MX-950 Aurora Overview & Build Quality
I've found that you can buy the best equipment, have the greatest seats, and the biggest screen. But if you're picking up and dropping various remotes to demo your system in front of your friends, you're only going to succeed in making them wonder why anyone would go through all that trouble. Sure, you may be impressed that you know which remote goes to what and how to get everything to operate as it needs to - but your friends will be focusing on you instead of the room. Run, don't walk, and get thee to a remote control that really works.
My current remote control is Universal Remote's Home Theater Master MX-700 . This is an excellent remote control, but was somewhat less impressive once I moved all of my home theater source components to an equipment room behind the listening position. Suddenly, the coolest IR remote I had ever used lost its edge (as all of you who have ever aimed a remote backwards over your head will sympathize). The Universal Remote MX-950 (and MRF-300 RF receiver) was going to provide a new level of convenience by integrating the ability to use RF (radio frequency) in my home theater. Finally, no more funky aiming to control the system - just click and relax.
The Magic of RF
RF - so what's the big deal? Well, I'll tell you. RF remotes allow you to simply utilize a remote control from virtually any room in the house to control a system - or multiple systems. They work, through walls, around corners, through people, underwater... ok, maybe not underwater. The point is, whereas you are tied to line-of-sight with an IR remote (the most common type of remote control) you are not with an RF based remote.
RF remotes generally work this way: The originating signal is sent from the remote as RF (radio frequency - in this case 418MHz, a very stable and reliable frequency band). This signal is read by an antenna module, the RFX-150 which transfers it to a receiver - the MRF-300. Some receivers have a built in antenna, but the ability to remotely locate the antenna adds another level of usability to the RF system. At this point, the receiver translates the RF signal into standard IR commands which are ready by A/V equipment. These IR commands can be sent via IR blasters (tiny IR emitting diodes that affix to your gear and are connected to the receiver), transmitted over direct IR connection to the rear panel inputs of compatible devices, or emitted directly from the receiver itself as IR signals.
Confused yet? Don't be. The basic idea is that the remote sends a radio signal to a box that translates that signal back to IR (infrared). Because the actual remote uses radio waves, you can walk around, go to the next room, and point the remote any-which-way and you're A/V equipment still responds as if it received a direct line-of-sight IR command. Voila - instant home theater bliss.
My first impression of the remote control was "Oh my, this thing is huge!" After taking a second look, and comparing it to my MX-700, I quickly realized that it is smaller in all but one dimension. While it adds .625" in height, it does so while taking off .7" in width and .3" in depth. The result is a rather trim remote that maximizes its use of ergonomic space. Put next to a Harmony remote it literally dwarfs the smaller activity-based remote. If the Harmony is a convenient tool - the Aurora is a machine .
Universal Remote built the Aurora with ergonomics in mind. If you look you can't help but notice the dual indents on each side of the MX-950. I quickly found that when my middle finger and thumb were in the top indents, the top LCD buttons were in easy reach, as were the channel and volume controls. By allowing my hand to drop down to the lower indents, I was provided with convenient access to the navigation and keypad controls. After only a couple minutes I managed to work out a quick hand motion that would allow the remote to shift up and down as needed to grant me access to the buttons I needed.
The remote is divided up into two main areas (noted by the red and blue boxes I added to the photo on this page). The top area is the dynamic LCD buttons and "Listen" & "Watch" activity buttons. You'll likely use this to initiate your desired activity as well as access higher level functions beyond volume, channel and navigational controls. The lower area makes up the rest of the remotes hard buttons, including the above mentioned functions, DVR controls, and full 10-digit keypad.
Buttons, Buttons, Buttons...
The buttons and controls on the MX-950 Aurora feel, well, rock solid. They have a definite depression point, so you know you've pushed a button successfully. Indeed, they are the first type of button to impress me more than the GemStone style controls found on the MX-700.
The ergonomic layout of the controls is just that - ergonomic - meaning that the thumb (my main "button-pusher") could easily land where it needed. In fact, when looking at the remote I initially felt as if they had left off some important button. There simply didn't seem to be enough of them to handle all of the functions I am used to. After taking some time to look over the layout - I quickly realized that it had more buttons than my reference MX-700. The extra buttons showed up as dual-mode "Back" and "Ahead" buttons and a new "Page Backwards" button (so you don't have to toggle through all of the page to get to one you were just on.) The activity buttons, "Watch" and "Listen" are, of course, also new.