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RCA RCU-800 Remote

RCA RCU-800 "Systemlink 8 A-V" Universal Remote

Inexpensive, reasonably flexible, but not the best

by Jim Bray

RCA is an industry leader because it knows perhaps better than any other company how to make a product that's suitable to the "ordinary consumer." This skill extends from the top to the bottom of its line, and I've often applauded the company's track record in this area.

One place in which RCA has been traditionally a leader is in making remote controls that are easy to figure out. This is an often overlooked but vitally important area, since it's the remote control that the consumer is going to use most often when operating a particular piece of equipment.

As with most things, however, the more you spend the better you get, which explains why I'm a bit disappointed in the performance of the RCU-800 Systemlink 8 A-V universal remote.

After all, the thing sells for about twenty American bucks, so it's entry level at best. And it really does control a lot of different components. But it doesn't offer consumer-friendly features like the backlighting of buttons that makes using the remote so much easier in a darkened home theater.

On the upside, the remote is comfortable in the hand and laid out quite logically. Programming it is as easy a pressing a couple of buttons and entering a code (or two or three, depending upon what you're trying to program).

The RCU-800 will control two VCR's, a TV, DVD player, DSS satellite system, an audio system, cable box, and one other component ("AUX"). It comes with built in codes for RCA, not surprisingly, and there's a card in the package that contains the codes for the other brands it'll handle. Whether or not your brand is there is up in the air; there are plenty of TV and VCR models supported, but not nearly as many of the rest.

If your code isn't there, you can supposedly train the remote anyway, with a "code search" feature. The procedure's straightforward enough, but the cloud around this silver lining is that you may have to press the "on/off" button up to 200 times before the component you're trying to control either begins working or you discover that it isn't going to work. I went through this process several times, trying to get the thing to run my (admittedly old) Pioneer receiver and laserdisc player.

Oh well.

The buttons are laid out in groups, with the power and component buttons at the top, with channel/preset and volume controls below, followed by cursor control keys, a numeric keypad, and the tape/disc play control buttons. A final row across the bottom controls PIP, input, and sleep timer buttons, doubling up the features with speaker selection.

In the grand scheme of things, this isn't really a great universal remote. However, it's also about two hundred-some dollars cheaper than the really great ones, so it shouldn't be surprising that it has its shortcomings.

For RCA's customers, however, most of whom I suspect have mainstream audio and video components and desire little else (and there's nothing wrong with that, despite how some audio/videophiles may look down their noses at you!), the RCU-800 could provide a nice "all in one" solution to that pile of remotes on the coffee table. It can also be used as a second remote control for the spouse (or 'significant other") so he/she doesn't have to get up and search the coffee table for the main remote.

Imagine the remote control wars you can have that way - two people armed with their own remotes, tuning to different programs at the same time!

I can see it on "Divorce Court" now!

 

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Updated May 13, 2006