This Remote Controls Everything
By Michael J. Himowitz

(FORTUNE Magazine) – My family isn't the most wired in the world, but over the years we've amassed an impressive collection of remote controls--for the TV, VCR, stereo receiver, CD player, DVD-ROM player, and cable box, plus a couple whose origins are lost in antiquity. Taken together, our devices have more buttons than the cockpit of a 747.

I hate them all. It took me a month to figure out the TV remote, and I've given up on the rest. The batteries are always dying and we never seem to have proper replacements on hand. So I have a shelf full of remotes gathering dust--and when I need to tune in an FM station, I walk across the room and push a button on the stereo.

Given my aversion to remote-control clutter, I was intrigued when a brochure for the PHAST ViewPoint Wireless Touch Panel crossed my desk. It's the mother of all remotes--a single gadget that will handle the TV, VCR, stereo, CD, DVD, satellite dish, and cable box, dim the lights anywhere in the house, open the motorized curtains in your drawing room, and even monitor your home security system. Best of all, it's delivered with custom programming for all the devices in your home. It's the perfect Father's Day gift for the couch potato who has everything--if you have $3,200 to fork over for the starter version.

About the size and weight of a hardback novel, the ViewPoint doesn't look like your average remote. It looks like an overgrown hand-held computer, with a touch-sensitive, six-inch color LCD screen that displays menu after menu of icons representing the controls for all your gadgets. You can throw in your own title screen and even a picture of the family, if you like, or set up separate menus of icons that tune in each family member's favorite TV stations. Unlike buttons on a regular remote control, these are well-organized and easy to read and understand.

Inside the ViewPoint, there's a radio transmitter with a 300-foot range that broadcasts to a control center about the size of a VCR. Some devices get wired into the control center, while others communicate via infrared signals--that's how the command center controlled the TV, VCR, and other key electronic gadgets. With additional wiring and other modules, the control center can handle your lights, garage door, security system, thermostat, or anything else that relies on electrical switches.

If you're thinking of running down to Home Depot to pick up one of these babies, forget it. ViewPoint's manufacturer, PHAST Corp. of Salt Lake City, is the home-automation subsidiary of AMX, a Dallas company that designs fancy control systems for corporate boardrooms, auditoriums, and schools. Its equipment is designed to be set up and installed by pros. Only in the past couple of years have its products found their way into home theaters.

I put the ViewPoint through its paces in the elegant showroom of Baltimore's Gramophone Ltd., which delivers high-end audio and video systems to the kind of customers whose home theaters actually look like theaters. The firm's president, Brian Hudkins, says his technicians spend a week in Utah learning how to use the software that programs the ViewPoint and its larger cousins. Definitely not for amateurs.

Sure, the ViewPoint is astoundingly expensive for the Toms, Dicks, and Harrys among us. But it's the first remote I've seen that can put you in absolute control of everything electronic in your home. It's easy to use, and when you buy a new gadget, you simply call your dealer and have the ViewPoint reprogrammed. If I win the lottery, I'll be lining up to buy one. In the meantime, the ViewPoint is a fascinating example of the kind of technology that we'll all have in a few years.

To get more information about ViewPoint, call 800-979-9637 to reach PHAST's customer service, or point your Web browser to