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
- 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.