The Harmony brand may be the juggernaut of the consumer-direct remote business right now, but it's not the only game in town. Acoustic Research's Xsight Series proves itself a worthy alternative. The line includes two models: the entry-level Xsight Color ($129.99) and the step-up Xsight Touch ($199.99). Both models have a vertical, handheld design that combines hard buttons with a 2.2-inch color LCD; you can perform a basic setup directly on the remote via a simple setup wizard, or you can perform a more advanced configuration using the EZ-RC software program. I received a sample of the Xsight Touch, which (as the name suggests) features a touchscreen, can control up to 18 devices, has a rechargeable Lithium-ion battery with a supplied charging station, and supports RF control of your equipment via the optional Xsight Touch RF Extender ($99.99).
I found the physical design of the Xsight Touch to be quite intuitive, with a smart button layout and other features that make it easy and enjoyable to use. The touchscreen sits at the top, accompanied by a touch-sensitive slider that allows you to move through the screen pages. Below that are four primary function keys (Home, Favorites, Activities, and Devices) that take you directly to the appropriate LCD screen. The hard-button array includes the desired options for DVR and DVD/Blu-ray operation, as well as an Input key for scrolling through your TV's inputs. I like the inclusion of a List button to directly access DVR recordings, as well as red, green, yellow, and blue buttons that mimic the ones found on many satellite/cable remotes. In the center of the remote, you'll find directional arrows and an OK key, with the volume and channel controls on each side. The Previous Channel button is logically positioned directly between the Channel Up/Down keys, while the Mute button has a similar placement between the Volume Up/Down keys. The Xsight Touch is fully backlit and motion-sensitive to illuminate the screen and keys when you pick it up. The charging station holds the remote snugly and angles it upward, which makes for a more stylish base; the Xsight Touch held a charge for a good length of time, requiring less visits to the charging station than other universal remotes I've tested.
After you initially charge the remote, the Xsight Touch will walk you through a simple guided-setup process in which you can set language, region, and time. The onscreen prompt then asks you what type and brand of devices you use (TV, DVR, DVD player, etc.) and proceeds to test the codes in its internal memory for each device. In my case, the first code tested for all three of my living-room devices--the Samsung LN-T4681F TV, DirecTV H20 receiver, and Panasonic DMP-BD50 Blu-ray player--was the correct one, and I had full control of my system in just a few minutes. The final step allows you to lock the volume to one device (like your TV or A/V receiver) if you wish. If this is as far as you choose to go in the programming process, the Devices menu will likely be your primary starting point to control your system, and you can't fine-tune the controls assigned to the buttons or LCD screen--you must go with the general configuration that Acoustic Research provides.
If you wish to perform a more advanced setup, you can use the supplied PC software program, called EZ-RC (which was developed by Universal Electronics, Inc.). The program is, in many ways, similar to the Harmony software: It's Web-based and walks you through a process of inputting your devices, creating activities (like Watch TV or Watch Movie), and setting favorite channels. You can also perform advanced options, such as reassigning buttons, adding functions to the LCD screens, and creating personal profiles with different favorites for various people in the house. When you're done, you simply download the file to the remote via USB. To test the advanced setup, I programmed the remote to control my theater system, which includes an Epson Home Cinema 1080 projector, Pioneer VSX-51TXH receiver, DirecTV HR21 HD DVR, and Pioneer BDP-95FD Blu-ray player. Again, the necessary codes were available in the system, but you can manually learn codes from the component remotes if needed. It took me a little over an hour to do a basic configuration, which included tweaking a few hard-button assignments and adding some options to the touchscreen layout. All in all, the process was fairly easy--better than many software platforms but not as intuitive as the Harmony setup wizard. Even though the general format is similar, the Harmony system is a bit better at taking you automatically to the next logical screen in any given setup, whereas sometimes the EZ-RC program makes you go back to the beginning and figure out what you'd like to do next. I suppose they can't copy the Harmony platform exactly, and the system they've come up is a solid alternative that accomplishes many of same tasks. My big lament is that the software is not Mac-compatible; this Mac user had to borrow a friend's PC to perform an advanced setup.
Both with my living-room and theater systems, the remote provided generally fast, consistent control of my gear--faster than the older Harmony 659 and the Monster AVL300 I normally use. It's a tad slower in its initial launch of an activity, but then it's quicker in sending commands within that activity. The Xsight Touch's LCD screen features an Assist button designed to help address problems (for instance, if the system misses a step when launching an activity), but I didn't find this function to be as effective as Harmony's Help button.
I also received the RF Extender and mated it with the remote in my theater, where the equipment rack is located in the back of the room. The Extender allows for non-line-of-sight control up to 100 feet, through walls and other boundaries. It features six IR ports and six decently long IR cables to attach to your components. The unit itself also blasts the IR codes; however, its range is quite limited and directional. I had to place the RF Extender directly in front of a certain component's IR window for it to successfully transmit the codes, and it did not directly control devices located on nearby shelves (the setup manual explains that you must place the unit 2 inches away from a component's IR window, which sounds about right). For the most part, the RF system worked quickly and reliably, although I did encounter a few issues. I found that the system more effectively communicated with my DirecTV HD DVR when I dangled the IR sensor in front of the IR window, as opposed to attaching it directly to the window. Even then, response was occasionally sluggish. With my Pioneer Blu-ray player, the RF Extender sent each code too many times when using an IR cable--for instance, when trying to navigate a DVD menu, one press of the down button would cause it to move down three or four steps. I solved this by removing the IR cable and pointing the Extender unit directly at my player, but you can also adjust these settings via the EZ-RC software.
• The Xsight Touch has an intuitive button layout, a color touchscreen, motion-sensitive backlighting, and a rechargeable Lithium-ion battery, with a charging station.
• You can perform a very quick, easy setup on the remote itself. PC software is also available, and that process is fairly easy, as well.