By Evan Ackerman

It would be great to use your iPhone as a universal remote, wouldn’t it? Sure it would! The only problem is, it doesn’t really work without a clunky IR transmitter attached to it. On the other hand, your iPhone can talk to other stuff through Bluetooth… It’s just too bad that your AV equipment can’t deal with that. You see where this is going, right?

The folks at Audiovox have come up with a system called Zentral, which is just a box plus a universal remote iPhone app. All the box itself really is, is a Bluetooth receiver with a big IR blaster. It doesn’t actually plug into any parts of your TV or stereo, it just sits there, receives Bluetooth signals from your phone, and translates them into IR commands and resends them. You might wonder how it can talk to the front of your equipment if it’s sitting above your equipment, but the IR transmitter it uses is powerful enough to bounce signals off walls and ceilings. There are a bunch of equipment codes that you can enter to get the system talking to your stuff, and you can set up all kinds of custom macros to turn up to 16 different things on and off with a single command.

There are a couple other home automation gadgets that work from the same Bluetooth phone command system, including an iPod dock and a garage door opener, which is a pretty cool idea. They’re working on expanding the system to include things like the thermostat and lighting, and the sky’s the limit, really… If they can pull it off and keep going, it would be great to be able to control virtually your entire house from one app on your phone. And so far, of this stuff is affordable, too: the AV controller is $80, while the garage door opener (which is an easy DIY setup) is $50 (although it’s currently BlackBerry only). Look for it to hit retail this spring.