Choosing a remote control

If you are considering an expensive universal remote, experts recommend splurging for a custom installation from an experienced audio-video specialist. This certainly isn't a requirement, but experts say you'll get the most out of your expensive remote if you go this route. That said, most universal remotes, including most of those profiled in this report, don't require professional installation, but look for a brand that offers telephone-based support in case you get stuck trying to set it up. Experts also say to consider the following aspects when choosing a remote control:

  • Most universal remotes can handle basic home-theater components, but digital video recording devices (DVRs), such as TiVo boxes and DVD recorders, are trickier. Nearly all remotes can control a TV, DVD or Blu-ray player, cable or satellite box, VCR and receiver. If you have a DVR or DVD recorder, which require a lot more interaction, look for a remote that can specifically handle these components.
  • Less expensive remotes rely on internal codes or learning modes for programming. Pricier remote controls let you add new codes via a PC and the web, or by hand. If you have more than a few components, web programming is usually faster. All of the Harmony models can connect to a PC or Mac with a USB cable. A wizard asks about your equipment and then downloads the appropriate information to the remote control. Some advanced remotes from URC require you to program them by hand with the aid of a built-in wizard. That's more complicated and time-consuming, but it doesn't rely on a PC and an Internet connection.
  • Activity-based remotes perform several operations at once and are easier to use. For example, if you plan to watch a Blu-ray Disc, an activity-based remote initiates a macro to switch the television to the proper channel, turn on the Blu-ray player and execute the correct output settings with the push of one button. Sophisticated, activity-based remotes create the macros for you. Many basic, device-based remotes also let you create and store macros, but the number of macros is limited and the process is more tedious.
  • Nearly all remotes use an infrared beam (IR) for transmitting commands. That means you need an unobstructed path from the remote to the components. Some remotes come with a radio-frequency (RF) transmitter. This allows you to beam commands through obstructions such as furniture and walls. This can be useful if you want to control your stereo from a nearby room. Range is generally between 50 and 100 feet. You will also need an RF-to-IR receiver. Some RF-capable remotes include the receiver, but with others it is an extra-cost accessory. If you need Bluetooth control as well for a PlayStation 3, for example, it's available via an extra-cost accessory for Logitech Harmony remotes, and is included in a few remotes from other companies.

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