Stern takes on the Universal Remote

Joanna Stern recently published a piece in her personal technology column over at the Wall Street Journal that details her frustration with television remote controls in the age of increasingly complex set-top-box and audio set-ups. 

In typical awesome sauce Stern fashion, she surveys the best available products on the market and gives the user a recommendation- if one's warranted. 

Her conclusions however, throw me off. While the Ray Super Remote is impressive, it lacks something essential to a great experience-- tactile buttons for all of the major functions. The problem with the thing is that except for strange volume buttons the device is all screen, meaning that one has to look at IT rather than the content, when one wants to change an aspect of the viewing experience. God forbid that experience is taking part in a dark room, and suddenly you've got white LEDs shooting light at your face, violently throwing you out of your cinematic experience, along with anyone who may be sitting beside you. That's a problem. With any such device, one's fingers should be able to do the talking without their eyes having to get involved.

More problematic is the Ray Super Remote's $250 price. And old iPhone 5 or 5S does nearly everything the Ray Super Remote does and you've already paid it off and can easily power it since you've likely got chords lying around. If Ray made a Lightning-based IR dongle that would make more sense; which is why the Peel route seems the most proper for the touch-screen approach.

Still, you're forced to deal with a screen, which is less than ideal.

I'll extend that criticism to one of my fav devices, Google's Chromecast. As Stern rightly points out, the idea that I've got to unlock my device to get it to the remote function is a pain.

It may be that right now, Apple has the right of it with the Apple TV 4's remote. The touch -based navigation surface, tied to buttons is impressive. Voice is likewise impressive but frankly, talking is the last thing I want to do when I'm enjoying something in front of me. I also have to admit that I suffer from feeling a little silly talking to a computer in front of anyone but my cats.

Unlike most consumer technologies, there may not be a "winner take all" product in this category yet. Preference is everything here, so screens have their proponents. Some of those proponents aren't even watchers-- rather they're marketers hoping that the second screen, be it phone, tablet or remote, can be a place to grab eyeballs for advertisements in an age of increasingly ad-free digital streaming.

At the end of the day, this space is suffering from the frustration that many consumers are feeling in the connected home. These devices need a shared protocol not unlike ZigBee or zWave with which to communicate with one another. Are the speakers on or off? Set to the right input? Output? One thing is clear. The next generation of home theatre peripherals should incorporate that sort of communication functionality in order to make life much easier for the consumer. It would also represent a paradigm shift that would engender sales.

The Empire Strikes Back - Comcast Edition

Dante D'Orazio, writing for The Verge: 

 "If data caps don't improve network reliability or performance, why does Comcast now see the need to charge customers more for the same data they've been using for years? Since there's such scarce competition in the US cable industry, the answer is likely quite simple: because Comcast can."

So...having lost its bid for a two-tiered Internet, Comcast institutes data threshold in order to wring yet more revenue out of its customers...because it's the only game in town. It's time for the DOJ, the FCC and the FTC to look into what it's going to take to open up competition in the wired ISP space.