The Griffin Beacon for iOS addresses the age-old problem of a living room being cluttered with too many remote controls. A fairly modest home entertainment setup may consist of a TV, satellite or cable box, DVD or BD player and a stereo amplifier – each of which can come with its own separate remote control.
Frustratingly, every single one has to be kept at hand, since the TV remote control can’t adjust the volume of the amplifier, or change the satellite channel, and so on.
Until recently, the best solution was using a single programmable multi-function remote such as Logitech’s Harmony range to control all your devices. These work by learning the correct infrared (IR) codes from each handset to send to each of your devices, either by looking up the model number over the web or from physically 'learning' it from the device.
The Griffin Beacon is a more modern approach for the smartphone generation. It’s similar in principle, but instead of replacing your existing remote controls with yet another, an app on your iOS device sends commands via Bluetooth to an IR receiver, which then forwards the IR signal on to the correct device.
Its a black plastic, roughly square little box, with a large round and curved plastic button on the top. Press the button to sync a remote with the Griffin Beacon for iOS. A blue LED then starts flashing when its ready to learn commands.
Macros can be set up, so to watch a sports programme, the Beacon might turn on the television, choose the correct cable channel and set the hi-fi to a preferred volume, all with a single button press.
The problem with multi-function remotes is that they can be a pain to set up, due to the large number of electronic devices they potentially may have to control. With perseverance, most devices will work, but it might take a lot of fiddling around to find the correct setting in order for the remote control to communicate with the device.
We found the Beacon to suffer from this problem too. Our test living-room environment comprised a Philips television, Sony Blu-ray player, Virgin Media TV box and Cambridge Audio amplifier. Once the Beacon’s IR receiver is switched on and the app downloaded to your phone, it runs through a wizard in order to set up each device. However, we couldn’t get a single device to work after running through the wizard.
It was only when randomly choosing from a massive preset of possible IR codes for Phillips TVs that the Griffin was able to control the TV. Likewise the Virgin Media box and amplifier required us to point the original remote at the Beacon to learn its commands, and that took many attempts to get right.
Once the Beacon was programmed with our device codes, it initially felt odd controlling our devices on a touch-sensitive display. A remote control usually supplies some satisfying tactile feedback from pushing down on physical buttons.
The buttons on the Dijit app roughly resemble those on a physical remote control, but the habits of a lifetime die hard. Without looking at the screen directly, your finger easily misses the correct control for volume, or changing the channel, until you get used to it.
The Beacon supports gesture controls to alleviate this. Two or three fingers swiped across the screen can be set to control any aspect of the active device, although again this can be fiddly until you get used to it.
As with multi-function remote controls, you can set up macros, called Activities in the Dijit smarphone app. After selecting the devices you wish to use, you program each function in the order you would press them on physical remote controls, and this worked well.