Review: Griffin Beacon Universal Remote Control (iOS version)

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The Griffin Beacon uni­ver­sal remote con­trol is an inter­est­ing device. It’s a little bit lar­ger than an Apple TV2 (or a hockey puck if that’s closer to your frame of ref­er­ence) but it’s got an odd, Zen-like IR ‘stone’ on the top that’s where the con­trol sig­nals come from. Not your every­day IR blaster.

On Paper
Using Bluetooth to talk to your mobile device (iOS or Android) it uses the smarts of your device to man­age your home enter­tain­ment sys­tems. All well and good, but wait, there’s more! It’s not just the Beacon alone doing the work…

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Well, actu­ally a very cool app called dijit does the heavy lift­ing. The dijit — Beacon pair is quite power­ful, with dijit not only bring­ing list­ings and man­age­ment to your mobile device, it also brings social to your TV view­ing with con­tent dis­cov­ery and social shar­ing. The duo:

  • Trans­forms iPhones and oth­er iOS devices into an easy-to-use, nev­er-lost remote for home enter­tain­ment sys­tems
  • Con­verts Bluetooth sig­nals from iOS device into infrared sig­nals required to con­trol AV com­pon­ents
  • Beacon con­nects com­pat­ible iOS device via Bluetooth with Dijit’s free Uni­ver­sal Remote App
  • iOS device’s Mul­ti­T­ouch screen dis­play becomes the remote with Dijit’s Intu­it­ive Pro­gram Guide, allow­ing users to change chan­nels, volume, input, pro­gram DVR and much more
  • Dijit App uses a con­stantly updated device code lib­rary to make set­ting up con­trols for TV, set-top box, sound sys­tem, media play­er and more, simple and intu­it­ive
  • For com­pon­ents not yet included in Dijit’s lib­rary, the App also includes an integ­rated learn­ing fea­ture
  • Beacon’s low-pro­file design blends unob­trus­ively with any cof­fee table décor
  • Powered by 4 AA bat­ter­ies, elim­in­at­ing messy wires and power cables

In Prac­tice
Get­ting the Beacon setup and run­ning is a pretty simple job of installing the included 4 AA bat­ter­ies, par­ing the Beacon with the Bluetooth on your mobile device, and installing and run­ning the dijit con­trol soft­ware.

Then it’s a simple mat­ter of let­ting the dijit soft­ware know which com­pon­ents you want to con­trol, and bind­ing those com­pon­ents to activ­it­ies.

For example, to watch TV, I need to turn on my receiv­er, my set top box, and my TV. I had to con­fig­ure those devices in dijit, then bind them to an activ­ity (Watch TV). You also can con­fig­ure the lay­out of your ‘cus­tom’ mobile remote con­trol in your mobile device — redu­cing the num­ber of but­tons to just the crit­ic­al ones needed for any spe­cif­ic activ­ity.

A sim­il­ar pro­cess is used to define oth­er activ­ity and device com­bin­a­tions. Pretty simple once you get the hang of it, and I like the abil­ity to cus­tom­ize the lay­out of the remote con­trol but­tons.

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I had the iOS unit to review, and it eas­ily hooked up to my first-gen iPad as well as my iPhone 4s. On the iPad, I really appre­ci­ated the extra screen space to dis­play TV pro­gram­ming inform­a­tion and social media con­tent.

Since the Beacon runs on AA bat­ter­ies, it’s port­able, which means you can move to vari­ous rooms if you have more than one enter­tain­ment centre.

The unfor­tu­nate down­side is that the Beacon doesn’t have an AC adapter, which means that every so often, about as often as a hand­held remote, you’ll be repla­cing 4 AA bat­ter­ies when the Beacon fails to respond. Which may or may not be a big thing for you.

Watch­ing TV
In the end, this is a pretty cool unit. I must admit, it took a bit of retrain­ing for me to start look­ing at my iPhone or iPad for TV pro­gram­ming inform­a­tion, rather than using the device as a remote to con­trol the set-top box’s menu sys­tem. But once I got over that niggle, using the Beacon and dijit soft­ware is actu­ally quite nat­ur­al.

So if you’re look­ing for an inex­pens­ive mas­ter / uni­ver­sal remote con­trol unit for your home enter­tain­ment sys­tem, you may just want to check out the Griffin Beacon and dijit com­bin­a­tion.
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