Once you have all your kit on the remote, you can if you want control it all individually – pressing the Devices button will display each one you have, and you choose the one you want to control by pressing the adjacent button running down the side of the screen. The various functions are then shown on screen and you select the one you want by again pressing the corresponding button. A generic list of codes are downloaded to the remote, meaning that you have to scroll through a huge number of controls using the arrow keys below the screen, even though many of them won’t be relevant for your device. This can be fully customised by the software though.
Once you’ve added each of your devices to the remote, you can control each of them. However, the fact is that having to control each device in turn from one handset is in many ways less convenient than having the individual remotes laid out in front of you. It’s just awkward having to switch between them using the ‘Device’ button, which could be larger and better placed. However, this isn’t really what a device such as this is about – the Activities button on the top is really the main attraction, more on which later.
Of course, the main controls, such as Play/Pause/Stop etc. will map directly to the physical buttons on the remote. The good news is that there are enough of these to make it feasible to really ditch your main controls. I have owned a large and now very classic Sony RM-AV2000 LCD touch screen remote for about seven years, and while it was possible to map everything to the device if you persisted long enough, it just wasn’t ergonomic enough to replace my Sky controller. However, the 895 is. It’s still not as naturally intuitive as a well designed remote such as Sky’s, but it is feasible – and worthwhile doing just to keep that remote count down.
Key to this is the presence of physical, ‘Guide’, ‘Info’ buttons and Red, Green, Blue and Yellow buttons, while the central select button and the directional pad around it work as you would expect. However, some of these buttons, particularly the colour coded ones are just too small so you have to look down to check what you’re pressing. It seems these buttons are small just to maintain the symmetry of the device - a classic case of form over function.
As I said earlier, the most important button is really the one labelled ‘Activities’. Using the PC software you can create a macro, which let’s you press one button such as ‘Watch TV’. This will then switch on each device in turn, and set each to the correct input automatically. If necessary you can tweak things to get them just right, such as delaying a signal so that one device comes on before another. The remote is also fairly intelligent in that if the surround speakers are turned on as part of the Watch TV macro, the physical volume control on the handset will then control the volume of that, rather than the TV. However, once you switch to a device manually, it 'forgets' to default to the surround speakers and goes back to the TV speakers.