I love my Harmony remote. LOVE IT! It handles everything I need it to when it comes to controlling our home theater experience. I pick my activity, it starts the right gear set to the right inputs and away I go. That said, I’m always up for trying something new and I recently got the chance to put my hands on, and voice to, an Amulet Remote. Amulet provides (to my knowledge) the only voice powered remote control for Media Center. I’ve never been a fan of voice controls due to their lack of true recognition and I came into this review skeptical. That said, I walked away feeling a bit differently about it. Read on for the full review
When you unbox the Amulet remote, you find the remote control itself, the rechargeable battery, a USB cable for charging and the USB receiver you’ll need for voice control. You’ll also find a software install disk and cards detailing the voice commands you can use with the Amulet. These are like reference cards and you should probably keep them handy while you’re learning how to use the remote.
It should be noted that the Amulet is also an IR remote and you’ll need to have an IR receiver attached to your Media Center for that part to work. One is not included.
Actual installation of the Amulet device is relatively straight forward. Plug in the USB receiver and wait for your drivers to load. Install the Amulet software and you’re off to the races. There is some setup to go through. This involves creating voice profiles as to help the device better understand the different people that may be using it. This is optional and I was actually able to use the default profile during my entire review.
Using the Amulet
After installation, you’ll notice a new entry bar in Media Center. Amulet has designed their own UI to fit within your normal environment. The new entry points provide access to Amulet’s UI for music, TV/movies, photos as well as settings. The software will also automatically install a series of videos you can watch to become familiar with the remote.
Using Amulet’s custom UI is in no way required. You can still play videos or music from within Media Center using the commands provided. (This is where the quick reference cards really come in handy when you first get the remote!)
Using the remote is dead simple. Just hold the device vertically. You’ll see the “Amulet” light at the top of the remote turn a solid red. This means that Amulet is listening and you’re ready to give your command.
I’m very set in my ways when it comes to Media Center. Things are the way I like them and because of that, it was difficult to get used to the Amulet UI. That’s not the company’s, nor the layout’s fault. The special UI designed by Amulet is elegant and efficient. In some ways, it was nice to see something other than Media Center. Once you learn your way around, it’s quite intuitive and you can tell that the company put a lot of time into making sure that using the custom UI would be a pleasant experience.
Navigation is easy, particularly if you already know what’s in your collection. Being able to tell your HTPC “Play Artist Red Hot Chili Peppers” adds a new element to control. You don’t have to sit and scroll through menus to find what you’re looking for.
During my course of use, I found music to be the place where I loved the Amulet Remote. Being able to give commands such as “Play Someone Else” to change up the music you’re listening to is slick. The fact that the Amulet range covered most of the first floor of my house was a bonus. I didn’t have to head all the way back to the living room to change things up a bit.
Don’t think that it’s not good for video or TV, it simply didn’t fit my usage method in those areas. I’m a Media Browser user and it’s hard to make a change, even during a review. (According to Mike over at Missing Remote, an SDK will be available in the future that will allow 3rd party application developers to take advantage of the Amulet voice commands.) That said, the Amulet handled my video request commands with little trouble.
The most innovative use of the Amulet when dealing with TV was guide navigation. Being able to instantly jump to a specific time and channel in the guide is simply awesome and worked every time. Never mind music, just being able to jump around the guide this easily is almost worth the price of admission by itself.
Another nice feature of the Amulet is that it is a fully programmable remote control. Not only can you program a TV On/Off button and setup volume controls to handle your receiver, but the remote allows you to setup four distinct programming sets. With this, you can teach your Amulet remote almost any button from another device, assign it to the button you want on the Amulet, and still get back to standard Media Center controls simply by hitting the “Start” button in the middle of the remote. This could allow for some great combinations such as Blu-ray player control with the same remote. You’d simply have to select the colored button you assigned to your player and you’d be set.
In all honesty, the Amulet remote won’t make me stop using my Harmony. That has nothing to do with the lack of functionality or wonky voice commands. The remote worked exactly as advertised. During the entire two weeks of usage, I can count on one hand the number of times I had to repeat a command. I’m sure this would have been even less had I taken the time to setup a profile for myself instead of using the default.
I’ve become accustomed to my Harmony and for that reason alone I won’t give it up. That said, the Amulet brings something completely new to the table when it comes to HTPC remotes and it does it in a fantastic fashion. If you’re currently looking to replace an older remote or simply need your first universal, Amulet is a serious contender that can be had at around the same price as a decent Harmony. With the recent price drop to $199, you’ll be getting yourself a remote as capable as other universal remotes on the market with the added benefit of voice control! The Amulet Voice Remote is available through various resellers listed on the company’s website or over at Amazon.com.