Buying Guide: Universal Remote Controls
A universal remote control can command your TV, Blu-ray player, PVR and more, doing away with the clutter of controls on your coffee table. Learn how universal remote controls work, their features and compatibility with other equipment.
What Is A Universal Remote Control?
A universal remote control is just like a regular remote control, except – rather than its signal being confined to controlling one specific
device – it is able to be programmed to control several different devices, including a TV, DVD player or Blu-ray player, home theatre or stereo
At a basic level, a universal remote control is a useful accessory to remove clutter from your living room, allowing you to manage all of your electronic devices from one controller. At a more advanced level, some universal remote controls are able to perform more functions than other remote controls, and command several devices with just one button.
What Can A Universal Remote Control Do?
Universal remote controls range in capability and price:
- The less expensive models will perform the basic functions of a remote control, including power on/off, volume adjustments, as well as the play/pause/rewind etc. functions. They will typically only be able to control up to five devices, so are best for home entertainment systems comprising of a few components.
- More expensive universal remotes can control up to 20 different devices, and will be able to mimic more sophisticated commands from those devices' supplied remotes. They may even come with support for macros, which allow you to program your own sequence of commands. This means that you can perform several functions, such as 'turn TV on, turn DVD player on, play DVD' with the press of just one button.
How Does A Universal Remote Control Manage All My Devices?
Most universal remote controls come pre-programmed with the ability to control several devices from a choice of hundreds, by leading brands and also some smaller brands. To use your universal remote, you need to inform it of the make and model of each of your devices – e.g. TV, DVD player, and/or set-top box. There are currently two ways that universal remotes allow you to do this:
- Some universal remotes come with a book containing a list of codes for different model numbers; you'll need to search for your device and enter the corresponding code to your remote. This is useful if you have only a few devices and they are all major brands.
- More advanced universal remotes connect to your computer via USB so you can search for device codes by model number. These signals can then be downloaded straight onto your remote. This is useful for programming multiple devices quickly and simply.
How Can I Be Sure My Devices Are Compatible?
Most universal remotes cover a comprehensive range of devices and brands, so they will generally be compatible. However, if you have very old components, or have purchased a lot of generic-brand electronics, it is worth double-checking. Look at the website of the remote's manufacturer, or if possible have a look through the manual of a universal remote before deciding to purchase.
What Are Some Other Features To Look For?
Basic universal remotes are designed similarly to normal remotes and will comprise of a set of buttons to press. More advanced remotes may come with a built-in LCD screen, often containing an icon-based interface similar to a computer desktop. This will allow you to navigate and select your input options easily.
Universal remote controls are powered by batteries. Some, like normal remote controls, will use replaceable AA batteries. Other universal remotes – such as those with an LCD screen built in – require higher power, so the battery life may not be as long as in a regularly remote control. Some remotes overcome this problem by using supplied rechargeable batteries that can be charged via a charging dock, or even via computer, similar to an MP3 player or mobile phone. This is a useful feature if your remote will be used frequently, or if you want to avoid having to replace batteries often.
Different universal remotes can also transmit their signals in different ways. Most universal remotes use infra-red (IR) to communicate with components. This is the way most remote controls operate, and requires a direct and largely unobstructed line of sight between the remote control and the unit it is trying to control. This is fine for basic set-ups where two to three devices are being operated.
In some cases, you may wish to control components all over your house, particularly if you have a more sophisticated universal remote that can control up to 20 devices, including a Hi-Fi stereo system and TV entertainment system. In this case, it might be worth looking at a remote that transmits its signal via radio frequency. This requires no direct line of sight and the signal can be transmitted through walls and floors.
What Can I Do With My Old Remotes?
If your universal remote is able to control a significant number of your devices, and you don't need the supplied remote controls, it might be worth looking into recycling them. Larger recycling facilities should be able to accept these, as they are comprised largely of metals and plastics that can be recycled and may be more harmful if they are disposed of in landfill. Check with your local recycling facility. Bear in mind, however, that if any of your electronic devices develops a fault, some manufacturers will only accept exchange or return if they are returned with all their supplied accessories, including remote control. Only dispose of your old remote if you are certain you will not need them for any reason.