All in all ... this is a fascinating device and only the future will tell whether or not the world will embrace it. It combines 3 devices into one ... a remote control, a program guide and a web browser. A future implementation called NetX will have it play a key control role in Philips vision of controlling devices in the home via the wireless home network.

Philips iPronto

Bob Hetherington

Philips iPronto Remote Control
by Bob Hetherington

All in all ... this is a fascinating device and only the future will tell whether or not the world will embrace it. It combines 3 devices into one ... a remote control, a program guide and a web browser. A future implementation called NetX will have it play a key control role in Philips vision of controlling devices in the home via the wireless home network.


I must say, when I first saw this product at a trade show last year, I couldn't wait to try it out. Full control of IR equipment, 802.11 wireless networking, web browsing, electronic program guide ... what else do you need?

The iPronto is the latest addition to our Home Demonstration Project and will replace the Pronto Neo that we are currently using to control the home theater equipment. Out of the box ... this unit looks and feels solid and functional. As usual it took a bit of reading of instructions and fiddling to get it to find the 802.11 wireless network but once communication was established the power of this remote became obvious. It's a web pad as well as a remote control and has an electronic programming guide that updates itself (via the internet) every night and has program details for a week ahead.

The primary function of the iPronto is to control home theater equipment via a nice clear touch screen. To customize and configure the screens and commands you need to download the latest version of iProntoEdit and install it on your PC (which must also be on your wireless home network). The software allows you to build screens with appropriate buttons to control your equipment. Standard layouts are available and a database of standard IR codes helps with the process. There doesn't appear to be much that you can't do with this software from simple button screens to complex layouts and custom graphics displays. You can of course set up macros, delays, screen jumps, beeps etc. to do multiple tasks with one button. If you are familiar with any of the other pronto remotes you will find the software very similar.

Once you're happy with the layout ... click a button to upload the configuration to the iPronto via the wireless network ... nothing to plug in ... nice. You can also download the iPronto's current configuration to your PC the same way.

If you need to teach the iPronto some IR commands that are not in the database there is a learn function that (with the new update) works very well. Just initiate the learn function ... press the button that you want to program on the iPronto ... aim the component remote at the IR window on the iPronto and push the corresponding button. The iPronto plays a nice note and tells you that it has learned the function. I found the system very sensitive and it learned the codes 1st time ... almost every time. The IR signal from the unit is powerful and has a wide spread making it very dependable even if not aimed right at the receiver. 

Once it's all working ... download the configuration to your PC ... and don't lose it :-)

A separate view allows you to see 4 different devices at a time on one screen. Handy if you're controlling several devices at once.

This feature allows you to view and select programs from your local listings ... up to a week in advance. No need for a TV Guide any more. For this service you need to register with Philips and select your local viewing area (it even has our location on the list which is a good sign as many of these program guides don't cover Canadian locations). The unit then downloads the program information via the wireless network and gives you an interface which allows you to filter by genre (ie movies, sports etc.) and thumb through timeslots at will. When you find the program you wish to watch just click the eye button and the channel changes.

While this is a nice way to read about shows that are coming up ... it would be nice if the unit also allowed you to set up a watch list to use as an automatic program selector without having to go back and change the channel manually.

Four other soft buttons on the unit load web pages onto the screen. Each can have a different home page and each is a stand alone web browser. To enter urls etc. just tap the input window and up comes a keyboard display that lets you type in the information. The browser works very well and the display is clear ... and big enough to read. So ... now you can surf while you watch, send and receive web mail ... you name it.

While this is not the most efficient way to browse the internet it will have appeal to some. One improvement ... currently the browser doesn't have the ability to store favorites (bookmarks). Typing with a pointer is tedious at best so it would be nice to be able to save favorite sites for future visits.

If your home control system is browser based ... which many are these days ... the iPronto becomes the control center without any extra work at all. Just set one of the browser home pages to be your home control page and you're done. This feature may be the most powerful of all for many users.

All in all ... this is a fascinating device and only the future will tell whether or not the world will embrace it. It combines 3 devices into one ... a remote control, a program guide and a web browser. A future implementation called NetX will have it play a key control role in Philips vision of controlling devices in the home via the wireless home network. NetX devices all over the house will receive wireless commands from the iPronto via the 802.11 network. 

Make no mistake ... this is an advanced product and it takes some work to get it functioning. And ... up until I got the latest firmware and software upgrade just the other day ... I was frustrated with a few problems I was having with the IR learning function. But fortunately that is past news ... and a great example of what can be accomplished with internet upgradeable products such as this. A simple push of a button for me allowed the Philips gurus to update this device remotely via the internet thus keeping up with new developments as well as fixing bugs discovered after the product shipped. I can hardly wait until some of our other products ship with this connected feature ... although I guess it's stretching it a bit to expect a free upgrade that makes the coffee maker able to prepare my income taxes :-) 

Here are some of the features of the iPronto:

Hardware
• Sleek design with silver metallic painted housing and aluminum frontplate
• Color TFT VGA (640x480) resolution screen
• High sensitivity touch screen
• Intel X-Scale processor architecture
• 64 MB of non-volatile flash memory and 64 MB of RAM
• Built in microphone, headphone jack & stereo speakers
• PCMCIA slot with removable IEEE 802.11b wireless network adapter
• 8 direct access buttons to customizable screen layouts
• 5 programmable control buttons for volume, channel and mute
• Status display for power, infrared activity and wireless network indication
• Built in rechargeable lithium-ion battery with external charger and power supply
• Future upgradeable multimedia card slot and USB port (accessible through future software upgrades)

Wireless Network
• IEEE 802.11b compliant WiFi device
• Infrastructure mode support
• Full security through 64 bit or 128 bit encryption
• Dynamic Host Configuration Protocol (DHCP) or fixed IP Mode

Infrared
• Built-in Universal infrared code database with the latest devices from over 500 brands
• Two power-LED's on front for sending and learning infrared codes
• Operating distance of 33 ft (10 m)
• Infrared code learning frequency up to 78 kHz and 455 kHz (supports Bang&Olufsen codes)

Software
• Dashboard - Dynamic user interface to drive all applications
• Remote Control - Customizable Remote control software with Infrared code database to operate different brands
• Electronic Program Guide - TV listings with personal genre filters and integrated remote control. Automatically updated through the Internet (3 year free service)
• Internet Browser - Instant access to information
• PC-software: iProntoEdit to fully customize the user interface
• Remote upgrades of software through web connect

Miscellaneous
• Dimensions: 9.4 x 7.0 x 0.9" (240 x 178 x 23 mm)
• Weight: 890 grams including battery pack
• Operating temperature: 41°F to 113°F (5°C to 45°C)


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