Hands-on with the ThinkFlood RedEye: turning the iPhone into a universal remote control
It's been niggling me ever since I got the iPhone a few weeks back: how could I turn it into a remote control for the home AV system?
OK, so I already have the excellent Logitech Harmony 885, which gives me one button fire-up of everything needed to watch the TV, play Blu-rays and so on, and I'm waiting for the release of the Naim app to drive the NaimUniti, which I'm told is on the way.
But surely there must be some way of allowing the iPhone, or indeed an iPod Touch, to become a whole-system remote control? After all, the TV commercials show the phone doing everything from ordering taxis to turning the house lights off when you're waiting for that flight...
A spot of idle Googlage the other day turned up relatively young company ThinkFlood, and the story of its RedEye remote control system, dreamed up in the back room of an Indian restaurant in Framingham, Massachusetts – a town perhaps best-known as the location of Bose HQ.
The RedEye is a fiendishly simple idea: it combines a free app for the iPhone and iPod Touch with a mains-powered unit acting both as a charging dock for the Apple device and an infrared sender.
The two communicate over the home wi-fi network, and with the 'base station' parked somewhere in the room where your hi-fi and home cinema components can 'see' it, commands from the iPhone/Touch are transmitted to the system.
What's more, it's scalable: you can put a RedEye device in each room where you have equipment, and control them all with a single iPhone or iPod Touch, and, because the settings are saved on the RedEye itself, you can even control it with multiple iPhones or iPod Touches.
Oh, and the system has a universal power supply, so all you need is an adapter plug to convert the US two-pin plug to a UK three pin, costs $188, with discounts if you buy multiple RedEyes, and the company adds in the duty and VAT upfront, as well as offering free shipping by UPS. Total cost? $220.90, or around £152, plus a few pounds for a mains adapter plug.
It had my full attention by now, so an email was fired off to ThinkFlood requesting a review sample. That was last Monday, and amazingly I got an almost instant answer; by Friday a box arrived on my desk containing a review sample.
Got round to having a play yesterday morning, and this thing really is both very clever and very simple. Grabbed the app off the App Store, plugged in the RedEye unit, and started set-up.
With the iPhone in flight mode but with wi-fi on, you search for RedEye on the list of networks, and connect. That done, you open up the app, enter your network password a couple of times, save the settings, and you're done.
You can then close down the app, turn off 'Airplane mode', and reconnect your iPhone to your home wi-fi network.
Of course things are even simpler with an iPod Touch, as you don't have the flight mode thing to consider – you only have to do it with the iPhone to get round a bug in iPhone OS 3.0, which can cause the phone to drop the ad hoc connection used temporarily to link it to the RedEye base station, and default to trying to connect using its phone functionality.
Once the brief set-up has been done, however, you can use the iPhone as a phone again without any problems.
Once set-up so far, you simply add devices to your chosen room, or zone. The RedEye software has a huge library of drop-down selections for brand and model, and is also able to learn commands from existing infrared handsets.
You just go into an 'Add a Command' page, choose 'Capture Control Signal', point the device remote at the base station and hit the appropriate button. You can then tell the software what that command does, change its name, and even allocate a symbol to it.
I found I had to do this for a couple of devices in my system, notably the Sky+ HD box and the Cambridge Audio Azur 650BD Blu-ray player, but the process is quick and easy, and it only took me about an hour or so to get all the 'buttons' i needed set up.
From there you can either control devices directly or set up activities: for example 'Watch TV' or 'Play Blu-ray'.
Tap one button on the iPhone and, for example, the TV switches on, selects the right input, the AV receiver fires up and goes to the correct input, and the Sky+ HD box switches on. Tap the 'off' key, and everything switches off.
Even better, you can customise the iPhone screen displayed when in an activity, giving you only the buttons required: you just select the buttons one by one, and drag them where you want them on the screen.
So for my 'Play TV' activity, I now have on the screen volume up/down/mute for the receiver; the cursor and OK keys for the Sky+ HD box; and Sky's four colour buttons and play, pause, stop and record.
In other words, all that's needed for day-to-day viewing, without cluttering up the screen with functions hardly ever used.
It's simple, logical and entirely brilliant.
What's more, this RedEye system is just the start of things from ThinkFlood. Coming soon is a RedEye mini, which will plug into the headphone socket of the iPhone or iPod Touch, and won't even require the base station.
It will convert the Apple devices into totally portable infrared universal remote controls, and is set to sell for under $50, or around £35.
And ThinkFlood's website talks of further developments: "As we add more features to the RedEye platform, it may make sense for us to release software versions for other mobile phones. If the demand is there we may be develop client software for other Wi-Fi-capable phones, such as the Palm Pre, Blackberry Storm, or Motorola Droid.
"Another thing we are considering is a move toward home automation. People have been imagining connected or 'smart' homes at least since the 1950’s, but even today there is not a satisfactory system that most people can afford. However, as Wi-Fi networks have become more ubiquitous, we think there is a chance to see this market change."
Sounds intriguing, and I hope to be reporting on the RedEye mini just as soon as I get a sample, and keeping in touch with those future developments.
Somehow, I think we're going to be hearing a lot more about this company in the future.
But for now, if you'll excuse me, I'm off to use the iPhone to fire up the TV – almost time for the race...