Blumoo turns your smart device into a universal remote control and music streamer
By Jim Bray
Does a pile of remote controls on your coffee table make you pine for a smart solution, a kind of Lord of the Rings-type "one remote to rule them all and in the home theatre bind them" idea?
If so, you might be interested in a new hardware/software solution from Blumoo. It's a pretty well universal remote and music streamer that hooks into your electronics and controls them from your smart phone or tablet via an app and Bluetooth connection.
Created by the folks at Kansas City's Flyover Innovations (a neat reference, I daresay, to the company's location away from the left coasts), Blumoo gives its owners control over virtually all the audio and visual equipment in their home - or just in whatever single room might house your electronics. Its patented technology blends Bluetooth 4.0 with infrared (most components' remotes use infrared) to let you fire up and use the stuff (and "fire it down" again when you're finished, of course) using the single app - either iOS or Android. I used it with my iPad Air and the only thing I didn't like is that it's locked into portrait orientation and I prefer landscape.
That disorientation factor is hardly a deal breaker, nor is it unique to the Blumoo. The company told me it's because the app is presently designed for the iPhone's orientation, and an iPad version is on the drawing board.
Blumoo is claimed to come with codes for more than 250,000 TV's, Blu-ray players, cable boxes, sound bars, etc. It takes the Bluetooth signals it receives from your smart device/universal remote, converts them to the IR signals your toys need, and fires them off to them. And it works very well.
Not only that, but the system is also designed to help you find your favourite TV shows, thanks to a built in program guide that also has filtering capabilities that let you find particular shows easily once you've told Blumoo where you live and who your TV provider is. And all you have to do if you want to watch something is click on the show you want, at which time the Blumoo will turn on the television and tune to that channel.
Most set top boxes I've seen have such guides built in already, though not necessarily the filtering and "one touch watching" offered by the Blumoo - and of course you have to turn on the TV first in those cases, whereas with the Blumoo you can choose first, and then watch. It may not seem like a big deal, but it could be an especially handy feature for those with front projection systems because it could save a bit of bulb life by letting you choose your show before you have to fire up the projector. Probably not a big deal, but it's there if you want it.
The built in Bluetooth receiver can even let you stream music to your equipment, which could be a great feature for folks whose system don't have Bluetooth built in already. Mine does, so that feature's a tad redundant for me, but I imagine there's a large audience for such a feature anyway, including a lot of people whose audio equipment is old enough that it predates Bluetooth - yep, the Blumoo can drag an older stereo kicking and streaming into the digital age. That's a nice bit of anti-obsolescence.
You can add this streaming capability by hooking the Blumoo unit's audio outputs (and it comes with the correct cable) into an available input on your audio receiver (or whatever you're using). I hooked it into an open set of stereo analogue inputs on my Rotel preamp/processor and it worked just like any other component, such as a CD player, does.
The company says it can stream from up to 150 feet away, saying that's five times farther than a typical Bluetooth streaming device. My home, indeed my property (let alone my walking range…), isn't large enough for me to test that, but the signals worked fine throughout my typical suburban four level split.
Blumoo also comes with Tune-in radio, podcast, YouTube and Apple music support built in so if you don't have those apps already the Blumoo can be a nice way to stream that stuff to your system.
It came in handy in my setup because, while the Blumoo did control every other aspect of my pre/pro that I needed, it didn't interact with its built in Bluetooth capability. A company spokesman said they're working on that; he said they're adding new functionality capabilities as they go, so I expect it won't be long before that's added.
The Blumoo interface is a tad clunky, but only because they've tried to make it as bozo proof as possible (I could even use it!). This means there are helpful hint-type prompts when you make a change - which is probably better than just letting you go hog wild. They prompts are quick and easy to get through, but I'd like to see a feature whereby you could shut it off once you're up to speed. Perhaps this is in the works, too - or maybe I just plain missed it.
Anyway, the level of customization offered is excellent. Blumoo had the codes built in for the Rotel pre/pro and Oppo BDP-103D I use, but only the very basic ones are on the default screen and, as Murphy's Law would dictate, there were some features I wanted that weren't offered in the initial setup. That sent me poring through the menus, which let you add, remove, rename, and move buttons, rocker switches and the like. You can also program macros, and edit buttons' functions quickly and easily.
So I added the stuff I wanted, dumped the stuff I didn't and rejigged the layout to make it more compatible with my idiot-syncracies. And it all worked well. The Blumoo also operated my satellite TV receiver and Epson front projector. I had to reassign the remote address for the satellite receiver, which took about five minutes tops once I dug out the owner's manual, but once I did that it worked fine.
In the end, the only capability I didn't find in the Blumoo software is a "power off" button for my front projector which, like the Rotel pre/pro, has separate on and off buttons for the installation market. Ah, but I discovered later that it was my fault! I had told the Blumoo I have an Epson TV, ignoring the "projector" option farther down the list of choices. When I added the Epson projector the main screen still didn't have the power off button, but it was in the database and I added it without issue.
When I queried the Blumoo folks about some functions I thought should be included in the default screen setups, because of course the world really does revolve around me and the way I use things, I received this response: "We take the approach of giving a basic remote layout based on the most commonly used buttons for a device type - so every Blu-ray player starts out with the same basic layout and then users can customize from there."
They do it this way because most people only use a few of the buttons on their remotes and, since including the "proper" layout for all devices isn't really an option (there are just too many of them!) their choice was to either put on every button that exists for a particular product (which could create a somewhat confusing mess) or make it easily customizable by the user. So they chose the latter, and it makes perfect sense; the system is so easy and flexible and there are so many other functions and stuff available in the database that a chimpanzee could do it. And I did!
And while I found a couple of minor oversights in the database, Blumoo is "always improving and adding to the ways customers can customize their remotes to maximize the functionality without cluttering up the interface," their spokesman said in a series of emails we exchanged.
The system updates itself automatically to include the latest databases, updates and feature enhancements - it was updating itself the last time I looked, in fact - and it's done without any associated fees so once you've shelled out your after tax income you're off to the races for as long as the company is around, supposedly.
If you want to use Blumoo in more than one room you can, using the same app - you just tell it which system you're using. The only catch is that you need a Homebase receiver/control unit for each room you want to use, and that'll set you back an extra $179.99 CAD for each room unless you want to unhook and hook the single Blumoo all the time, which would be silly (though not particularly difficult).
The only real issue when using the Blumoo app is that, if you want to change the component you're controlling (for example, adjust the volume on your receiver while you're playing a Blu-ray), you need to switch from virtual remote to virtual remote - i.e. you have to tell the app you want to control the receiver instead of the player. This is hardly a big deal - it's basically the virtual version of putting down one remote and picking up another - but if you forget you might find yourself adjusting something you didn't mean to.
This isn't just a Blumoo thing; most universal remote systems I've used are like this. It's just a matter of keeping your wits about you.
The company says there are new technological features in the works as well, including some voice-activated aspects that should prove interesting.
The Blumoo app is a free download but you'll need the Homebase for it to work. In the U.S. it's available at Best Buy, Sam's Club, Amazon.com and, not surprisingly, at www.blumoo.com.
Blumoo is available in Canada at Staples and The Source, as well as at the Blumoo website.
Copyright 2016 Jim Bray
Jim Bray's columns are available through the TechnoFile Syndicate.
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