Reviews: Other

UltraMote Extender

     "UltraMote software combines the functions of audio and video device remote controls into a single program.  UltraMote Extender increases the power of the iPAQ?s infrared capability to increase the range between users and the devices being controlled. With UltraMote Extender and the new UltraMote software, Pocket PC users are home theater-ready and get the range and functionality of many dedicated remotes."
     Just after getting my first PDA, the Philips Nino, there was talk about using the Nino as a remote to control your TV.  I tried the software because I figured when I had my PDA with me, why not use it as a remote.  Never got it to work.  At that time there was still processor incompatibility not to mention the software was a non-English program I was trying to use on an English based device.  With my iPAQ, I have a tried various other universal remote emulator pieces of software, though I have always found them to not work very well.  Part of this is not the developers fault, but hardware limitations.  That is where the UltraMote Extender comes into play.

     The UltraMote Extender gives you the ability to add a universal remote style infrared (IrDA) port to your iPAQ.  The compact flash type II card produces a wider and more powerful infrared beam then the normal iPAQ infrared port.  The specification say the bean is actually twice as wide and transmits up to 50 feet (in optimal conditions).  Like your normal universal remote, you don't have to really point your iPAQ directly at the destination.  The wide beam is built to give added easy to your entertainment equipment controlling experience.
    Instead of jumping right in with the UltraMote Extender, I wanted to take a look at simply the UltraMote software itself using the standard infrared port on a Compaq iPAQ 3640.  Though the software actually worked after some programming from my TV's remote (which I will talk more about later), the range was of course limited.  I could only go about five feet from my TV before I was out of range.  The infrared ports also had to be aligned unlike a normal remote which has a much wider infrared beam.  Though this solution works decently from the couch in my dorm room, it does not work as well (actually at all) from my couch at home (15-20ft from the TV). 
    Enter the UltraMote Extender compact flash card.  Though I probably shouldn't start out with a problem, I am.  Normally I just use a PCMCIA sleeve for everything since that is what came with my device.  I did find there to be problems with using the UltraMote with my SanDisk adapter in my PCMCIA card sleeve.  But, when you put it into the compact flash card sleeve it works like a charm.  The infrared senders on the card stick up just above the top of the device.  They seem to be securely attached, though I am sure that they could break off it they got knocked against something hard enough.  If you already have UltraMote on your device (version 1.2.1 or higher), all you have to do is simply switch from the internal infrared to the external infrared in the options section of UltraMote.  If you don't have UltraMote, installation literally takes four clicks and it is synced next time with your device.
   The first test I did was with the UltraMote Extender and the RCA TV in my room.  I was a little concerned there weren't at least a few pre-made commands for some of the major brand TV's since this is suppose to be a Universal Remote, but as long as you have a remote that works with your TV, programming UltraMote is a snap. 
Making UltraMote learn the commands from a remote is easy, but just make sure you have the sound turned up so you can hear its little beep codes.  Really it doesn't take long to teach your new remote how to run with your equipment, and I didn't have any problems doing it.  Of course "Power On" was the first thing to try, and volia, it worked.  Unlike with just the internal infrared port of my iPAQ, I now had the ability to not be directly in front of the TV to control it with my iPAQ, and it wasn't as temperamental with me pointing right at the TV.
   My second test I actually didn't think would work.  Though the product I wanted to test the UltraMote extender with is still basically a normal infrared remote, the receiver plugs into my computer to control my Pinnacle Systems PCTV Pro card.  Once again, after teaching UltraMote the commands for the PCTV remote, it was working.  With this setup, I decided to try to see how far I could get away from my computer and have the UltraMote Extender still function.  Normally the remote can only go 15ft (limited range I know) and the UltraMote took it the same distance as the normal remote.  Without the UltraMote Extender enabled, the iPAQ's infrared could only control the PCTV card from within less then five feet.  It is very good to see that this product will work with various products and not just normal home entertainment equipment.  
   Finally I took  look at the macro function in the software.  It took me a little while to notice that the delay functions became enabled when you are creating a macro.  Once I found these and that I could use them to have UltraMode pause in between commands, then things went better.  I found this function very good for "reprogramming" my power button to not only turn on the TV, but turn off the guide function on the TV.  I was also able to make it go as far as to change to the display settings to make sure the template for my settings was selected when I turned on the TV.   You can use the macro tool to produce a channel scanner, though there is no way to stop the macro once it is started since your device basically locks (you don't even turn it off).
    The CardonWare UltraMote Extender with the UltraMote software retails for $40.  This is a fair price since you get both a compact flash infrared adapter (normally $30) and the UltraMote software which alone normally retails for $20.  Unlike some of its competitors, UltraMote allows you to customize your remote through the use of skins.  Even before testing this product I found that there are quite a few skins out there for UltraMote to aid in setting up UltraMote to work with most equipment.  The UltraMote software is downloadable from the UltraMote website, and will let you use it free for 14-days, so take a look at it.  When you take a look at their software, remember that the UltraMote Extender will turn your iPAQ into a Universal Remote and allow you to use your iPAQ as a remote just like you do now with your normal remote control. 

Dave's Score - 8.0
This means, not exactly the "must have item of the year," but is cool and well developed.  Though this product is overall a good deal, it is more suited for someone with specific needs.

Update: The UltraMote software now supports not only the iPAQ but also the HP Jornada 560 series.

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