Is the iPad a Terrible Home Theater Remote?
The iPad is great for lots of things, but as a remote?
December 22, 2011 by Grant Clauser

Eric Thies, president of home technology integrator DSI Entertainment Systems, loves iPads, but just not as a home theater remote control.

He recently posted a blog on DSI’s web site five reasons why he hates the iPad as a remote. It’s actually a pretty controversial issue. First, iPads tend to be cheaper than dedicated touchscreen controllers, though equivalent or cheaper than many advanced wand-style remotes. The iPad (and other tablets) can obviously do a lot more than operate your A/V gear, and depending on your perspective, that can be good or bad. We’ve written a lot on the app control issue, so it’s nice to get a professional integrator’s take on the subject.

Here are Thies’ 5 reasons iPads make horrible remotes: 

1. Too big: The iPad is just the right size for a table, but it’s too unwieldy to be a practical remote control. If you are a power user, maybe you need all of this screen real estate to cover every single DVR button. For me, unnecessary.

2. I need hard buttons: I hate having to look down at a screen to find a volume button or the down arrow. It is just too slow. I surf my DVR by braille. I know exactly where all of the common buttons are so I can quickly navigate through my 25 episodes of “Storage Wars”. This appeals to my ADD personality.

3. It’s never there! Too often the iPad gets absconded by my 8-year-old daughter. It seems that whenever I have an urgent need to watch “The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills,” my iPad is hiding under a Barbie dream house or is shoved in the bottom of a sleeping bag ... with no battery life.

4. Mute! Back to my ADHD issue ... I can never seem to leave well enough alone. If I can multi-task, by God I will do it regardless of the circumstances. You want to see someone who can read a book while brushing their teeth, while listening to music, while urinating? You found your guy.

So how can I just let this powerful machine only serve as a clicker? Every time that annoyingly loud commercial comes on and I am unable to turn the volume down or mute (because I am buried in e-mails and don’t have my control app open), my wife shoots me a look that screams divorce court. The iPad is wonderfully robust but sometimes you just need an instantly available mute button to save your marriage.

5. Longevity: I don’t know about you, but my family drops a lot of remotes. Remote controls take an enormous amount of abuse in my household. Our iPad has had its fair share of spills which, knock on wood, have not affected it. I can’t imagine my luck will continue.

All of the above points assume you are using a centralized control app/control system such as Crestron, AMX, Control4, Savant, RTI, among others. If you aren’t using such a centralized app, the situation gets worse as you will have to bounce between different apps to control your DVR, your TV, your surround sound system, etc. Without a control system app, the iPad is just too inconvenient to consider to be a viable main remote control.

So if you are planning on going “iPad only” for your main home theater / media room remote control or home automation system, I would suggest you look at some of the hand-held remote offerings by the guys at Crestron, Control 4, AMX, Savant, RTI or URC. There is something to be said for a purpose-built device that is uniquely designed for a specific task.

We often do set up our client’s iPads to control their audio video and home automation systems, but ideally as an auxiliary remote control device, not as the main one.

For an example of what kind of integration work DSI does, check out this award-winning Malibu beach house.

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Grant Clauser - Technology and Web Editor, Electronic House
Grant Clauser has been covering home electronics for more than 10 years with editorial roles in several consumer and trade magazines. He's done ISF-level damage to hundreds of reviewed products and has had training from THX, the Home Acoustics Alliance, Control4 and Sencore. His latest book is Necessary Myths. Follow him on Twitter @geclauser.

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