keeping the app simple enough while still allowing enough customization to be truly universal. Another possibility is to develop a 'Pro' version of the app at additional cost.
Even without total customization, how does MiCommand's Control It All Remote stack up today? Really well actually. We can highly recommend it. As a real world working remote, it's solid and reliable and there's not a lot of competition out there. We didn't test a similar unit from Griffin, but their big feature-killer is that they are battery-powered vs. MiCommand's AC-power. No contest.
Now, if you're looking for something simple enough for your mom to use, maybe check out the Harmony - at least until there's a little more customization to reduce the necessary amount of page switching in the app. But your mom isn't really who the MiCommand transceiver is aimed at (hah), it's the slightly more advanced iOS user... yes, you.
You're looking for something much cooler and more functional (and adaptable with app updates) and Control It All Remote is definitely for you. The IR transceiver unit has the kind of rock-solid performance that you plug in and forget about.
And AirDoc is the sleeper feature. If you don't already have music streaming to your home theater system or if you'd like to add AirPlay-like remote speaker capability somewhere in your home this is a really great way to do it - all from one device that's already in your pocket!
MiCommand makes three versions
(ranging from $69 to $129) depending on the functions you need. The 'Control It All Remote with AirDoc' - for control and music streaming, 'Control It All Remote' - for just control, and 'AirDoc' - for music streaming only. That way you can split where the IR transceiver is located without having to run a separate audio cable. All of these are priced right especially when you consider that IR repeaters and RF to IR bridges which do nothing more than repeat a signal are priced in this same range, without any app functionality.
So MiCommand's Control It All Remote hits high notes on both functionality and value. The trifecta could be those 'pro' features for the high-end user, and you'll start seeing MiCommand hitting all the audiophile and home theater enthusiast forums.
We have a couple of MiCommand Control It All Remote transceivers to giveaway - so hit us up in the comments and we'll pick 2 winners!
Review by Larry Wiezycki. Larry works in TV and media production as part of an Investigative Team for a consumer advocacy law firm, James-Hoyer. He’s received 4 Emmy awards and has been an avid iOS and OS X user for years.