Example: iPhone controlling iTunes over WiFi and traditional remote controlling HiFi components via infrared.
Solution: RedEye from the ThinkFlood company. Converts WiFi signal into infrared allowing iPhone to control iTunes and HiFi components.
In my dream world an iPhone not only controls music playback, but control the volume on my DAC via the volume up and down buttons on the side of the phone. This would allow use of the Apple Remote application or Plug Player while simultaneously adjusting the volume with a single device. Since my dream world isn't a reality yet the next best thing is the RedEye from ThinkFlood. This hardware and software combination allows one to use an iPhone app like an infrared remote without the need for direct line of sight from the phone to the electronics. Switching between the Apple Remote app and the RedEye app is pretty simple with newly enabled iPhone multitasking. However watching the volume level shoot up at breakneck speed is a little scary especially after the virtual volume button has ben released for a few seconds. RedEye might not be the ultimate in remote control products, but for less than $190 it's a great solution for many computer audiophiles looking to retire one more traditional remote control.
What Is RedEye?
The RedEye hardware is a Wifi to infrared bridge with an available built-in iPhone charging cradle. The RedEye cradle is compatible with nearly all iPhones and iPod Touches with the included dock adapters. The only physical connection required by the RedEye is for power. It communicates to any 802.11 b/g WiFi network and supports WEP, WPA, and WPA2 wireless security protocols. There is no option for wired Ethernet. One RedEye can be controlled by several iPhones simultaneously and several RedEyes can be controlled by one or more iPhones at the same time. By default each time the RedEye sends an infrared signal a bright blue light flashes inside the unit. This is helpful for troubleshooting, but I disabled the light indicator shortly after setup. The RedEye is completely dark and hidden in my listening room.
One item of note is that the RedEye comes configured for its own wireless network. An iPhone can easily connect to this network and operate with full remote control functionality. I recommend changing the RedEye configuration to join an existing home network. This way the iPhone can access the whole house network, including Internet, as well as the RedEye unit. If the default RedEye network is used the iPhone will have to join the RedEye network to use the remote control features, then join the house network to control iTunes running on a music server. This is far from ideal. Spend a little extra time up front as it will save a hassle and tons of time down the road.
The real beauty of the RedEye system is the free iPhone application. In layman's terms the iPhone application communicates with the RedEye hardware by sending a command, such as volume up or power off, over the wireless network. The RedEye hardware receives the instruction via WiFi and sends the appropriate command via infrared to the electronic component.
Initial setup of the app is fairly easy, but not without some hiccups. First, a little primer on RedEye terminology. The RedEye iPhone app has five main screens. Only two of them are important once the system is setup. These two are called Rooms and Activities. Each piece of RedEye hardware is seen by the application as a Room. Activities are are items like watching TV, listening to a CD, watching a DVD, or listening via music server. The music server activity isn't built-in, but these activities are only labels anyway. I created my own activity called Music Server. Each Room can contain many Activities enabling use in a home theater with a plethora of electronics. Navigating to control the components desired is pretty simple. Select a Room then an activity and the remote control for that activity appears on screen.
One of the other five main screens is called devices. This screen lists all the devices in the selected Room. I never used this screen for anything other than viewing the list of devices. This was solely because I only wanted to control a single IR device. Another rarely used screen is named Commands. This screen enables one to send one of the remote controls rarely used commands that purposely left off the main controller screen. This is another screen I nearly never used.
Back to the initial setup. Rooms are automatically created when a RedEye hardware unit is discovered. Devices must be added before any activities. Adding devices is the piece that caused me the most pain. ThinkFlood has a very extensive online database of device codes that automatically download to the application upon selection of a specific device. Since the high-end audio niche isn't the most catered to audience I wasn't surprised to see none of my devices listed in the database. Fortunately I obtained the remote codes from a manufacturer and sent them to ThinkFlood support. The next day many devices form this manufacturer were listed in the database and were selectable when adding a device within the application. RedEye also supports the standard remote learning function where infrared commands are sent to the unit from a traditional IR remote during a one time setup procedure.
When adding a DAC to the RedEye app I became a bit frustrated. I entered the device Manufacturer into the app, in this case Esoteric. The app then asks for device type. Just about every type of electronic device is listed in this section except DACs. Heck, even Audio Tape Recorders and Phonographs are listen but no DAC. Even though I sent in the Esoteric commands to ThinkFlood my DAC was still not listed. I assumed it was entered as a CD player or something similar. It's possible to enter a device model name in another optional section, but adding a model name never helped my cause. Now the very annoying part. If a device type is selected and there are no devices of that type for a specific manufacturer the app requires the user to start the device adding process all over. The user receives a message that there are no devices of a certain type in the database but doesn't allow the user to select another device type. This is annoying when trying to guess where a DAC falls into place. Knowing that many remote commands for a manufacturer are the same between devices I was pretty sure I could find at least one device, even if it didn't say DAC on it, that worked for me. I tried a few DVD, CD, and AV Receiver devices under the Esoteric name. Not satisfied until I found the device that worked best as a DAC controller I had to try every device type. This lead to searching for a device type and starting over if nothing was found in the database. Maybe ThinkFlood can disable certain device types if there are none for a given manufacture. I finally settled on an Esoteric CD player. I also had to choose between two different items listed as 5799: Play and 5802: Play. People not learned in remote control speak would have no idea what option to select. I did a little research and found out 5802 was the best option.
Once that mini-fiasco was over the rest of the setup was a breeze. I added an activity called Music Server and select the Esoteric DAC as my device. One very neat part of the RedEye iPhone application is its customizability. On most traditional remote controls there are way more buttons than I would ever use on a daily basis. Using the RedEye app it's very easy to display only the buttons desired and to place them in any location on the screen. Moving buttons is a simple drag and drop process. More about my exact setup a bit later.
Users with much more advanced systems are also in luck with the RedEye. The app supports Smart Actions. These are like an advanced Macro because Smart Actions remember if a device is on or off. There's nothing like using a Macro to turn on/off a bunch of devices at once only to find out one device is in the opposite state. Ten items on and one device off or one device on and ten devices off. Very annoying. this will never happen with the RedEye.
How Does RedEye Work In My System?
My description above may be a bit difficult to follow without a concrete example. Here is exactly how I used the RedEye for this review. Esoteric shipped me the D-07 DAC for review. When asked if I want the remote control I declined as I knew this would force me to find a solution for iPhone IR remote control. During the review my system configuration was pretty simple. A Mac and Windows music server connected to the D-07 that was connected directly to my amplifier. I used the Apple Remote app to control iTunes on the Mac and the Plug Player app to control J River Media Center on the Windows server. Since the iPhone iOS 4 now supports multitasking it was easy to switch between the RedEye app and either Remote or Plug Player quickly. A major plus of the RedEye application is its ability to open directly to the activity in progress. Switching back to RedEye from Plug Player brought me instantly to the remote control screen for the D-07. No intermediate menu navigation is necessary.
After the struggles mentioned above while adding the DAC device I really enjoyed the ability to create my own remote control screen. I took a minimalist approach when designing the screen. The only buttons I displayed were Menu, Input left/right, Volume up/down, and Mute. I loved the ability to place the volume buttons very close to the right edge of the screen. This enabled easy one-handed access to the buttons without contorting my hand across the touch screen and accidentally hitting the other buttons. The RedEye app also allows granular configuration of the button appearance and how it functions. Function options are Normal, Macro, Toggle, or Repeating. I used the Normal options for most buttons and the Repeating option for the volume buttons. The Esoteric D-07 volume ranges from -100 to 0 and moves .5 per button click. Without a repeating button it can take quite a while to adjust the volume. The appearance of each button can be changed by selecting a different icon, icon size, and showing/hiding a button label.
Aesthetically the remote control screen is really nice and understated. I like the dark background as it uses far less battery than bright white background. In addition the remote control screen enters full screen mode with one tap of a finger or within a couple seconds of viewing the remote control screen itself. I set this option to enter full screen / hide toolbars automatically. It's possible to hide the top, bottom or none of the toolbars if desired. I also liked the ability to disable screen auto-lock. This setting keeps the remote control screen visible and ready to use 100% of the time. The iPhone will dim the display a little bit, but never put the device to sleep. With the already dark background and the slightly dimmed screen I never noticed any batter degradation while using the RedEye app on my iPhone.
In my listening room I placed the RedEye hardware underneath the desk where I write reviews and articles. The desk sits in the rear left-hand corner of the room. With the blue light in the RedEye disabled there is no way anyone would no the deice is there. Plus, I don't have to do anything but open the RedEye application and I'm ready to go. Since I charge my iPhone every night and never notice any battery usage from the app I had no use for the built-in RedEye charger. However, If I purchased an iPod Touch as a remote for my listening room only I would likely use the charging cradle on the RedEye and place is near my listening chair. It's very nice to have options.
During the review period I ran into a couple things RedEye user should keep in mind. Setting the volume button to repeating can lead to moments of audiophile terror as the volume increases at an out of control rate. This issue really sounds larger than it is and may not be an issue for all components. Using the D-07 and adjusting the volume I found the volume would continue to rise or fall sometimes for a few seconds after I let go of the volume button. After learning how to use the volume with the D-07 I was able to adjust it in .5 db increments and raise and lower the volume at will without major issues. Another item to keep in tieback one one's mind is the RedEye's ability to reconnect to a wireless network after experiencing network problems. During the review I rebooted my wireless router a couple time and after each reboot I had to systole the power on the RedEye hardware. Fortunately no configuration was needed and the RedEye appeared within a few seconds in the iPhone app. Not a big deal, but a possible headache if one doesn't know how to fix the issue.
Note: The RedEye Mini was not available during the review period. Even so, the Mini is not my type of device. It requires the user to insert a little infrared transceiver into the headphone jack of the iPhone and aim the iPhone at the electronic components to control them. The Mini is a popular device now for many people, just not for me. I just want to be able to enter my listening room and open the app with the hardware already in place under my desk.
Pros, Cons, and Conclusions
- A single remote control for WiFi and infrared
- Great customization
- Full screen
- Hardware sits in one spot without need to touch it
- Optimized to launch quickly and to bring one right to the activity in progress
- Backup and restore capability
- Button feedback with sound or vibration
- Device setup annoyance
- Runaway volume
- Device didn't reconnect to network after router reboot
The RedEye hardware / software combination is really tough to beat for less than $190. It's not glitch free, but it's simple to use and doesn't require a certified programmer to setup and maintain. Finally the days or infrared remotes are history for those willing to give the RedEye a shot. The RedEye is the solution to a real problem, not a solution looking for a problem like so many new tech toys. Whether a user has one audio system or whole house audio or even a home theater, the RedEye can control all of them at once. Users so inclined can even get into a remote control war with their significant other using two iPhones to control a single stereo or television via the RedEye. This many-to-one or one-to-many relationship has me wondering where all the restrictions of the past have gone. It's seems like not too long ago there wold have been major restrictions limiting the number of remotes and devices and likely more than a few wireless issues. I highly recommend this restriction-free, convenience laden, music server and component control in one. It 's a great time to be an audiophile.
Manufacturer - ThinkFlood
Price - RedEye Hardware - $188 [Product Page]
Price - RedEye iPhone App - Free [Product Page]
RedEye User Manual*[Link]
RedEye YouTube Channel*[Link]