The remote control that can do it all

Mar 11, 2002  •  Post A Comment

If you’ve been looking to consolidate your remote controls into one device that not only controls the television, VCR and set-top box but also provides a TV guide, opens your drapes and operates your garage door, then Evolve Communications has just the thing for you.
The company’s Guide Remote is a universal remote control with a built-in 1-by-2-inch screen that serves as a TV guide, a promotion display and an interactive TV tool. It can also operate anything controlled by infrared light.
The product, introduced last summer by the Irvine, Calif.-based company, has found its way into a few thousand households so far, but the company’s founders are predicting that by 2005 a few million homes will own a Guide Remote.
“It puts a TV guide in the palm of your hand, and that’s convenience for the consumer,” said CEO Frank O’Donnell. The remote allows users to download TV listings from the Guide Remote Web site by connecting to their computer’s serial port.
In addition to TV listings for as many as 250 channels, the remote also provides program suggestions, reminders for favorite shows and interactivity offers. If the viewer is interested in a particular offer, he or she clicks a button on the remote, which stores that information for online viewing later when the user syncs up with the product’s Web site, www.guideremote.com.
The Guide Remote works with any cable, satellite or broadcast system and requires only an Internet connection. Users need to dock the remote in its base at least every seven days to download the TV listings for the next week from the Web site and to retrieve the requests for promotions, sweepstakes and information they logged as they watched TV.
Evolve Communications has developed affiliate relationships with nearly 100 Web site partners, including Amazon.com, Office Max and the Discovery store, to offer promotions, trivia and information. Consumers can’t access the promotional or contest information on the remote itself. That distinction was important to Evolve because the company wants to protect the broadcast model and not divert viewers from a TV show and its advertisers, Mr. O’Donnell said.
The product is currently sold at the Guide Remote Web site, Amazon.com and TigerDirect.com. In addition, accessories manufacturer Gemini Industries announced plans earlier this year to manufacture the remote for Zenith.
“I like the fact that it is unique,” said Christella Baertsch, product manager for Gemini. “It is the easiest remote I’ve ever programmed.” The company manufactures about 35 Zenith remotes.
Mr. O’Donnell hopes to hammer out agreements with other manufacturers to make and distribute the remote. It currently retails for $199, but Mr. O’Donnell acknowledged that the price is cost-prohibitive for all but early adopters. He predicts that in a year, the price will be under $100.
To achieve the sales volume necessary to lower the price, the company plans to launch an advertising campaign in the fourth quarter in home theater and entertainment magazines and on cable. Evolve is currently in talks with cable operators to co-market the device.
However, if such partnerships materialize, the Guide Remote could be competing with one of the stalwart applications cable operators offer-interactive program guides.
The Guide Remote isn’t sufficiently different from an IPG, said Vladimir Edelman, senior VP of Filter Media in New York, an interactive TV consultancy. “What distinct consumer demand does this product fulfill? The digital cable and satellite IPGs do more or less everything this appliance does,” he said.
Mr. O’Donnell insists his new remote would complement rather than cannibalize the IPG because the remote control is not dependent on the screen the viewer is watching. “It’s not disrupting what the TV is tuned to,” he said.