SnapStream Firefly Remote Review

April 11, 2005

Probably the one thing Tivo has most over the various other PVRs is its user interface, and a large part of that user interface is the well-designed remote.

Although the trusty Tivo is still getting a workout here, I keep playing with PC-based PVRs as well, mostly because I like the flexibility of having a PC attached to a TV, and having recorded media in an easy-to-refactor format.  I also feel a little more insulated from Tivo’s increasing tendency to bend to the demand of the content providers.

I’m currently reasonably happy with Sage TV, which provides excellent picture quality, hacked up with a Windows MCE-style interface to replace Sage’s less-than-stellar UI.

What’s still lacking is a decent remote.

I’ve tried the ATI and Hauppauge remotes, and was never happy with the design.  The SnapStream Firefly remote, however, appears to be very well laid-out and thought out, and reportedly integrates well with the MCE (and MCE-inspired interfaces).

All of that is true.  The hardware, however, seems to suck badly.

I really, really wanted to like the Firefly remote.  It offers a USB interface (convenient, since those are the only ports I have to spare), and is RF rather than IR based, which is a big plus for me.

The layout is indeed reasonably well thought-out, and it does integrate well into an MCE style interface. 

I’d even go so far as to say it worked well—at first.

The problem seems to be poor construction. 

A good remote should take abuse like a determined welterweight.  Things happen to remotes—they’re dropped, spilled, lost, chewed on by dogs, drooled on by toddlers, and most of all, USED.  Their buttons are pushed, tapped, mashed, thrashed, jabbed and prodded.

Being out of the dogs and toddlers business, my Firefly has been neither drooled nor chewed on.  I’m the only user of it, and I can’t remember a single instance of it being dropped or spilled on.  I’m not a terribly type-A TV watcher, so it hasn’t even gotten many good jabs or pokes.

In the four months I’ve had it, however, it has gone to the point of being virtually unusable.  The buttons I use most (select, up, down, fast forward, rewind, play and pause) appear to be worn out. 

Sometimes you can hit them a dozen times before you get a single keypress registered.  Other times (often 3 seconds later), a single keypress will register multiple clicks (this is particularly the case with the select button).

This is incredibly annoying—the latter (multiple clicks) moreso than the first.  It has gotten to the point where selecting and viewing a program is a wildly hit-or-miss proposition.

This does not appear to be an RFI issue—other (more seldom used) buttons work fine.  It’s just the buttons that I use all the time that are bad.

The only conclusion I can reach is that in the brief time I’ve used it (I’ve got a Tivo remote going strong after five years; four months is infancy for a remote) the button mechanisms have worn out. 

This is bad enough in the case of missed clicks, but it’s particularly inexcusable in the case of multiples—keyboard debouncing in software is a technology as old as the hills (or as old as keyboards, anyway); set a threshold for the minimum time between clicks, and throw away any extras as duplicates. If that had been done properly, this would only be half as annoying.

With a cost of $50 for a remote, this works out to about $12.50 per usable month (being generous and calling the last six weeks usable).

Not a bargain.

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