Product Review: Kramer RC-81R Universal Room Controller

Product Review: Kramer RC-81R Universal Room Controller
  • If you're looking for an inexpensive control system for a classroom or small conference room, take a look at Kramer Electronics' RC- 8IR. Don't let the small package fool you - the RC-8IR is one powerful little control panel. The RC-8IR universal media/ room controller was designed for training rooms, classrooms, boardrooms, and presentation environments. The controller lets users execute 15 commands from each of its eight backlit buttons; that's 120 total commands. The buttons can be individually labeled, and is packaged with a generous supply of pre-printed labels. Two infrared (IR), one Ethernet, two relay contact closure, two RS-232, and one RS-485 communication port are all neatly packaged in one single gang wall plate. Each IR port can be connected to two IR emitters to control up to four IR devices.

Don't worry about having IR files captured; the RC-8IR has an IR learner built in to the unit. The two built in relays can control other room items such as raising and lowering drapes, the screen, or the projector, and even some lighting features. Two bi-directional RS-232 ports and one RS-485 port can control up to three additional devices via serial control protocols. The Ethernet port is used to program the unit with the included software package, and also to control the unit from the network or internet connection. The RC-8IR can also control up to five networked AV devices from the Ethernet port. One feature that makes this controller a great fit for the classroom is the lock out feature. The lock out feature on the RC-8IR can be programmed to lock and unlock the panel to prevent tampering.

When I first received the RC-8IR, it took me about three hours to fully master the programming process. With some practice, I now can program new units in 15 to 20 minutes. All programming configurations can be done without being connected to the unit. Your programming configuration can be saved and downloaded during physical installation. Programming can also be uploaded and downloaded to additional units in just a few minutes.

The software is intuitively laid out on a single page, and is easy to follow. The basic layout shows a picture of the panel and a button macro section. To program the panel, you select the button on the left side, and assign the function(s) or macros on the right side. Drivers can be downloaded from Kramer's website for several of their other devices, like switchers and processors. The website offers good service and support, providing current software, firmware, and instruction manuals.

The construction of this panel is metal, not plastic like many others I have seen. The look and feel of the RC-8IR is solid, and will hold up for many years in busy environments. Buttons are large and are easy to read and have a solid feel to them when pushed. All connections are made via the board-mounted terminal block connectors, and are clearly printed on the metal housing surrounding the circuit boards and connectors. The panel will fit into most any single box, but I would recommend using a deep box for better wire management.

Like all Kramer products, it is backed by a limited seven-year warranty to the dealer. Having a good warranty from the manufacturer is a good representation of the quality of the product, and peace of mind for the dealer installing the product. I'm not expecting to see many, if any of these panels fail after installation, but it's a great feeling to know that I won't have to pay for any replacements.

My overall evaluation of this product is very good. With the power of this controller, I wish there were more buttons, but that might defeat the purpose of a small control panel.