Kameleon good, but not a universal hit

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August 12, 2004|By Doug Bedell | Doug Bedell,The Dallas Morning News

The only thing universal about remote controls is that they will all unfailingly fail to control a favorite function of your home entertainment center. On that count, RadioShack's new eight-in-one Kameleon remote ($79.99) didn't disappoint. Out of the box, it could never figure out how to turn on the Sharp Aquos high-definition television panel. (Supposedly, updated codes from technical support will remedy this problem, but it has already wasted two hours of my life, and I'm not inclined to give up more.)

That said, the Kameleon from Universal Electronics Inc. does a much better job than most all-in-ones at commanding the obscure options of several components. I was actually able to switch audio modes for my Sony AV receiver - a first for any universal remote in my household. And it automatically accessed some sticky display options for the Samsung DirecTV set-top box, which was impressive.

Kameleon's designers have developed some nice, user-friendly features - many usually found only on high-price models such as the $1,000 Philips iPronto. Others are unique.

First, if your remote control tends to wander away from the coffee table, the Kameleon provides a unique way to locate it immediately. The device ships with a silver, candy-bar-shaped electronic tracking unit.

When you lose the Kameleon, you push a button on the tracking unit, and the remote will emit a high-pitched chirping sound. We tested the remote tracker throughout the house, and it worked without fail until the remote was stuck in the mailbox outside the front door.

Second, the illuminated touch-screen design makes it easy to read. It's made out of cool blue plastic that lights up the user interface in neon green. With the factory settings, the Kameleon remains dark until tilted or picked up.

This is a classy act. Unfortunately, a tap on the table - even setting down a glass nearby - causes the Kameleon to leap to life.

As a result, the backlight is constantly turning on and off, wearing down the four AAA batteries in less than two weeks of daily use. That gets expensive. And, because the battery cover requires a screwdriver to open, it's more hassle than necessary. Fortunately, the tilt feature can be disabled.

Third, if you have a personal video recorder such as a TiVo or a VCR, the Kameleon can be programmed with a commercial-skipping feature that lets you jump over ads in recorded programming. If you have a ReplayTV PVR, the Kameleon comes preprogrammed with every function of the original remote.

The setup process is, as with other universals, tedious. You've got to look up the code for each device, tap it into memory and push a series of buttons in strict order to save the configuration.

Even the most obscure functions of any remote can be programmed using macros and a learning function. For most people, however, that process isn't worth the time.

We are apparently doomed to suffer multiple-remote headaches for the near future. Analysts point out that it's so cheap for manufacturers to provide their own remotes (as little as 60 cents for basic units) that there is little economic incentive to make them play nicely with others.

The average U.S. household, by some surveys, contains five to 13 remote control units. At least with the Kameleon, you'll be able to find one remote when it goes missing.

Information: www.uei.com or RadioShack.com.

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