Review: 'Ray' redefines the possibilities of a universal remote for your entertainment

Executive editors Natan Edelsburg (@twatan) and Adam Flomenbaum (@flobombin), and guest contributors, bring the inside track on the latest developments in the TV space.

Ray Remote

To button or not to button? That is the existential question that remote manufacturers and users have been asking since the invention of the iPhone. While the iPhone essentially made buttons on a phone extinct, most TV owners still enjoy a remote with physical buttons. The Ray Super Remote is trying to change that.

Found Remote is giving the Ray Super Remote 4.5/5 Remotes.

The Ray Super Remote costs $249.00 on Amazon.

The highlights of the Ray remote:

  • The setup is insanely easy, it took under 5 minutes to connect all of my devices
  • Switching between devices on your TV makes you forget that the word "input" ever existed
  • The remote will ingest all the content available to you and recommend things in an easy and visual format

The downsides of the Ray remote:

  • If you're still addicted to physical buttons, Ray barely has them - only volume and power on/off for the remote are physical buttons on the side, everything else is touch screen
  • The battery needs to be charged every few days

My personal experiences uses Ray:

As a hard-core TiVo user, I pretty much only needed one remote already. The only other remote I frequented was my Apple TV. The Ray made it extremely easy to use both.

Also, the setup was phenomenally quick. I had friends over one weekend when I setup my Ray. I asked my close friend to try setting it up while I quickly stepped out of the room. By the time I was back five minutes later, he had all my devices connected, I was stunned.

I tried very hard to get behind the button-less environment. The truth is when I trusted my gut and tapped without looking, I rarely messed up. Still though, I longed for the physical buttons a good chunk of the time.

While I was impressed with the discovery capabilities, that weren't controlled by any one platform (like Netflix or Hulu), I didn't really need it. The long list of shows I have yet to watch and want to watch, will keep me occupied for the next decade.

Overall, I will continue to use the Ray remote long-term as I bring on a sound board and connected devices throughout my apartment. I will still stray back to my good old TiVo remote as I wait to see if buttons disappear for good in our society.

An interview with Ray's CEO and founder David Skokna to learn more about the invention:

Found Remote: Why a device at all versus an app? Is it just because of the IR functionality? If not, why important to have another advice?

David Skokna: What we found in our research is that people prefer a dedicated device with because entertainment is a shared experience in the home. Our phones are personal. While we believe in the power of a touch-screen for content discovery and equipment control, it needs to be packaged into a beautiful and dedicated device that anyone in the family can use. The television remote hasn’t seen major re-invention in decades but it’s an element of everyone’s homes that is familiar and simultaneously ripe for innovation.

FR: Why a touch screen remote, do you think people will find it hard to tap without looking?

DS: When we decided to introduce a touch-screen remote control, we looked at this very carefully. How important was tactile feedback in using a remote? Would people be put off by a touch-screen? And based on user feedback so far, we see that we have gotten a few things right. What causes fatigue in using a touch-screen interface for remote control is not specifically looking down, but having to move your gaze from the TV to the remote (and vice versa) multiple times in a short period of time. We have greatly removed the transitions by creating a touchpad-like remote control interface that mostly doesn’t require users to look at it to operate it. Also, when users are discovering content, we created a smooth browsing experience that people enjoy using while finding something to watch. Users are OK with looking at the remote for extended period while browsing for content, but they dislike transitioning from one device to the other.

FR: I'm someone who has a long list of shows that I want to watch and rarely have time to and personally don't need or want recommendations. I understand that some do but why should I use Ray if recommendations aren't important?

DS: Helping you find something to watch is only one side of the Ray experience, and something we believe delivers a completely new experience of using your TV. But strip away the content discovery features and Ray is also the best universal remote control available. And even if recommendations are not your thing, you can use Ray’s content discovery features to quickly find the shows you already watch. For example, if you are DISH subscriber, you can use Ray to browse the contents of your DVR to select something to watch or to program a future recording while watching something else.

FR: Why did you create Ray and what's your background?

DS: Ray is a universal remote control that puts content first. Other remotes believe they have put a user in control by adding more buttons. Instead, we are taking away interactions that we believe should already be obsolete. We make content to device delivery seamless for the smartphone/app generation as well as less-techie TV lovers.

We are all enthusiasts of television that share a frustration about content. As designers, engineers, and some of the original technologists that helped changed the way we watch TV, we feel we are the best team around at integrating some of the more advanced features of entertainment into familiar technology.

FR: How are things going so far? What are plans for the future?

DS: Our launch has been a great success. We have a tremendous amount of positive reviews and understanding for our long-term vision. Feedback from users is constant and we are iterating quickly. In the future, we will continue developing and expanding our software platform and work on exciting new products. Stay tuned.

FR: Why is the remote an important part of the TV ecosystem?

DS: We keep hearing “TV is dead” - which of course we at Ray don’t believe. But TV has changed, and has become simply an output device for the great content that is stored in many different places in today’s home. But that content still needs to be controlled, sorted, found and shared, which is where the Ray remote fits in. Because it’s so central to the experience of discovering and enjoying content. Every living room has one - or, more likely, several. There’s a reason why complaining about the complexity and proliferation of remotes is such a well-known trope! In the end, we are creatures of habit and a physical device (specifically with a touch-screen interface) will always carry the concept of control in the living room.

FR: How did you make it so easy to setup? Why don't other universal remotes make things that easy?

DS: We are a customer experience centric company, so every product, design and technology decision we make is weighted against the value that will be delivered to our users. We are very proud of how simple our setup process is (as we are of the complete Ray experience), and we believe it is a great showcase for our core values as a company. With that in mind we built a robust software platform that enables the Super Remote to communicate with a variety of living room and smart home products, and the on-boarding UI was engineered to be simple and painless. Again, a guiding principle for our interaction design was to take away pointless steps/interactions. Sounds simple, but not many hardware remotes have taken the time to do this.

FR: Any plans to integrate with things like Amazon Alexa, if you're not already?

DS: Many people at Ray are heavy users of Alexa at home - we are big fans of the Amazon Echo since the early days and follow closely the Alexa-powered line of products Amazon is introducing. Amazon has done a great job of not only introducing a new product category for the home, but also creating a great developer program and making a very robust set of APIs available for partners who are interested in using Alexa as a voice platform their products. This is something we are very interested in and it’s high priority for us as we see voice as becoming one of the main interaction models for the smart home. We are not ready to announce anything yet, but stay tuned!

FR: What are your favorite features on Ray?

DS: There are too many to count! But here are a couple that I catch myself using a lot and find they’re real time savers. First of all there’s the ability to switch from one device to the other with a single tap, while Ray takes care of everything else: switching inputs, turning on equipment in the right sequence, etc. It’s great to thoughtlessly switch from my Apple TV to my DVR without having to think about it or having to grab multiple remote controls.

The other feature I find myself using a lot is search. Whenever I read about a new TV show that’s coming up, I search for it on Ray and set a reminder for it (and if you’re a DISH or DIRECTV customer, you can even set up a recording). Search is also super handy when I want to go to a specific channel but don’t know the number - just search for a few letters of the channel name and I can switch to that channel with a single tap.

FR: Where did the name come from?

DS: Simplicity. We wanted a name that was friendly, short, human and that conveys that our product is a welcome, helpful part of your family. Ray just checks all those boxes and brings nothing but positive associations.

You can access the Future of TV hub here.Sign up to receive The Drum's Future of TV newsletter.

Join us, it's free.

Become a member to get access to:

  • Exclusive Content
  • Daily and specialised newsletters
  • Research and analysis

Join us, it’s free.

Want to read this article and others just like it? All you need to do is become a member of The Drum. Basic membership is quick, free and you will be able to receive daily news updates.