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Pocket PC: Software Reviews     

Ultramote & Ultramote Extender for the Pocket PC

The Pocket PC is an incredibly versatile and powerful PDA which can be used for many different applications and uses. One use for the iPAQ that most users tend to consider at one time or another is as a remote control system. After all a PPC comes with an IrDa port so why not try and make use of it.

One of the leading contenders in the battle for the perfect remote control software is the UltraMote system from CardonWare.

The Ultramote software can be used to control any electronic device which uses an Infrared control system; DVD Player, Amplifier, TV Remote, Garage Door, Video player - the list is endless.

The PPC itself has not been designed with such communication in mind and the range of the IrDa transmitter is somewhat limited, thereby only allowing you to control devices within a relatively short distance.

CardonWare have eliminated this problem (for the iPAQ at least) by designing the Ultramote Extender which fits into the CF port of the CF Expansion Sleeve. The Expander is powered directly by the iPAQ itself and uses it's own electronics and IrDa LED system to greatly extend the range of the Ultramote system - as can be seen in the table below.

The only worry here was whether the electronics in the Extender caused the iPAQ's battery life to reduce greatly. Under tests battery life did decrease but it was found that it was negligible - 2 to 3% under normal usage conditions.

It should be noted that the Extender should be inserted in the CF slot with the label towards the thumb slot.



Device Controlled
Native iPAQ IrDa
Ultramote Extender
SKY TV Remote
2.0m
14m **
DVD Player
1.4m
10m **
Amplifier
1.6m
10m **

** - The ranges here may have been even greater but it was physically impossible to measure greater distances due to the location of the equipment within the living area. It should also be noted that the cabinet housing most of the home cinema equipment used for this review has smoked glass doors - if these were not present the range of the native iPAQ IrDa may have been greater.


In Operation

When the Ultramote application is first run you need to set up the criteria needed for operation. Firstly you must define the location for the device. Up to ten locations may be defined, these may be named for rooms; sitting room, bedroom, or for physical locations; Dad's house.

Each location will have its own set of devices contained within.

The locations are defined from the "Main/Location/New" Menu Option.

Once a location has been defined and selected from the menu bar you may start to add devices using the "Main/Device/Activity/New" Menu Option.

 

After hitting OK you are taken to the second configuration screen where you may select which skin(s) you wish to use for the device. You may also configure any functions you wish for the second extended option screen - see later.

A selection of skins are provided with the Ultramote software, with more being available on the Ultramote web site. The site even contains template files which allow you to design your own skins if you are feeling creative.

This is such a custom skin which has been designed to work with the UK SKY satellite TV system.

Here you can see the red circle indicating we are in 'learn' mode.

Learn mode is used to teach the Ultramote system the IrDA commands used by the relevant remote control.

When this mode is entered any undefined keys will appear with the red circle indicating they have not yet been defined. To configure any unmapped key you simply tap the key, wait for the beep and point the remote control at the IrDa port and press the key you wish to read on the remote. If the remote has been 'read' correctly you will hear two more beeps confirming the code has been read and set.

If the learning fails you may get a time-out message stating no signal has been received, if this is the case you can use the "Learn/Options" screen to modify the time out period.

This screen also allows you to configure whether you are using the internal iPAQ IrDa system or the External Ultramote Extender.

You may also turn on the "send.wav" sample which will be played each time a command is sent via IrDa. This sound sample can be changed by yourself by copying another file over the top of it.

The file may be found in the "\program files\ultramote\sounds\" directory.

Here you can see another custom skin showing the options as set via the second configuration screen.

It should be noted that you can configure as many, or as few, keys* as you wish to define your perfect Ultramote configuration.

Any keys which have already been configured can be modified by going through the learn procedures once more, you will be asked if you wish to overwrite the current settings - all you have to do is say yes.

* - or even hardware buttons - these can be selected for programming too!

Further custom skins showing that the Ultramote system can quite easily be used for controlling a home cinema system.

It should be noted that Macros can be constructed. A macro can be made up of a number of different keys which have been previously learnt.

Select "Learn/Start Macro" to activate the learning mode, then simply tap each key (changing screens in between if you so wish) you wish to record. You may have to use the "Delay" option to include delays which may be required by some devices in between each key. This can take some practice.

However once a macro has been created it can be of great benefit as you can automate such operations as:

  • Turn amplifier onto DVD mode
  • Open DVD Player drawer
  • Turn off SKY satellite system

that is preparing a home cinema system to be ready for a DVD performance.

Pro's and Con's

Support & Operation:

Ultramote includes full operating instructions within the application itself via the "Main/Instructions" option and more can be found online at the Ultramote web site.

The web site also contains a useful FAQ page which advises useful information such as:

Q: Which Pocket PCs does UltraMote support? A: UltraMote now supports the H31/36/37/38xx iPAQs, the HP Jornada 56x series, the Audiovox Maestro and the Toshiba e570. Please see the download area of our website for specifics.

Pro's:

  • Ultramote Extender.
  • Ability to program and use macros.
  • The Ultramote software works with: the Compaq iPAQ H31xx/36xx/37xx/38xx (PPC 2000 & 2002), HP Jornada 56x, Audiovox Maestro, and Toshiba E570 Pocket PCs
  • Can be used to replace many individual remote controls with one Pocket PC.

Con's:

  • The Ultramote Extender only works with: the Compaq iPAQ H31xx/36xx/37xx/38xx (PPC 2000 & 2002) Pocket PCs

Suggestions:

  • Allow the user to select which file may be used as the 'send.wav' file.
  • Include a wider range of skins with the application.
  • Allow device configurations (skins and settings) to be exported in a single file so that they can be swapped between users.

Conclusions:

The UIltramote system works very well indeed and serves to expand the capabilities of the Pocket PC even more. Highly recommended for owners of HiFi or Home Cinema systems. Just remember not to lose your Pocket PC.

Custom Skins:

The Custom Skins used in this review were very kindly designed by Karen at Jumping Cholla Enterprises Inc. My thanks to her for that welcome assistance.

Product UltraMote v1.4 and UltraMote Extender
Manufacturer CardonWare
Cost: $20 US with free 14-day evaluation period; Extender: $30, Software & Extender: $40. V1.4 for Compaq iPAQ H31xx/36xx/37xx/38xx (PPC 2000 & 2002), HP Jornada 56x, Audiovox Maestro, and Toshiba E570 Pocket PCs
Web Site:

http://www.ultramote.com

Rating:


(C)2000-2002 - The Tekguru

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