Anyone who shares this hobby can smile knowingly and nod when asked about control frustrations. Whether it’s the IR universal remote that doesn’t remember if a device is on or off, running out of batteries, or never being able to get the macro quite right on your Harmony remote, you’ve been there.
The solution to these problems usually involves going to a professional integrator, and spending a great deal of money on a high end RTI, Crestron or Control4 solution. These solutions are all fantastic, but they come with a premium price tag commensurate with their premium features. RTI recognized that the market had room for a middle ground between top of the line control solutions and your average universal remote, and founded Pro Control to fill this gap. Still sold and programmed exclusively by dealers, Pro Control’s solutions are priced much more competitively than one would expect, with the two components reviewed here having a street price of $900-1000. If you don’t need any two way control and are comfortable with IR only, the Pro24.r version of this remote streets for around $250.00, significantly lowering your investment.
For those unfamiliar with control solutions, you may be wondering why you need the ProLink.Z at all if the Pro24.z remote itself is programmable. The answer lies in a few areas, but I’ll stick to the most important reasons.
First: Ethernet and RS-232 (serial) control are by far superior to plain old IR because they support bi-directional communication. An IR command is sent, and you have no way to verify if it worked other than to see if the desired action took place. With bi-directional control, the processor (the ProLink.z in this case) can monitor to ensure that the command was received, and can even send different commands based upon other conditions, such as only sending the “Power On” command if the receiver is in fact powered off.
Second: Most of us don’t want to have all of our equipment in plain sight, visible from the entire room. Placing the ProLink.z gateway where your equipment is allows you to send commands to any location in your home, provided the Zigbee signal from the remote can reach the gateway. This is typically around 50 feet away – and allows for much tidier installations. The ProLink.z also has six IR outputs and two 12V trigger inputs so that even the most complex components can be controlled and monitored.
Fit & Finish:
The Pro Control components arrived in their standard packaging, well protected from any shipping mishaps and include fairly minimal accompanying documentation, as these are usually installed by a dealer.
The Pro24.z at first glance is a really beautiful remote, with a solid heft to it that makes you realize that there is some serious hardware inside. The soft touch finish on the back is pleasant to the touch and prevents any slipping out of the hands. The internal Lithium-Ion battery is sizeable, and also adds a fait bit of this weight.
The buttons on the Pro24.z are nicely rounded and backlit, while simultaneously easy enough to navigate by touch. The integrated color LCD display is 2.2” diagonally, and has a 240x320 resolution, leaving plenty of room for programmable remote activities. All told, it is obvious that the brains from RTI had some involvement in the development of these products. They feel refined, and show a level of attention to ergonomic detail rarely seen in more average universal remotes. The best example I could give for the Pro24.z would be a slightly heftier version of the Harmony One but with better overall feel and build quality.
Down to Business:
Now that I’ve described the magical nirvana of control options available to you with a system like this, you’re no doubt wondering how exactly that happens.
The answer lies in programing your remote and processor (ProLink.z). Pro Control provides some fantastic software called Pro Control Studio for their dealers that allows them to build highly customized and useful remote programs, from building the screens, to monitoring for events from controlled devices and taking action based upon these events.
I was given a license of the software to use during my review, which also granted me access to the same training materials most dealers use. After an hour of watching the introductory training video, I was off to the races. As a newbie, it took me approximately 3 hours to build a suitable program for my system, which included about 5 activities, a weather screen on my remote, and of course moving from IR to Ethernet and RS-232 control wherever possible. This meant Ethernet control for my Marantz AV8801 processor and Sony VW350ES projector.
I won’t get into programming complexity here because this isn’t something consumers can do for themselves, however suffice to say the options for control are virtually unlimited. You can monitor almost anything via Ethernet or RS-232, and take any action based upon that input.
My default volume levels are now set based upon the source, my projector automatically changes calibration mode based upon source and a plethora of other little things that I would never have been able to make work properly with my old Harmony.
Given that you will be paying an authorized Pro Control dealer to do this for you, the level of complexity you ask for will certainly increase your cost, however the software is designed such that programs you have developed in the past can easily be re-used. It’s not much of a leap to estimate 2-3 hours of labor from a professional who does this daily could handle the cast majority of enthusiast theater setups, including lighting and other accessories.
In Use, Living with the Pro Control:
After troubleshooting the issues that I came across in my initial use of the Pro Control system, I used it on a daily basis in my theater for a period of about 2 months, doing everything from watching files on my home theater PC to Blu-ray movies on my Oppo player. Changing rapidly to two channel listening mode and setting the appropriate options on my processor has changed from a thirty second exercise into a single button press and a wait of several seconds instead. If my wife asks what the weather will be like tomorrow, I can glance at the remote instead of pulling out my phone. And perhaps my favorite change of all, is being able to use digital buttons and sliders on the screen to set volume levels – no pressing and holding the volume button required. With tablet control available via the ProPanel iOS app, you're also not limited to just physical remotes. Many manufacturers are now making bespoke solutions to use an iPad or iPad Mini as a wall panel, with the ProLink.z acting as the hub controlling your equipment.
It may be hard to intellectually justify the expense of spending a thousand dollars on a home automation and control solution such as the one I’ve reviewed from Pro Control, however it’s important to remember that the same system from RTI, Crestron or Control4 would cost several times as much. If your level of frustration with your current universal remote is significant enough to have you looking for alternatives, yet not sufficient to justify the expense of a top tier solution, the Pro Control family of products are a no brainer. They provide the level of granular control and integration you can only get from a purpose built solution like this, but at a far more manageable cost than the competition. After living with Pro Control in my home for the past couple of months, it’s hard to imagine going back. In fact, maybe I won’t. Recommended.
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