I’ve had the new Philips Pronto Professional TSU9600 for a little over a week now so I thought it was time for some initial impressions.
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The charging base is set on a clear acrylic slab and it is lit with a white LED which looks quite nice. A red LED also glows when the unit is on the cradle and accepting charge. The manual recommends keeping the unit on it’s base station at all times when it’s not in use, in reality I’ve had no issues at all with battery life despite heavy use while setting it up.
The 9600 ships with support for the Escient Fireball Media Servers and Lutron RadioRa lighting and curtain controls. Hopefully Philips will add to the range of professional equipment supported out of the box in the future. Imagine the possibilities if they would release protocol information so users could create their own plugins to control the huge range of lighting and smart home products with the units built in wifi capabilities.
The Software The unit ships with a pre-configured file for either a single room or multi-room setup. Using this standard file is a good starting point for creating your own. Creating your own Pronto configuration is a bit like recording a piece of music or editing a video; you never really finish it, you just get to a point where you are happy enough to release it, even though you know you could go on adding stuff and tweaking it pretty much for ever. After spending around 12 hours on my setup I now have a system that can be used by all the family, including the six year old. With half a dozen devices, graphics logos of TV channels and plenty of macros there’s still 90% of the Pronto’s 256 meg of RAM free.
At the heart of the system is the “Factory Database” with over 3,000 brands of equipment. The database still needs some work categorising devices as quite a lot are still listed under generic code table names rather than model numbers. However, I found every single device I needed in this database, including those for an eight year old Seleco CRT projector meaning I didn’t have to learn a single code for my setup! You copy codes from this factory DB into “My Database” which then makes them accessible for programming.
Philips are making a lot of the “Designed by installers” aspect of the new remote and like the Harmony range, this has led to the activity based method of control rather than just device control. In other words you launch activities like “Watch Live TV” or “Listen to Music”. This makes great sense and is exactly the way we used our old Pronto RU890 (just forced into retirement by the arrival of the TSU9600 after almost 7 years sterling service).
The new Pronto Edit Professional software is the first I have used where you cannot download the configuration file from the remote back into the PC. This is supposedly to protect installers from having their work copied. An installer can also do a “pack and go” to turn the configuration file (new .XCF extension) into an .exe so they can be emailed to a customer. This way the end user just runs the file to update their Pronto, without ever having to see the Pronto Edit Professional software. What ever way you look at it you there’s a lot of potential for heartache if you don’t keep a backup copy of your .XCF file in a safe place.
The new software uses .png files for its graphics which are high quality and support transparency. Philips have just released a New gallery which includes more TV station icons for the US, UK and Europe. Several special navigation commands are in PEP, one of the really useful ones is “Browse Back” which allows the remote to jump back to the panel you came in from. This simplifies a lot navigation issues that used to occur in older models. Another new feature is support for wave files (.wav, 44 kHz, 16 bit, mono). You can now play a sound effect of your choice on a key-press or in a macro etc.
PEP is a Windows only package (no Mac or Linux support) and currently it won’t run under Windows Vista, but with the Vista launch only days away now surely it can’t be long until a new version is released that will fix that.
Extenders The real power of the TS9600 comes with the addition of its two extender products.
The RFX9400 Wireless Extender provides 4 individually addressable IR ports and up to 16 of these extenders can be incorporated in a single network. The remote can communicate directly to the wireless extender or via a WiFi access point/router. The Prontos wifi is of the 802.11g flavour and includes support for 64 and 128 bit WEP, but not WPA. You can give the unit a fixed IP and it also supports DHCP. There is no browser or any other Internet use of the unit currently (unlike the old iPronto). This seems like a wasted opportunity, especially as I could control my Sonos system with the Pronto using one of the home brew web interfaces that are around now. But with the remote running a flavour of the Linux OS there’s a chance that someone will be able to hack the unit if Philips don’t decide to add a browser themselves in the future.
The RFX9600 Advanced Serial Extender is a hardwired extender that plugs into your wired LAN and fits into a 19″ rack. It includes wired discrete control (RS232) ports. Currently these are one-way serial ports but it appears the hardware is two-way capable and hopefully Philips will enable this in a future firmware upgrade. The RFX9600 also includes power sensing and relay switching (4 relay outputs) for curtain and projector screen control for example. Also included are 4 individually addressable IR ports which is a god send for anyone wanting to run multiple Sky boxes for example.
The Video Here’s a little YouTube video of the remote in action. Most of the delay with the “System On” macro comes from my LG LCD TV being slow to start. You can make out the animation on the screen during the power off macro at the end which is made up of several different screen which you put into your macro at various point to get the effect of the progress bar moving.
Conclusion £800 buys you a lot of kit these days, maybe a nice 37″ LCD television for example. But then again £800 doesn’t buy you much in the way of a colour touchscreen controller from any of the big name home automation companies, and that’s where Philips scores with the TSU9600. It’s a quality device that, with an extender, can become the center of an entire smart home system. It didn’t just take the Innovation Award for nothing at the 2007 Consumer Electronics Show.
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+ Superb VGA TouchScreen
+ Huge Database of IR codes
+ Wired and Wireless Extenders
+ Over 20 Hard Buttons
+ Return command – to jump back to previous panel
+ Ships with high quality configuration file
+ Support for custom sound files
+ Includes Dock/Charger
+ USB Connection (not serial)
– Play, Stop, Pause hard buttons too small
– Doesn’t have a browser
– Stylus doesn’t lock in properly
– Doesn’t work in Vista currently