Universal Remotes and the Projector Zoom

In the last post I mentioned that I was using a projector zoom for my CIH screen, and that it was as simple as pushing a button to change lens memory on the projector. Well... that wasn't entirely true.

Before I get back to that though, I want to discuss universal remote controls. Almost everyone has more than one remote in their system, and as you could see in the entry for the media room rack, there are several for the media room. It's obviously silly to juggle these remotes whenever you want to do watch TV, BluRay, etc... so we go to universal remotes. I've long been a fan of the Logitech Harmony series. They are easy to program, just plug them into your computer, tell it what equipment you have and what settings it needs to be on to watch each source and it pretty much programs itself. If you have some unusual equipment or whatever, they can also learn new signals and have their behavior customized to conform to the peculiarities of most setups. My favorite is the Harmony One, which is very full featured, with a small touch screen to handle the varying kind of custom buttons on Satellite Boxes or BluRay players. But it's not a full-on touchscreen remote, with most of the buttons being hard buttons (which is preferrable to me because I don't have to look at it to use it and can feel my way around it in the dark).


Now, in the media room, this remote would have been my first choice except that the equipment rack sits near the back of the room and so wouldn't be able to get most of the signals. However, Logitech sells a very similar remote called the Harmony 900. This looks just like the Harmony One, except that it has some extra buttons (the red, green, blue, yellow that are on a lot of newer remotes), and has an accessory set of IR emitters that in can activate via RF signal. So now I could set up these additional IR emitters at the equipment rack and still control the equipment with the Harmony remote just like it was sitting in front of me.


There is one other key difference however. The Harmony 900 has lost the Harmony One's ability to program in your own custom macro. In the Harmony One, you could create your own six-step process to carry out any kind of more complex task that you may want to do and your original remote may not have a dedicated button for. Say, you tend to change the picture modes on your TV regularly between 'Cinema', 'Sports', or whatever... Since there's usually no dedicated button for this, you can create a macro that goes something like Menu->Down->Left->Left->Enter or whatever other series would activate the Cinema mode and save it to your remote. For some unknown reason, the Harmony 900 cannot do this (even though the cheaper, and allegedly 'inferior' Harmony One can). Why Logitech removed this capability is beyond me, particularly since it's an advanced feature in a product likely to be purchased and used by more advanced users.


Why is this a problem for me though? Ahhh, back to pushing a button to change the lens memory on my projector. Well, it turns out there IS no button to change the lens memory on the projector. (Furthermore, some manufacturers often have undocumented IR codes for 'buttons' that aren't on the original remote, but are available to be used. Not so with the Panasonic projector). To change it from one setting to another you must drill through a few menus. A perfect use for a macro.... which cannot be done with the Harmony 900. (Of course, a Harmony One could do it, but then how do I control the equipment at the back of the room?) The Panasonic projector can also be set to auto-sense the aspect ratio and change to different lens memories, but I find that results in a lot of zooming in and out as you're watching TV and some letterboxed commercial comes on or something. It would preferable to control the lens memory with a single button on the remote.


And the internet comes to the rescue! I discovered this thread over on AVS Forum discussing the same problem, with one very smart man's solution. The Panasonic PT-AE4000u does not have any IR command available to change the lens memory, but it DOES have a serial port, and it does have a single serial command available to change the lens memory. To summarize the thread, he suggests the purchase of a IR232 box from Industrologic, which simply takes IR codes (from a standard Sony remote) and outputs the serial command of your choice. Even better, step by step instructions are even provided in the thread on how to set this box up to control the Panasonic projector. I bought the IR232 and followed the instructions to program it. I didn't have a Sony remote around, so I bought one off of eBay for a couple of dollars (just so I could use it to program the Harmony remote). I now added commands for the two lens memories and they are available with just a simple button press. (You can also add commands in this way for discrete on and off as opposed to two-step toggle method that the IR remote uses).

That little box on top of the projector is the Industrologic IR232.
That little box on top of the projector is the Industrologic IR232.

The IR232 just sits above the projector and is connected with a serial cable. Also like the projector, it picks up the IR signal quite easily as it bounces off of the screen at the front of the room.


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