Griffin Beacon Universal Remote Control System

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Griffin Beacon Universal Remote Control System

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Griffin-Beacon-remote-app-review-in-use.jpgThe Beacon is the second iPhone universal control system I've had a chance to test. The first was the Peel system, which was not a resounding success--due to its limited functionality and lack of reliability. The Griffin system combines a free iPhone app (developed by a company called Dijit) with the Beacon converter box that sends IR signals to your gear. The Beacon for iOS has an MSRP of $69.99 (and also works with iPads), which is about $30 less than the Peel Fruit or the similar Harmony Link. A Beacon for Android version is also available for the same price.

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The Beacon is a small, completely wireless module (measuring about 3.5 x 3.5 x 2 inches) that communicates with your iPhone over Bluetooth (range is listed as about 30 feet). Physical setup requires only that you insert four AA batteries into the Beacon, pair the device with your phone, and then place it so that its IR port faces your A/V gear. Next, you download the free Dijit Universal Remote app and move through its setup process, in which you can select and customize the TV guide (or omit the guide, if you don't want to use it) and add the devices that you wish to control. The process of setting up the Dijit control system is fairly simple, but it's not as easy and intuitive as the Peel setup procedure--in part because the Dijit system has a lot more functionality and flexibility. The app will walk you the steps needed to add each component in your system; in my case, I added a TV, receiver, HD DVR, and Blu-ray player. Despite the fact that I added both a DVR and a Blu-ray player, the Dijit only created one activity for me: Watch TV. Within that, it only set up the power functions for the TV, receiver, and DVR; it did not ask me about input switching or other advanced options. So, I had to fine-tune the Watch TV function myself and then create an activity for "Watch Movie." I didn't consider this process to be difficult, but it's certainly not Harmony easy, in that you have to figure out the commands and sequences on your own. For my system, I had to add in some power-off commands and insert some delays to ensure that everything worked correctly when switching from TV- to movie-watching. The fact that these advanced setup tools are available is a big plus in my book, as it allows the Griffin to function more like a good standalone universal remote.

The Dijit interface consists of five main options: Guide, Devices, Activities, Rooms, and Settings. You can control your equipment within either the Devices area or the Activities area, and almost every button I needed was available as part of the basic layout. In general, I found the button layout to be intuitive and easy to navigate. Dijit includes the ability to add and reassign buttons, learn codes from the component remotes, and change the button layout on the various screens (all three of these advanced options are missing from the Peel system). The one thing you can't do is make buttons bigger, and many of them are on the smallish side, which wasn't a concern for me but could be an issue if you have larger fingers.

As for performance, speed and reliability were both very good. The Beacon quickly converts the Bluetooth commands to IR, so there's very little lag between pressing a button and command execution. I rarely encountered reliability issues where the system did not accurately execute a command. It's worth noting that the Beacon does go into a power-saving Sleep mode when disconnected from your iPhone for 60 minutes; to wake it up, you have to press the top of the Beacon and look for the blue light to blink.

The one area where the Dijit interface doesn't outshine the Peel is in the TV Guide. The Peel app began as a free TV guide designed to replace your onscreen guide, and it's a great navigation tool, with big colorful icons and really good filters. The Dijit interface looks and functions more like a traditional program grid, in which you can scroll down to see what's playing on all your available channels. You can skip ahead to future time slots, and you can employ filters to narrow your search to a certain genre (categories include season premieres, comedy, sports, drama, recently watched channels, etc). It gets the job done, but it's not as unique and eye-catching as Peel's guide, nor do the filters seem to be as thorough. Like the Peel system, Dijit allows you create a profile and like/dislike shows, and the "My Shows" page provides a quick way to see if any of your "liked" shows are currently playing or upcoming. You can also access cast/crew info for a show and see show-related videos on YouTube, as well as link Dijit to your Facebook account to get personalized TV recommendations from friends, participate in chats about the show, and do video sharing (I did not test this feature).

Read about the high points and low points of the Griffin Beacon on Page 2.

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