Crestron is one of the AV industry's most misunderstood brands. The company's market position in luxury homes is on par with the likes of Sub Zero and Wolf, yet many consumers take their frustration out on Crestron mainly because of how flexible the programming possibilities are. Simply put: Crestron control systems are as good as the guy programming them. Just like you wouldn't hire a $100-per-hour attorney to handle a sensitive business matter, you shouldn't hire some guy off the street who says he can "do Crestron."
One challenge to Crestron is the volume of installed systems in the market place and people's willingness to update them. Crestron home automation products today are far superior to the ones sold a decade or two ago. Just like you might upgrade your appliances, it's not a crazy idea to upgrade your home automation. One inspiration for this comes from new products in the market, such as the Apple iPad. Crestron has an app that is killer for the iPad, which I use in my office to control a Sharp 70-inch TV, a Benchmark Media DAC-1 preamp , an HDMI switcher, an Oppo BDP-103 Blu-ray player, Lutron shades, and more. Once again, when using a correctly programmed app, it's easy to love your Crestron system.
But one thing end users in the home theater world have discovered is that, when watching TV or channel-surfing, the typical Crestron touch-panel remote or an iPad running the Crestron app is simply a bit clunky. In most situations, you need two hands to navigate your system, thereby losing the ease of use of one-hand control that we know and love with a more traditional remote. That's where the Crestron MLX-3 comes in.
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This $499 remote is designed for use with one hand, yet it packs many of the goodies that you would find in a larger touch-screen remote. (The MTX-3, which is this remote's touch-screen big brother, costs $1,100.) One warning: you need a Crestron brain like the entry-level, $1,599 Crestron MC3, plus programming, so $499 is just the cost of the remote. The MC3 brain gives you two RS-232 two-way ports and five IR ports that can also be used as one-way RS-232 for less demanding components. Overall, you likely are looking at closer to $2,500 for a simple Crestron system for a one-room home theater or audio system, although you're not limited to such a scope once you have the system brain and a well-trained programmer. I know I might have just lost some people with those prices, but this type of system is designed to offer rock-solid performance, is fully programmable, and is a pleasure for any level of user. Gone are the days of pressing buttons and wondering why things don't happen. Gone is the chintzy, plastic feel of lesser remotes. The MLX-3 offers customizable, colorful graphics and tactile buttons that can be controlled by feel or by sight, whichever you prefer. This is a fine remote control.
The MLX-3 is a slender, somewhat narrow remote designed to fit in the palm of your hand. At the top of the remote is a 2.8-inch color screen that can be customized to your needs; I mainly use it for switching inputs and then controlling the inputs as they are selected. Below the screen is a bank of labeled hard buttons for items such as Media (switching sources) and Lights (if you use lighting control, which Crestron also sells, or you can get from vendors like Lutron, Vantage, and so on). There is a "Crestron Button" that can be assigned for other needs, which often is the button programmers assign to HVAC control (I didn't personally have a use for it). On the second row of the remote are three buttons for Guide, Menu, and List, which in my system were good for accessing elements of the DirecTV Genie, the Kaleidescape media server, and other components. Below that is a round controller with up, down, left, right, and select in the middle. Then you get to volume up/down on the left and channel up/down on the right, followed by six more buttons for Mute, Info, Last, Rec, Exit, and Fav. These tend to be assigned to the source at hand as needed. There are four smaller colored buttons below that can also be assigned for specific tasks, controls, or components, but are normally assigned to colored buttons on satellite receivers, cable boxes, and Blu-ray players. Rounding out the bottom of the remote are Fast Forward, Play, Pause, Stop, Repeat, and other buttons that are essential for so many sources. Your programmer can make these work with each and every source that you have in your system. At the very bottom of the remote are number keys, which I use to channel-surf DirecTV with ease. With easy one-handed control, I can dial in 265 for A&E or 206 for ESPN or 202 for CNN.
The tactile feel of the Crestron MLX-3 is different than that of other remotes. It's heavier and more robust than you might expect. The top of the remote has a glossy finish, while the bottom is a more matte finish with a softer feel. This means that, if you were to plunk your MLX-3 down on a glass table, it wouldn't go "clank" unless you really slammed it down. The on/off button is at the top of the remote and is a somewhat recessed button, designed to prevent you from accidentally switching things on or off, yet it's easy to use when you want it. Perhaps the coolest tactile feature of the MLX-3 is the right-side scroll wheel. This button allows you to scroll through content like lists of sources on the LCD screen and select them by slightly pressing the button in. This is where you get into the high art of the MLX-3. You are the king of your castle with one-hand control in ways that are simply not possible on a bigger touch-screen or a lesser remote that follows this general form factor.
There is no single product in the AV business that's less DIY-friendly than a Crestron system, and that's understandably on purpose. If you want to learn Crestron programming on your own, then good for you (note: the software is not available to the general public), but my advice is to find the best, most trusted custom installer to come over and make your remote sing. The installer will likely have most of your sources all ready to go, so he or she will just need to connect your products to the brain using RS-232, Ethernet, or (God forbid) an IR emitter. Amazingly, with my top-of-the-line Panasonic ZT60 plasma, there's no way to control the set other than the archaic, glued-on IR emitter. This is shameful on Panasonic's part, and I made a point of that in the review. With a dollop of super glue, my emitter is working fine, but I would much rather know that the TV, which now acts like a source for elements like streaming video, is connected via a locking cable like RS-232.
If you are considering making system control or home automation part of your AV system, there are lots of goodies that you can add on to trick out your home, and Crestron offers nearly all of them. The company has thermostat controls. It has automated shades. It has slick lighting controls, as well as all sorts of other goodies like matrix HDMI switchers that allow you to centralize your sources in a rack somewhere in your home, be it a mechanical room or a basement, and then distribute video to every room of your house. In some ways, if you add more home automation tricks to your abode, it's easier to justify the opening costs of investing in a Crestron MLX-3 system.
Read more of the review including Performance, The Downside, Competition and the Conclusion on Page 2