In putting together our electronic recreational
systems, it sometimes comes to a point where convenience takes a back seat
to performance, or vice versa. With separate components, often considered
the most flexible and practical approach to audio/video performance, it
seems that the ease of use declines exponentially with each additional
However, when looking for the best performers among current
offerings in the marketplace, a single Home Theater In a Box box isn't
even a good stab at a joke. Unfortunately, it seems that a collection of
components putting us on the leading edge of audio/video playback tends to
put us in a somewhat complicated position.
Back in the days of yore, when we may have previously just set the TV to
channel 3 and pressed play on the VCR, those of us insistent on less
compromise in our home media experience may now have to contend with turning
on power amplifiers, turning on the surround sound processor (SSP), setting
its input, perhaps choosing the correct default matrix-based decoding mode,
turning on a video processor, configuring its parameters, getting the
projector or monitor on and set to the correct input and aspect ratio, not
to mention getting the source on and wrestling through navigation menus to
get the movie to play. If any step is done incorrectly or missed, we
can't see the picture or hear the sound as it was meant to be, if at all.
Seem ridiculous? Sure it is. What can we do about it?
We can learn how all of these additional components work, and learn to set
as quickly as possible, either by remote control or by actually touching
things. The audio/video electronics enthusiast, at least those who ooze
delight at every opportunity to navigate a menu, roll a knob, or press
buttons, might be just fine at this. While I can do this, I don't like to,
and none of my family members appreciate the obstacle course either.
Given today's options, we can sacrifice our
performance/functionality/flexibility by less components that do more. For
instance, use a receiver and ditch the outboard video processor and power
amplifier. This isn't that crazy. Some of the receivers are pretty good, and
there's no reason we can't use video processing built into either the
receiver (which is becoming more popular) or lo and behold, the display
itself. But, the flexibility for future changes diminishes. What's more, the
performance and functionality criteria becomes more difficult to achieve
when we limit our options.
The third option is to invest in control products that perform the
integration and automation for us.
Enter the Universal Translator
Custom installation in residential audio/video systems has come a long way,
and with it, devices providing greater control and integration. I remember
when the Marantz RC-2000 was referred to in a printed magazine as a "Remote
of the Gods." Back then, it was pretty close to the best we could do to
integrate a home theater on any kind of reasonable budget. Compared to any
average customizable remote today, be it a current version of the Pronto, a
Home Theater Master Universal Remote, or what not, that highly regarded
RC-2000 of our ancestors belongs to the 20th century, not the 21st.
The Universal Translator (UT), sold on-line by Switch-Box.com, isn't an all in one remote with macro capability
like a Phillips Pronto, a Home Theater Master, or pick your typical learning
remote and insert its name. It can't unify all of our remotes into a single
unit. It can't issue lengthy set-up command sequences with variable amounts
of delay. The UT is primarily a control accessory, a useful little tool for
the integrator or involved hobbyist. It can help in the task of unifying the
operation of our components when we want more than what a 'dumb' remote
issuing sequences of hopefully discrete IR codes can provide, or we don't
have discrete IR codes for a device, but we do have discrete IR codes for
another, and both have serial ports.
Specifically, the UT was designed to allow
a video processor (VP) to follow and complement the power and input state of
surround sound processor (SSP), allowing that both units have serial
ports, and that the SSP can supply status information through that serial
Simply stated, the Universal Translator takes specific strings of bytes from
the SSP, indicating an input or power state, and 'translates' them into
specific commands to send to the VP. Benefit? Turn on your SSP, the VP
follows. Set the SSP to a particular input, the VP also selects the
appropriate input for that source. Nice, right?
Some might point out that many video processors have discrete IR commands
for power and input, and as such can just be integrated with an IR macro.
After all, if we're getting into any kind of automation, the first thing we
get is something that can send multiple IR commands in a sequence anyway.
However, most of these relatively affordable remotes that perform IR macro
sequences can only do one thing at a time, and as such need to lengthen the
time required for set-up as steps are increased. Waiting longer can be
annoying. While not necessary for fully automated operation in many cases,
the Universal Translator can still be of value to complement the learning,
The potential uses of the UT aren't limited to the SSP/VP
link. We can also use it to link anything with
appropriate communication features.
We can use it to control a monitor from a video processor (say the monitor
doesn't have discrete IR codes for power and input, but will perform these
functions through the serial port, and the video processor does have the
necessary discrete IR codes), an Extron RGBHV video switcher from an SSP, or
a projector from an SSP. We can have it activate a lighting scene for
watching a DVD that's different than lighting for watching plain boring
television, as well as restore ambient lighting when we turn the system off.
We could even use it in an upper end control application, say, where it
supports a baud rate that a dedicated control system doesn't. Say our old,
antiquated Crestron ST-CP doesn't send commands at baud rates higher than
38,400. Let's also say that our new projector requires 57,600 and canít be
convinced to operate otherwise. If we didnít want to blow the change to
update the control system, or pay for an auxiliary serial communication
device that supported 56,600, the UT might just be our product.
The UT isn't a do everything for everyone kind of deal, but it certainly
could prove handy in the right instance.
When I was asked if I wanted to review this product, I was kind of
ambivalent. I read the description of what it could do, and said to myself,
"Yeah, so, I can do that with my AMX controller, if I wanted to, but I
control the AVM-30 and DVDO HD+ via a serial port directly anyway, so why
would I want to? Oh, yeah. I forgot. Journalist. Itís not just about me."
Fine, it comes programmed for my gear. I plug it in, it works. I write a few
sentences, return it, and go on to something else. Review would conclude,
right about . . . now! Nope.
Click Here to Go to Part II.