Universal Remotes: It’s the Little Things that Count
published onFebruary 1, 2012

Are you tired of playing “find the remote” every night — and worse, you finally find one only to discover it’s the wrong one?

If you’re pretty tech savvy, you probably gave up the whole “one remote for each device” with your Nintendo 64 game system. But maybe not. And as you upgrade home theatre system components — DVD, Blu-Ray, Apple TV box, etc. — the number of remote controls starts getting out of control.

If you’re ready to step into a universal remote control solution (Universal is the name of one brand of universal remote controls, but there are others), you have options. Here, in a nutshell, is everything you need to know about universal remote controls for your home theatre.

Types of Universal Remotes

There are two types of universal remotes: multibrand and learning.

Multibrand Remotes

Multibrand remotes often come free with home theatre components like your HDTV or Blu-Ray player. Yes, you can use the remote that came in the box to operate a limited number of other devices, and you’ll have better success with this if they’re all the same brand. (Ironically, considering the name.) The remote issued to you by the cable company or DirecTV with your box is a multibrand universal remote.

You can also buy an inexpensive multibrand remote control at nearly any big box store for under $20. These remotes are pre-programmed with the infrared codes for popular electronics so all you need to know is the code for your specific home theatre component and you’re good to go. If you don’t have the code, you can test it through trial and error or check the manufacturer’s website to download your manual and find the right code.

The Downside to Multibrand Remotes

These universal remote controls may not be compatible with all your audiovisual equipment, especially newer products. You can typically only control about five pieces of equipment with the remote, and control will be limited to functions like power on/off, channel, and volume adjustment.

The other downside is that these inexpensive universal remotes operate through IR frequency, which means you need an unbroken line of sight between the remote and component.

Learning Remotes

When most people think of “universal” remote controls, they think of learning remotes. These higher-end models can cost thousands of dollars, but you can pick up a decent one for under $100.

For years, the main difference between a multibrand and a learning remote is the way a learning remote can literally “learn” commands from another remote. Just point the first remote, with the codes you need, at your new remote, follow the directions in the manual, and now your new learning remote can do everything the original remote control could do.

Like multibrand remotes, learning remotes are also preprogrammed with hundreds of standard codes, or you can enter your own.

Your choices in a learning remote depend on:

  • How many components you want to control
  • What you want to be able to do with each component
  • Whether you want additional features like a lighted keypad to see functions in a darkened room or even a backlit LED touch screen
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    That’s just scraping the surface of what a learning universal remote control can do. You can program up to 20 or more devices on one remote. You can save your settings in the remote’s flash memory, so if the batteries die, you don’t lose your programming. (Some models also let you know when the batteries need to be replaced soon.)

    Another feature that many of our customers prefer include RF (Radio Frequency) capabilities. This is handy for home theatre components stored in a cabinet or an equipment closet. The RF-capable remote sends a signal to an RF extender in the same room as your equipment, which then sends an IR signal to IR flashers that signal your devices.

    You can program some universal remotes from your PC with a USB cable. You may also be able set up macros to perform several actions with the touch of one button. For instance, a Crestron home theater controller might dim the lights, close your room darkening electric shades, power on the HDTV and Blu-Ray and start the movie all with the touch of one button on the keypad. If only you could get it to pour your drink and salt the popcorn, you’d be ready to go.

    We’re all movie enthusiasts here at JD Pro, so we get it. Every moment of your movie night experience counts. The remote control might not be the most important piece of home theatre equipment. You barely notice it, until you can’t find it or until something goes wrong. But the right universal remote will make the experience that much better. Let’s hear it for the unsung heroes of home theatre [cue beer commercial music] — the universal remote control.