Hands-on with Philips's iPhone TV remote control app
I must admit to yelling at my TV last night – not a common occurrence, you understand (computers are another matter). The cause of my frustration was not the telly itself – a Philips 42PFL9664 – but rather the new free remote TV app I'd just downloaded to my iPhone (it's also designed to work with an iPad and iPod Touch). It works via your home wi-fi network.
Now I'm a great fan of apps, and I love my iPhone. But the process of getting my mobile to work with the app and control my TV proved to be a tad more frustrating than I'd expected.
Finding the app in the App Store was the easy bit, and downloading it was simple. But when I fired it up, all I got was a blank grey screen on my iPhone showing the message: "Make sure your television is supported and enabled to support the Philips TV remote."
Philips 42PFL9664 LCD TV, as used for the test
Well, according to the press release I'd been sent by Philips, the app is compatible with all Philips NetTV sets, including the 9000 series from 2009 (of which mine is one). So it should work fine. But it didn't. Eventually I spotted a tiny little 'i' in the top right-hand corner of the iPhone's screen, so tapped that.
Aha. Up came a 'How to connect' guide with a URL linking to a website listing compatible models. OK, got out the laptop and then discovered that my TV needed a firmware upgrade via USB to work with the app. So found a suitable USB key, headed on over to the JointSpace website (they're the developers) and downloaded V26.078 of the firmware. Here's the download link if you need it.
Then back to the telly with USB stick in hand, inserted it into the side of the TV and the firmware update automatically installed itself. Getting there. Or so I thought.
Once I'd restarted the TV, I went back to the remote app on my iPhone and up came the same blank grey screen with Apple's spinning rainbow wheel. So I waited. And waited. Mmm, back to the 'How to connect guide', part two. "To enable the Philips TV remote application to operate your television, you need to enable this functionality on your television." Hadn't I just done that?
Apparently not. Next, I had to type in the code 5646877223 using the standard remote control while the TV was on. After my second attempt, the words "JointSpace enabled" popped up on the TV screen. So I restarted the iPhone app.
Philips iPhone remote's Basic screen menu
Eventually, after a couple of minutes (I had time to make myself another cup of tea) the app found my TV and a string of numbers appeared on the screen. Tapped these and lo! the menu screen finally appeared. You get a choice of four menus: Basic controls with power on/off, programme up/down, volume up/down (see above); Menu, which gives you access to the TV's electronic programme guide, homepage, picture and sound settings (below); Play, which includes stop, fast forward, rewind, pause and a button to access NetTV; and a keyboard for using the iPhone's touch-sensitive keys to type in messages, URLs etc.
The Menu screen with touchpad controller
The basic controls work exactly as you'd expect, although there is a slight delay between you entering a command and the TV reacting. A central tracker pad allows you to scroll up/down, left/right on the EPG then a single tap selects the programme you want.
Playing/pausing videos on, say, YouTube is straightforward enough, but sometimes if the iPhone goes into sleep mode you have to quit and restart the app before it will respond again.
A special Picture mode allows you to zap photos from your iPhone's camera roll directly to the TV screen, which is handy, although Apple AirPlay offers the same functionality.
However, one of the supposed advantages of using the iPhone/iPad – its virtual keyboard – is less of an advantage than you might think. Trying to log into my Twitter account via NetTV, every time I entered my log-in name then selected the password box and started typing, it would jump back to the first log-in box and simply add my password to the end of my name.
In the end I gave up and resorted to using the standard TV remote. Which kinda defeats the whole point of the exercise. After all the faff of getting the iPhone app to work, I couldn't help wondering if I was better off with the original remote control all along.