HEATHER NEWMAN: Remote makes all things possible

October 8, 2003


There's a way to make your remote control turn off all of your home theater devices -- your television, your DVD player, your VCR, you name it -- at once.

That same remote can instantly set your system to movie mode, with your DVD powered up and set to the proper sound levels, your receiver set to the right channel and ready-to-thump surround sound, and the television set to the proper input channel to see the picture.

Want to give your personal video recorder (such as a TiVo) the ability to skip 30 seconds ahead at a time? No problem.

It's all possible if you program your remote control.

Taking control

No, I'm not talking about the programming that some universal remotes already come with, where they can learn functions from the controls you already have and repeat them. This is honest-to-goodness programming, where you tell your remote what to do -- even to the point of making one button do a whole series of actions.

It's called JP1 programming, after the plug in the remote control that makes it possible. And it's easier than you might think.

JP1 programming started because the folks who made remote controls wanted to give themselves a way to quickly load in configurations in their new remote controls and upgrade them if necessary.

Smart geeky types quickly figured out that if they added the plugs to compatible remotes, they could do their own reprogramming. Fortunately, doing your own remote control upgrades doesn't require wielding a soldering iron or piecing together your own cables.

Sites like www.surfremotecontrol.com offer kits with compatible remotes, built-in plugs and the cable to connect them to your PC.

What you'll need

You'll need a PC or laptop with a spare parallel port, which is the 24-pin female plug that most older computers used for printers. The cable has that type of plug on one end and a small rectangular jack on the other that looks like a telephone plug. That's what plugs into the port in the remote, which is typically hidden in the battery compartment.

You'll also want a spreadsheet program like Microsoft Excel, which helps when tweaking the configuration you want for your remote.

Finally, you'll need the free software to do the deed on your PC. To get what you need, join the JP1 Group at http://groups.yahoo.com/group/jp1 and use the files you find in the Files section of that Web site after you join.

Tommy Tyler's primer, JP1 for Beginners, is among those files. Download it and print it out; it's a simple explanation of how the programs work.

Rob Crowe's Web site at www.hifi-remote.com is a terrific place to get some additional information and help.

How it works

Basically, it works like this:

You plug the cable into the back of your PC and fire up the software. After checking to make sure the cable is responding, you then plug in your remote -- typically a Universal Electronics One for All remote, which costs $15-$100 depending on its capabilities.

The software allows you to download all the settings you already have in the remote (which button controls what device, and so on) and shows it on screen.

Spreadsheets that have been created by the company and by other enthusiasts have the configurations you need to plug in devices not normally supported by your remote.

Basically, the spreadsheets tell the software what functions to assign to what buttons. The good news is that you can save all your settings on your PC, so if your remote forgets -- as mine always does when the batteries die -- you can upload it again in a flash.

JP1 programming isn't for the technically challenged, but it's not nearly as hard as doing actual computer programming. If you like, you can re-use things other people have done and have a truly multifunction remote just by lifting a finger.

Contact HEATHER NEWMAN at 313-223-3336, newman@freepress.com or www.freep.com/tech.

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