Universal remote controls have three roles. The first two are really a combination of reducing clutter and making your home theatre system easier to use but the final one is arguably the most important, and that is to look cool. The TSU9600, with its two tone styling, rotary wheel and touchscreen manages to fulfill all three roles.
We've looked at Pronto remote controls before, with the Pronto Pro RU980 a few years back. While Philips may have dropped the 'Pro' moniker from their current line of universal remote controls, make no mistake the TSU9600 is no amateur when it comes to functionality. Compared to the RU980, the TSU9600 looks sleek and fashionable.
The good looks actually behold a greater functionality set than ever before. Aside from the attention grabbing rotary wheel, inside there is WiFi functionality and an improved screen. The number of "hard" buttons has increased allowing basic functionality without visual hand placement. The biggest change however is the introduction of ProntoScript, something we'll get into a little later.
Although the screen on the TSU9600 is smaller than the older RU980; 3.7" compared to 3.8", it boasts a 640x480 resolution which means that the small loss in physical size is offset greatly by the higher resolution. It now means you've got some serious screen real-estate to play with. The screen itself is bright, although this can easily be adjusted for optimal contrast in different environments. Contrast is high and colours are vivid. For a remote control, the quality of the screen is wonderful and some may say overkill. As with most universal remotes, a pickup sensor is present allowing the screen to turn on when there is movement of the unit.
Unlike the RU980, the TSU9600 is designed to be primarily used in landscape orientation and this means that single hand use is almost impossible, especially if you are operating any touchscreen buttons. To be fair this is a downside of any remote which is designed to be used in such a manner. The TSU9600 is surprisingly nice to hold with both hands, the back being coated in a veneer of rubber.
One of the more peculiar design decisions was the inclusion of a stylus. Although the marketing bumph says this allows for precise control, it's hard to think how often a stylus would be used when you want to navigate an interface which typically designs for single hand usage. Thankfully the stylus holder is neatly hidden away, not disturbing the clean lines of the TSU9600.
Although WiFI connectivity is present don’t expect a built in Web browser on the TSU9600. WiFi is used to replace radio frequency when communicating with a Infra-Red extender unit. This is particularly useful if you don’t have clear line of sight with the device you wish to control. Expect to pay in the region of £200 if you want this functionality.
Getting in touch
Unlocking the TSU9600's potential is all down to how it is programmed. Due to the touch-screen interface, an infinite number of different configurations is possible. In the past ProntoEdit software has been fairly clunky but the latest version to service Philips' current remotes is much better.
Any universal remote control worth it's salt can learn Infra-red (IR) codes from other remote controls. However the feature manufacturers like to shout about is the size of the database of IR codes and Philips does well. In our testing however, not all codes in the database seemed to be accurate. For instance the codes for our Sky+ box didn't work when taken from the database. However when we utilised the codes learnt from our current Sky+ remote it worked perfectly.
Getting to grips with the ProntoEdit software is fairly easy and generally revolves around managing screens and their layouts along with the database of IR codes. Although the software is supposed to work with Windows Vista, we had problems running it on our Vista 64-bit installation, having to use Windows XP to setup our unit.
The problem isn't the inclusion of ProntoScript but rather the assertion of Philips that all documentation be restricted to custom installers. Some clever guys at Remote Central have posted scripts and games using ProntoScript however it is a steep learning curve for those who have little to no programming experience. WiFi support means that should ProntoScript documentation ever be opened up to the public, you could even use it to grab data off the 'Net and display it on your Pronto. It's a real shame as ProntoScript has the ability to make all supporting remotes much more than mundane devices with fancy input mechanisms.
The TSU9600 is a high-end unit and is priced accordingly. Expect to pay around £800 for a unit and even more if you want a wireless extender. There's no shying away from the fact that this is an expensive bit of kit but quite frankly you get what you pay for. The built quality is good; the unit feels tight and will last the course. If you want to save a little, getting this unit from the States might be worth looking into, as unlike previous Prontos this one comes with a 110v-240v adaptor.
With the TSU9600, Philips really has taken the ProntoPro RU980 of old and not only given it a new set of clothes but improved the underlying hardware and software allowing functionality which brings a whole new set of possibilities to the table. The touchscreen is simply wonderful with good contrast and a resolution which allows for complex but easy to read screen layouts. The only annoyance is the artificially difficult ProntoScript learning curve rendering one of the most attention grabbing features, the rotary wheel, useless.
So is the Philips Pronto TSU9600 the ultimate touch-screen remote? Well, it's certainly a league above the Logitech Harmony 1000, but is priced accordingly. If you don't mind programming the interface yourself and have £800 to spend on the ultimate accessory for your home theatre, the Pronto TSU9600 is the perfect choice.