Roomie iOS Remote Reviewed

Discussion in 'GENERAL AV Discussions' started by admin, Aug 16, 2013.

  1. admin Audioholics Robot Staff Member

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    The Roomie remote is one of the most capable iOS remotes we have reviewed. If you are willing to spend the cash on the required hardware, Roomie can control devices over IR, Serial, and IP. It can also support an "unlimited" number of devices and activities.

    It looks like phone and tablet based remotes have finally matured into a viable alternative to expensive, custom solutions.

    [​IMG]

    Read the entire Roomie Remote Review
  2. itschris Moderator

    itschris
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    Just read throught this review. I've been waiting and waiting for something like this to actually work well. It seems this one does things pretty well. Are you still enamored with the setup or have you moved on to something new?
  3. TheoN Audioholics Contributing Writer

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    Hi Chris,

    I'm absolutely still enamored by the Roomie setup. It's the only remote in my entire house now. I have it installed at work where I've automated a conference room and I'm now testing out a shading system with Roomie. We just setup the proof of concept yesterday and it's really great.

    The new 2.0 version has made some solid improvements. The user interface is better and there are some nice feature add-ons. I'm currently testing out one of those new features that will allow remote control of a Mac over the network and launching of apps on the Mac from Roomie.

    The thing that has caused a stir is their new licensing model with the IR pack. It's no longer a one-time purchase but now an annual fee. That's rubbed some people in forums the wrong way. Users who purchased the IR pack are grandfathered in but don't get any further updates.

    Another item that's improved are is the iTach unit. The new Flex unit is a much smaller form factor and you can interchange the cables between blaster, IR, and serial. I've ordered that too and should have it in next week to test out in conjunction with the shading system.

    All in all, I'm controlling several rooms, multiple components, and I've never been happier with a remote. I have tremendous power and flexibility right on any iOS device.

    I'm going to be doing a review of Roomie 2.0 soon and I'll also be doing something on their MacOS add-on which allows for multi-remote synchronization. I'm working on some other reviews right now (I just finished up a review on some Class D amplifiers last night) so I probably won't be getting to the Roomie 2.0 review until sometime in February or March. If you have specific questions, feel free to ask and I'd be happy to tell you my impressions.

    -Theo
  4. itschris Moderator

    itschris
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    I'm totally on board with the idea of this so please keep us in the loop on your testing. The recurring fee, however, is a real downer... enough that it might make me rethink going with it. It's simply not a model that i think most people want to adopt. They want to buy something at a fair rate that covers the unit and support.
  5. BMXTRIX Audioholic Spartan

    BMXTRIX
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    I love the logic of this, but wonder how it works on a larger scale installation that goes beyond one room and uses things like multiple device integration with multiple power on locations and tracking. That is, a shared home media server which powers on and off... When the first room powers it on, then other rooms join to use it, it stays on. But, when the first room powers off, does the media player power off, or does it have enough logic to know that it shouldn't power off the media player because other rooms are using it?

    Also, the list of distributed audio systems which support 3rd party control seems to be 'lacking'. Almost all of the units are proprietary, and certainly some are better than others. So, it is hopeful that they have an extensive library of products which are not just supported, but work well.

    My biggest issue is not the concept, but that iPhones suck.
    :D

    Kind of say that tongue in cheek because I love my iPhone and it actually is awesome, but any touchpanel trying to replace a remote control ends up being a pretty poor system in my experience. You need to change the channel on your TV... Okay, turn on your iPhone, go to the app, make sure you are on the right page, then press channel up. Okay, now look at your TV to see what channel you are on. Okay, not it, press channel up, channel up, channel up... Wait, that wasn't channel up, that was previous channel. Look down at the iPhone again, reposition your finger so it is where it needs to be, and start over.

    Hard button remotes are BETTER. For day-to-day operation and channel surfing, they are phenomenally convenient.
    Pick up remote
    Press channel up
    Leave finger on channel up button which feels like a channel up button
    Use as often as necessary
    Set down when done

    I use my iPhone/iPad for my whole house setup for certain. It gives me a nice single interface to run the show from and the two-way feedback is nice for certain things (XM, lights, volume, room status). But, it's way easier to walk into an audio only room and press the button that says 'XM' or 'Cable' to get the source playing in there. Volume is right on the keypad.

    Still, moving forward, the use of iOS and Android for some level of control system use will become more and more prevalent. Especially as companies get behind and implement open source solutions which are fully supported and incredibly reliable. iRule, I believe, is another such concept solution.

    I will say, where these products typically fall VERY flat on their face... They work with your phone/tablet, but that's it. They don't reach beyond those devices. Your kid doesn't have a iPhone? You're SOL. You want to provide another level of control for Grandma? No such luck. You drop your phone and it breaks? So much for watching TV. This is a huge issue IMO as the hard button remote, especially good ones, should be able to tie into this type of device well. It even makes sense that Roomie would make an IP enabled hard button remote control which provided nearly the same level of activity based control with (or without) room selection integrated into it. Keypads as well.

    They have come a long way, but the focus is often narrow. Gonna throw out there that I have about 20 relay controlled devices out there... It does look like iTach supports those products, but weird that Roomie doesn't have it in their store.

    Models | Global Caché

    Also, this is all dependent on your network being up and running. A big plus of the universal remotes is that network issues don't bring down your remote control.

    Lots of plusses on this product, but a few pretty big minuses as well. Hopefully they will recognize them and address them in upcoming years.
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  6. itschris Moderator

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    @BMX - i totally get with what you're saying. Here's the thing though... a lot of people invest a **** ton of money in their equipment but don't want to spend 2... 3... even $500 or more on a remote setup. I'm one of them. I'll just handle the individual remotes and get along. My wife... God bless her... as many times as I've shown here can't watch TV if the power on the cable box is out of sync. It's not that she's too stupid, but she get pissed and doesn't want to deal with it because "it should just work."

    I see this as part of a solution. I have 2 extra iPads laying around, one that Im happy to dedicate to being a remote control. I think the value of this is not the active part of watching TV like changing channels and what not... it's a way to get everything up and running. For my wife to watch a movie, she can just hit movie and the HTPC, TV, and AVR will turn on, the right inputs get switched, etc. It's expandable and can do other things as well. For a $150... it's a damn nice solution that may only get better with time.

    Granted, I'd much rather have a really slick RF remote setup or some other sort of IP based deal, but I just don't want to spend that much money. The new Harmony seems nice, but I want to get away from IR because it just doesn't seem to work reliably in my setup.
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  7. TheoN Audioholics Contributing Writer

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    You bring out a lot of issues here, so let me touch upon a few based on my experience with the product and previous experience with Harmony remotes:

    First, to the point of keys or touch screen, that's a point of preference in much the same way that the iPhone brought touch screen vs. a physical keyboard. Once can certainly have a preference for one or the other, but that's a separate issue vs. a product's functionality. One person's "better" might be viewed by another as antiquated technology. With Roomie you have the option of using the physical buttons of volume up and volume down to control your system volume. When you are out of the app, the volume buttons work as normal. That's a user-configurable option and I think for the overwhelming majority of users, that single feature solves most of the tactile vs. touch screen issues. If a user wants complete tactile feel on a remote, then you're looking at the wrong product and you're eliminating any mobile or tablet-baed products. To summarize my point based on experience is that the touch-screen vs. tactile remote isn't as big of a deal as it may seem and if you want tactile volume control, you have that option.

    In my time and experience with Roomie, I've found it to work exceptionally well over WiFi. In fact, I've found it to work far better and more reliably than the Logitech RF remote I replaced. The Logitech remote—though very good—had several limitations. First of all, 10-12 feet was the maximum distance. Anything more and you would have problems. I can be anywhere in the house and control every room and component with Roomie.

    And let me tell you it's been a God-send. My relatives come over and simply press "watch TV" and things are done. Gone are the days where they point the IR remote up toward the ceiling because they are trying to read the labels on the remote. Then they would press the remote with it pointed at the ceiling and wonder why the channels wouldn't change!

    Other contrasts were that with Logitech, I only had one remote. If it was lost or misplaced, that was it. Now, with Roomie, any iOS remote can work. The really great thing is that you can also lock down what kids can or cannot do. If I don't want my kids to have access to any electronic media, I just don't load the app. If I do, I can control what activities or functionality they have access to—down tot the device-level. It allows a whole new level of flexibility. Any issues you'd have with Roomie you'd also have with a physical remote. If you drop your Harmony remote and it breaks you're out of luck. Drop your iphone and it breaks perhaps you have a second or an iPad.

    Speaking of flexibility, that's really where Roomie currently shines in my experience. The current 2.0 build has pushed into the home automation segment. Contact closure support is new and I would expect that support is going to be expanded beyond the current list. You can email Roomie support and inquire about the status of future products being integrated or supported. Worst case, I've found the ability to learn commands to be very easy and straightforward—better, in fact, than what I was able to do with Harmony.

    All in all, I'd summarize my review experience and experience with Roomie since then as follows:

    Of the products out there, such as iRule, Roomie is the best product out there for the DIY user who wants custom home automation functionality without needing to rely on consultants to program a remote. If you want to keep you installation simple and functional, then you can do so. If you want to get fairly complicated then you have that option as well.

    I completely agree with you that this is a space where several products have failed miserably. I'm very picky about automation products and I don't like handing over control to consultants when I'm perfectly capable of programming things myself. Of the products I've seen, Roomie is the only package that I've adopted and use every day.

    Roomie is by no means perfect and there are certainly valid criticisms about the product; nevertheless, I still haven't come across a product that works as well as Roomie does without going with an expensive Crestron system.
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  8. TheoN Audioholics Contributing Writer

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    Based on what you're saying, I think that Roomie would likely be a good fit for you. If you don't have a complex system, then the Harmony remotes are just fine. However when you have anything close to a complex setup or many devices, they just don't scale well. Roomie would solve many of the problems you currently experience and help out with the spousal peace you're after :)

    If you do try roomie, then you should add the Desktop app on your Mac and the Roomie Agent. This app keeps all the Roomie remotes in full sync by activity. So if you press "Watch TV" and then your wife goes to the Roomie app, it will instantly have the same activity open. Therefore you won't have to deal with anything regarding the power state of devices, etc. Roomie will handle all of that. In your case, you could synchronize all the activities and their current states on each iPad you have. Moreover, if you make a chance to any activity or add actives, you can instantly push out those changes and sync all the devices.

    There's nothing in what you described that would make me hesitate in dissuading you from the product. It will do exactly what you've described with ease.
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  9. itschris Moderator

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    Thanks for the great follow up. Once I get my HTPC up and running, I think this'll be the next project.
  10. BMXTRIX Audioholic Spartan

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    I will disagree on this after years of remote interface building. For general TV viewing it is often easier for some to use a touchpanel the first time since it is big and labeled, but for day to day channel surfing it's not even close. The iPhone virtual keyboard vs. the physical keyboard isn't the same either. People looked at their physical keyboards when they used them. People, once they know where the buttons are on a remote, almost never look at them, and the buttons they tend to use are not volume related (except mute), but channel related. Previous channel, pause, skip commercials, etc. I see this from different customers a dozen times a year as they reach for the nice touchpanel they demanded, then get frustrated as they have to look at the panel to find the play button then skip right past the show they are trying to watch because they can't look at the play button while watching the TV at the same time.

    For more complex features, the panel makes sense. For anything two-way, the panel makes sense. But, for general use, hard buttons have a big one-up. This is not antiquated, but proven, and continues to be proven to me year after year when I see people get frustrated with their cutting edge touchpanels and then thank me profusely for giving them a good hard button remote control as well.

    From what I read, this isn't a failing of Roomie, but an opportunity for them to expand. I've used the newest Harmony which incorporates tablet devices with a hard button remote and I can tell you that it is what every decent product will have to offer. It does not have to eliminate any products and forcing consumers to choose one or the other is narrow minded for companies to do. Roomie, I'm sure, has a lot of work to do to maintain their current product, but they will see solid growth if they expand what they can offer into physical remotes as well which communicate with a Roomie system. URC does this, Harmony does this, and all the bigger custom guys do this.

    As should be the case with a GOOD RF system, but certainly a good IP system should offer similar level of control.

    As mentioned above, the new Harmony remote goes beyond the one remote concept and offers panel control and a physical remote. Maybe worth a look at. More advanced control systems offer a lot more as well.

    It all comes down to "Within the limitations of the product they have."
    While this may be fine for some, it should also be noted for many that this is a case of needing to be willing to spend the time to program and set everything up. That IR emitters will need to be run to displays if they don't have/offer IP control. That additional wiring work may need to be done which many 'average' users may not be able to handle. And that if you drop your phone and DON'T have another one, or the kids don't have a phone, or the wife doesn't, then they can't use the system at all because there is no secondary control method.

    It's not the end of the product, and I'm not making Roomie out to be bad, but it is a current limitation that I hope they recognize as being a very significant one. Harmony recognized this, as has URC. If Roomie wants to be serious as a company, they will focus on adding control options first. To properly design, test, and redesign at least one good IP based remote control option of some sort which integrates with the setup seamlessly. This is my main, and biggest concern. But, to be fair, I haven't used it and would like to give it a try. I have used URC, Harmony (obviously including the newest model), and live day-to-day as a Crestron programmer. I see these solutions as really having a good place in the home, but experience has led me to believe that it won't replace the convenience of a remote sitting on the couch, and the two should work together.
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  11. Nestor Senior Audioholic

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    I've been using iRule to control portions of my whole house audio. It's similar to Roomie, but you need to "build" your screens, which takes some forethought and planning. There's no subscription fee, but there is a limit to the number of controllers. You may control any number of devices, however.
    I looked at Roomie, but one of the devices I wanted to control wasn't on their list, and they don't make it easy to make your own code list.
    IRule has "gestures" that you can use that are handy for common functions, like mute. They don't require looking at the controller. IRule also has a mode that prevents the controller from going into screen lock when the app is running in the foreground. Roomie might have the same thing.

    Even with all of these features, I still have a harmony remote for my home theatre. Nothing can replace tactility.

    Should Harmony venture further into the app territory, iRule and Roomie will have serious competition.


    Sent from my iPhone using Tapatalk
  12. TheoN Audioholics Contributing Writer

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    @bmxtrix I didn't take your post as making it out to be bad at all. I view it as a perspective. I personally see the market going more towards touch screen. I see it as simple as the iphone vs. blackberry. It's too much for manufacturers to make niche controllers. I see the tablet and mobile based products making more and more inroads. I hear your point as one of preference (and for remotes I too like tactile) and I'm talking more about what I see the future trending towards. My RF harmony had both touch screen and buttons. While I preferred the buttons I got rid of it due to what performance and scalability I got with Roomie. Beta was a better format but VHS won out. I think we will see a similar trend on remotes. Hey I might be wrong :)

    In terms of scalability and extending functionality this gets down to the terrible documentation I mentioned in my review. I was able to easily create custom devices--any devices in fact--if I got their IR code command set. You just create a text file XML format and bingo! You now have a custom device that you can implement on your own. Roomie provides a .plist template and you just edit that. I created a few custom devices and it was flawless. That extensibility is available for both IR and Serial. For serial, however, roomie needs to build in 2-way feedback if you want that for a particular device.

    My point here is that the flexibility to expand something is there. The documentation is poor and doesn't make it obvious how to do that. There were some changes in 2.0 and I haven't seen if there were any changes to the way custom devices can be tailored in that way.

    So yes it takes time to do the programming for custom devices but for the enthusiast you can do it yourself and not have to be locked into the cost of the higher end systems or programmer fees each time you want to make a change.

    If someone had the financial means then going with a solution like Crestron would be a no-brainer.
    Last edited: Jan 13, 2014
  13. TheoN Audioholics Contributing Writer

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    The functionality is there to extend the system if a device isn't supported. Sometimes (like harmony) certain things aren't logically in the right place. For example we just put in a proof of concept Lutron shading system at work where we will eventually integrate auto dimming blinds into a video conferencing room. The Lutron system wasn't under automation like most of the Lutron products it was in a different category and initially threw us for a loop looking for it.

    The new 2.0 build also introduced gesture based control interface. I haven't fooled around
    Too much with it but I can see where it would be appealing to use it in some
    Applications.

    When I tackle the review for the 2.0 update I plan on covering some of that in more detail.
  14. itschris Moderator

    itschris
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    I did some research on the new Harmony remotes. I have to say I'm impressed. I think they really have it down with the combo like you were talking about. For instance I can easily see having my extra iPad or even an old iTouch sitting on the coffee table with even the simple remote... not even the fancy one. That's all you'd need. The iPad with the fancy interface to start whatever activity you want, then just the normal remote to continue... and I only see the need for that for channel flipping... an environment where a normal remote is superior.

    I think for less than $200 you can get everything you need for the Harmony solution... even the IR extender.
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  15. TheoN Audioholics Contributing Writer

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    I'd agree with you about the newer remotes from Harmony. The previous iteration, the Harmony Link was a real disappointment for me. I tried it out for several weeks and went back to my Harmony RF remote at that time. I haven't had a chance to test the new ones first hand, but they have addressed some of the main (and major) shortcomings of the previous generation.

    Ultimately in my mind the big thing about the harmony remotes is that they just don't scale well. If you have a multi-room or complex installation they just don't work well. For example, in the previous Harmony Link there was a limit of only 8 devices. I was trying to test and setup multiple rooms from a single interface and it just wouldn't work.

    As with any product, what your goals are need to align with the right solution.
  16. itschris Moderator

    itschris
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    I went ahead an ordered the new Harmony Ultimate just about 20 minutes ago. After dealing with my XBMC setup, I'm in not condition to tinker. I just sort of wanted something established and I really really dig the idea of having a remote and an iOS remote app as well.

    I think this solution, however, has tons of merit... I'm just cutting edge... first adopter type material however. :D If I wouldn't have found about the new Harmony I probably would have went this route.
  17. TheoN Audioholics Contributing Writer

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    Great to hear Chris! Good luck. I think you'll really like the Harmony in your setup.
  18. itschris Moderator

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    I hope so. My happy home depends on it. I'm a little concerned about getting the HTPC controlled, but we'll see. I went with the Harmony Ultimate because I think it has all possible options, touchscreen remote, iOS/Android remote apps, blu-tooth & blasters... etc. I just thought it gives the most options. Controlling XBMC with the iOS app is amazingly easy and efficient... just getting to that point is the tough part for the wife... i.e., getting everything turned on an switched. That's where the Harmony comes in.

    If I can get the macros to somehow switch to the XBMC app on the iPad it would make the whole world wonderful.

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