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April 11, 2006

Philips RC9800i Touch Screen Remote Review

While the invention of the Television in the 1920s is considered to be one of the greatest moments in history, the TV really came into it's own with the invention of the wireless TV remote. It's fascinating to realize that the wireless remote is more than 50 years old. According to Zenith:

Zenith engineer Eugene Polley invented the "Flashmatic," which represented the industry's first wireless TV remote. Introduced in 1955, Flashmatic operated by means of four photo cells, one in each corner of the TV screen. The viewer used a highly directional flashlight to activate the four control functions, which turned the picture and sound on and off and changed channels by turning the tuner dial clockwise and counter-clockwise.

Wow-- If it wasn't for the "Flashmatic", the TV may have just been a fad! Anyway, aside from innovations like "universal" remotes, the remote control has pretty much stayed the same. I mean, what more can a remote do, right?

Well, that's where the Philips RC9800i comes into the picture. With all of it's features, it's kind of hard to call the RC9800i a remote. Before we get started on the review, lets talk about the basic specs:

  • Device Type: Universal Remote Control
  • Supported Devices: Audio/video components
  • Remote Display: LCD display - 3.5" TFT active matrix - 320x240 pixels
  • Memory: 32MB (RAM) / 32MB (flash)
  • Input Devices: Touch screen
  • Remote Technology: Infrared/radio
  • Wireless: 802.11b/g
  • Audio: Built-in Speaker
  • Battery Type: Lithium ion polymer (rechargeable)
  • Connection: USB
  • Codes Database: Over 600 remote codes built-in
  • Software: Phillips Media Manager for PC
  • Features: Built-in TV Listings with Electronic Program Guide (EPG)
  • Dimension 0.9 in x 5.9 in x 4 in (HxWxD)

As you can see, the basic features of the RC9800i blow away that $10 Walmart remote that you bought for your $5000 Plasma TV. But do you really need all of this? Well, let's talk about the features individually.

Hardware and Screen
When it comes to the hardware, the RC9800i is a real beauty. The remote is between the size of a large PDA and a small paperback book. What adds to the size of the RC9800i is the inclusion of a 320x240 LCD touch screen. While the RC9800i has some built-in buttons, the bulk of the remote functions are controlled through the touch screen. The screen is bright and colorful. Except for a few exceptions, the remote is pretty finger-friendly. I was able to use my fingers on the touch screen without any problems. Overall, Phillips did a good job of making the buttons large enough to eliminate the need for a stylus. The only thing I had trouble with was that the scroll bar need to be a little larger for my fat fingers. The RC9800i is rechargeable and comes with a charging cradle. This is a really good looking remote. If you're the type of person that buys a thing just based on looks, you'll be impressed with how well the RC9800i looks and fits with your current entertainment system. But hey, this baby isn't just about the looks!

Wireless / TV Listings
One of the newest features in a lot of remotes is a USB connection that lets you remote-communicate with your PC so that you can update remote codes, firmware, etc. What really sets the RC9800i apart from other remotes is that it uses 802.11b/g wireless to connect to the internet. Since the remote has over 600 codes built in, the main use of the wireless is so you can update the built-in TV listings which we'll talk about in a second.

If you don't have a wireless network, there is a USB cable to connect to your PC if you need to. If you do have a wireless network, you'll find connecting to your network pretty easy. You just follow the setup wizard and you'll be connected in just moments. My only complaint about the network settings is that you can't set the RC9800i in ad hoc mode (ad hoc allows the device to network directly with another device instead of a router). But since most people don't have a Frankensteined network like mine, I can't count the lack of ad hoc against Phillips. It would just be a nice option to see in a firmware update.

Once I had the wireless up and running, I had to go to Phillip's website on my PC and set up my Electronic Program Guide (EPG) subscription. The registration was quick and easy. My only concern was that the documentation says you get 1 year of free program guide service. Since there's no other details about renewing the service, I hope that's a misprint, since I really believe that the service should be free as long as you own the remote. Anyway, once I registered, I inputted the activation code onto the remote and let the EPG download. You can set the the remote to automatically download updates to the EPG every few days, which I did.

I have to say that the EPG is one of my favorite parts of the remote. While the guide isn't real fancy, it allows you to scroll channels and then click on the show to change the channel. If you've got cable or satellite you probably already have an onscreen guide, but the EPG is still pretty spiffy.

Codeset and Functions
The RC9800i has one of the largest codesets I've ever seen on a remote. I was even able to find codes for my crappy little office TV which I've never been able to get a remote to work on. Setting up devices is a little bit of a chore but that was expected. Basically you have to set up a room and then you add the devices to the room. With the wizard, it isn't hard to do, just a little time consuming.

Here's what I really like about the codesets. Just like any high quality remote, the RC9800i has a "learning" function which allows you to retrieve codes from your current remote. What's really neat about the RC9800i is the fact that If you can't find your exact device in the codeset, you can select the device that is the closet one to it. Then any buttons that don't work can be programmed with the "learning" function. That's different from many remotes that make you use a codeset or the the "learning" function but won't let you use both at the same time.

Probably the most unique feature of the RC9800i is the "activities" feature. Once you get all of your devices set up in a room, you assign "activities" to it. Basically the RC9800i will control the devices without you continually switching devices on the remote. The best way to look at "activities" is to think of them as "macros". What that means is that I can set the remote to specific devices for certain tasks. So instead of switching devices all of the time, when performing "activities", the Philips RC9800i uses the device you specified for that activity. As you can see from the following images, the setup for 'activities" is pretty straightforward and self-explanatory.

Overall, it took about an hour to set up the remote. With the "wizard" it was pretty easy to do, it just takes a little time and you may want to sit down with the manual before you start. If you're the type that totally skips user manuals (yeah, I'm one of them too), you'll probably miss out of some of the best features of the RC9800i. So take my advice, grab a cup of coffee and at least skim the manual first (and yes it's a real manual, not a CD you have to read on your computer).

Media Manager
Besides being a remote control, the RC9800i is also a portable media device. You start by installing the Philips Media Manager on your PC:

Once Media Manager is installed, you can view images, movies, and music that's stored on your PC via your wireless network. While I found streaming pictures and movies was pretty cool, I really fell in love with with the streaming music features. On the back of the RC9800i cradle is an audio out connection that allows you to hook up headphones or a speaker system. That way you can pretty much listen to your MP3s anywhere in the house through your remote. It just doesn't get any cooler than that. The remote also has a built-in speaker that you can use without the cradle and external speakers but the sound quality was pretty sub-par, so you'll want to use speakers.

Using the Remote
While I like the power of the RC9800i, it took a little while to get use to it. While there are a few hard buttons that control the basic functions (channel up and down, control volume, etc.), most functions are done via the touch screen. While the RC9800i offers more features than a typical remote, sometimes it takes a little extra work to navigate the different command screens on the RC9800i. The one thing I have to stress with the RC9800i is you've got to have some patience to program and learn how to use the remote.

One thing that needs improving is the hard button setup. The first thing I'd like to see is at least a couple of user defined buttons. Basically, the buttons you have are very basic. Probably the hardest thing to get use to with the RC9800i is that it's pretty much a two handed remote. So while you're used to using your current remote without thinking or looking at it, you'll actually have to pay attention to what you're doing when using the remote. But, once you get accustomed to the RC9800i, you'll find that with features like "activities", you spend a lot less time switching devices like you do on your current universal remote. Another great thing about the RC9800i is that it will control just about anything that uses a remote. I'm even able to control the radio tuner on my entertainment center with the RC900i, which was never possible with any of my other remotes.

So what's my opinion of the RC9800i? Overall, I'm pretty impressed. While I think that the RC9800i has room to improve, I think this is definitely a remote that's on the right track. At $600MSRP (as low as $350 online) the RC9800i isn't a cheapie. The thing to remember is that the RC9800i is much more than a basic remote. With it's built-in TV Guide, 802.11b/g wireless, and streaming media capabilities, the RC9800i is several devices in one.

The other thing is that the RC9800i's good looks and features make it a great fit into any high-end entertainment system. One thing I noticed was that my friends were more interested in my remote than my TV. And as I stated before, while the remote isn't perfect, with the upgradeable firmware the RC9800i will always be improving.

So no, this remote won't be for everyone. But if you're looking for a device that can control the even the most complicated entertainment setups and looks really good with your current system, then you'll want to look at the Philips RC9800i.


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Posted by William Hungerford at April 11, 2006 6:15 PM

Recent Comments

Thanks for the review. Really helpfull.

Posted by: Paul Marie at May 4, 2007 3:35 PM
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