Remote Z-URC Combines Z-Wave Controller with Universal IR
By Paul King
Revised May 28 , 2010
In the initial review of the Remote Z-URC 550 from Remotec Technology Ltd. I pointed out several features that I took issue with. I later discovered that I had been inadvertently sent a pre-production unit, and the good folks at Remotec quickly set things right by sending me a normal production unit. I found enough worthy improvements and new features with it to justify amending my review. All of the issues I raised earlier seem to have been taken care of in this model.
First of all, the remote has a cleaner look and feel with improved functionality. Visual differences include a solid black bottom, the removal of silver trim and distracting logos. The power button is a darker shade of green, and quite a few buttons have been relocated, including shift-state buttons. Overall I feel the post-production design has a cleaner and sleeker look, with the orange text and the addition of shift states on the play/pause area buttons.
Functionally, everything was straightforward. Copying from my primary controller to a secondary controller; the TV setup commands; the DVR controller. My earlier inability to program the custom features was not a problem with this unit. I complained about the buttons earlier, but these felt softer and much more friendly. And finally, the IR beam width, which seemed restricted to a narrow angle with the first unit, now worked fully according to spec. All in all, I felt that the difference between the pre-production model and the one that is now being sold was substantial, and I’m glad I gave this a second chance. I’ve been using it at home for about a month now, and I am definitely a happy camper!
The Remote Z-URC 550 from Remotec Technology Ltd. can function as a primary remote for your Z-Wave network, and, according to the documentation, using the Z-URC as a primary controller is as simple as adding devices individually. You can do this by simply pushing the Add button, then turning on the device.
However, I have an existing Z-Wave network already set up so my plan was to turn the Z-URC into a secondary controller. The only difference between being a primary and secondary is how you manage the network. You need to add and remove devices first on the primary controller, then clone those commands into the secondary controller.
My first impression was that the remote is physically big, not too big, but bigger than your average remote. (See Figure 1.)
Figure 1. From left to right, the Z-URC, a Pioneer surround sound remote, a Panasonic TV remote, a Motorola DVR remote, and last a current Z-Wave primary controller.
I configured the Z-URC as a secondary remote as follows:
I did a quick test by pushing the off button on the #1 spot on the Z-Wave section of the Z-URC, which turned off my light. (That is the same as the #1 on my primary controller.)
At this point the Z-URC behaves just like my primary controller and my other secondary remotes. But I wanted the Z-URC to replace my other remotes as well, so, next, I tested the regular universal remote functionality.
I started by adding my TV, an older model rear projection Panasonic. The device list doesn’t specify any models of televisions, just 13 different four-digit numbers next to Panasonic. The instructions say to start with the first one, and keep moving on to the next one until you find one that works. It was a bit time-consuming, but I went throught the list anyway.
I started with the TV setup procedure:
The second code worked for volume, but not channel, so I moved on. About six codes down I found one that seemed to work well — everything seemed to work, even the menu button, the only problem I have is I cannot exit the menu, no button seems to exit. My TV uses the “recall” button to exit while in menu mode, but the universal doesn’t have that function. This only poses an issue because the menu doesn’t time-out. When I hit “ok” on the Remotec, it brings up the menu (as well as the menu button), so it’s easy to get stuck in this menu and have to dig out my factory remote.
At the end of the manual it said you can teach the remote a command, so I tried following the instructions to replace the exit key with my recall key. After numerious attempts it still didn’t work. I got the error light while learning 9 out of 10 times, the other time it flashed green, but still didn’t work.
Next I moved on to my DVR cable box, a Motorola DVR. I went through a number of code options until I found one that works surprisingly well.
Play/Pause/Chan/Menu/Arrows, everything that was labeled on the Remotec, worked. I only have one complaint. My DVR remote has a “My DVR” button and an “On Demand” button, which take me straight to those sections, but the Remotec doesn’t. I’m able to get to these menus by going into “menu,” then selecting the options, but I’ve been spoiled by my direct access buttons. Again I tried the learn command shortcut to the DVR menu, but I got the same result as the TV, it would flash “error” most of the time, and once I got the green flash but it still didn’t work.
The last item on my list was my somewhat dated Pioneer surround sound receiver. Only a few codes to go through until I found one that worked.
There is one last feature that the remote supports and that’s the punch-through mode, which allows me to change the volume on the receiver while in cable mode or TV mode instead of the volume on the cable box. I did this by pressing aux (where I put my receiver), holding down vol+, then pushing cable, then releasing vol+ and repeating for the vol- button.
So in all I have a remote that I can turn on and off lights, turn my TV on and off, change the channel, and change the volume on the receiver. All in all, not bad for a universal remote. I can’t replace my barrage of existing remotes for good, but I can tuck them away to somewhere less accessible and use one remote.
I do have a two minor complaints that might prevent full-time usage of the Remotec, however. These deal with the overall design of the remote itself. First, you really have to push some of the buttons to get it to register. The number keys and volume and channel seem to be OK, but the arrow keys (which I use frequently in the TV guide) you really have to mash.
Second, the angle of the IR beam appears to be narrow. I did a test comparing the existing DVR remote and I can angle it away from the box at about 80 degrees and it still registers. The Remotec, however, worked through approximately 40 degrees. I tried this with the IR Blast switch on and off and didn’t notice much improvement.
The Z-Wave side of the remote is not much different from other Z-Wave remotes, except for one unique feature described in the manual that I found interesting. It supports association groups. In the manual it describes association groups as “to set up one node to automatically contact another node when the first is triggered. For example you can set up a door sensor (primary node) to turn on the light (secondary node) when the door has been opened.”
* Z-Wave and IR enabled portable home controller
* Controls a wide range of Z-Wave compliant appliances such as switches, dimmers, drape controllers and motorized shades.
* Supports up to 16 Z-wave GROUP or SCENE
* Supports 8 IR controlled A/V equipments with Learning Capability
* Easy-to-use XpressZetup for typical users and powerful Advance Setup for experienced users
* Best-in-class Association setup capability
* Perfect Gateway companion - work perfectly as a secondary controller
* Supports bi-direction and multi-level replication - simplify cloning
* Dedicated control keys for popular set top box - a real remote replacement
* IR Boost mode to extend IR transmission range and angle
* Optimized Z-Wave RF operating distance: Up to 300ft at open area
The Z-URC sells for $59.99, exclusively through ZWave Products. A free Z-Wave lamp module comes with each purchase.