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With all the media devices you can now connect to your TVs and monitors, it seems like you might need a dozen remote controls just to manage them all.
Luckily, that’s not the case. Ongoing improvements in universal remote technology help alleviate the problem.
A universal remote is a singular device that uses the same frequencies as your other devices.
With a universal remote, you can streamline control over everything into one unit. This make it easier to navigate your home media.
But figuring out which universal remote is right for you could be tricky. That’s why we're here to help.
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We consult experts, evaluate the product space, and solicit owner opinions in order to present a clear picture of what you can expect from each item on our shortlist.
If you’re interested in buying a universal remote, please see our product recommendations, above.
If you’d like to learn more about universal remotes, please continue reading this shopping guide.
The purpose of a universal remote is to make your entertainment life easier.
When you buy a TV, it comes with a remote. When you buy cable or satellite box, it comes with a remote. DVD, Blu-ray, DVR, streaming media players, and even video game systems with added media components come with some kind of remote.
After a while, switching from device to device with a different remote each time grows tedious.
If you purchase a universal remote, don't get rid of the originals. You may need them to find what each button does to the corresponding controller. Plus, it’s always nice to have a backup.
Consider the benefits of a universal remote:
You don’t have to memorize button controls for multiple remotes.
You don’t have to buy multiple replacement batteries to keep your remotes going.
You don’t have to remember where you put each remote every time you need it.
With a universal remote, you can turn on your TV and browse channels, program a show to record later that night, and then switch over to your gaming console with the push of a button.
Several types of universal remotes populate the market; the two primary types are “pre-programmable” and “learning” remotes. You’ll find both types in our product recommendation matrix.
A pre-programmable remote includes a guide to help you select which device you want to connect to.
A learning remote “learns” what to do based on the signal from the remotes that already exist. To “teach” this remote, you perform an action with the first remote that came with your device. For example, you adjust the volume. You then set up the buttons you want to do that same action on the universal remote.
A universal RF remote uses radio frequencies to control a device from anywhere within a certain range. It can even operate through walls.
Programming a universal remote is quite simple.
Most remotes come with either a built-in list or pamphlet of devices. This list covers a wide range of major brands, competitors, third-party manufacturers, and specific models.
Underneath those brands are a list of the most common devices they produce, such as televisions or Blu-ray players. Next to each device name, you’ll find a set of codes.
Using the directions provided by the universal remote manufacturer, find the code for the device you wish to program on this list. Input the code and confirm your choice.
A universal remote can program a lot of devices, but it cannot program everything that’s ever been created. If you have technology older than seven years, your new remote may not be able to operate it.
At that point, the universal remote calibrates itself to that device’s functions and assigns the proper controls to your remote.
For most remotes, this is where the programming process ends.
However, if you have a remote that is able to connect to the internet or receive updates, new codes can be added as new devices come onto the market.
Some universal remotes come with the codes built into the unit and a pamphlet guide.
Not every remote is designed simply for the basics. Some units include cool features that give you much more control than you may have anticipated.
For example, you might choose a remote that includes automatic controls for Apple TV, Xbox One, the Windows Media Center, and a Roku, all of which can be accessed without programming.
Every remote does something different, so be sure to check functionality options before you settle on a purchase.
Some remotes boast a WiFi connection that allows you to use the device on other electronics that employ the same principles.
For example, if you have a thermostat that can be controlled by computer access or security cameras with a remote interface, it’s possible to program the remote to operate those devices.
Some universal remotes use a WiFi connection to enhance connectivity. However, their ability depends on the strength of the Wifi signal. If you’re looking to connect everything in your home through the internet, this type of universal remote could be a good option.
Parents who want an extra level of control over what their kids watch can select a remote with lockout controls.
With a remote such as this, it’s possible for parents to deny a child access to specific channels without restricting all channels.
Q. What can I control with a universal remote?
A. Besides the obvious products (TVs and media players), you can program some universal remotes to control CD changers, laserdisc players, stereo systems, amplifiers, cassette tape decks, game consoles, cable/satellite boxes, and even computer light controls.
Q. Are all universal remotes compatible with everything?
A. No. Some technology is so outdated that it will never connect to a modern universal remote. Betamax is a good example, as the remotes for those systems are so out of date, they don’t conform to any standard system.
However, some new tech devices also won’t connect. Why? Some manufacturers have made their products so highly secure that no remote — other than the one you would purchase from that company — will connect to it.
Q. How many devices can I control at once?
A. The answer to this question depends on your remote. Some can only control three or four devices at a time. Others can handle up to 12 devices at once. The packaging on the remote should tell you how many devices you can successfully integrate.
Q. Will my new universal remote ever become out of date?
A. Yes, a modern remote purchased today will eventually become obsolete. But this will take some time. Technology progresses, but people’s buying habits don’t always move quite as fast. If you like the tech you have and don’t want to buy anything new, we recommend that you stick with it until the day arrives that it must be replaced.
However, if you’re the kind of consumer that quickly buys the next best thing, there’s a good chance your universal remote won’t “keep up” for quite as long.
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At BestReviews, we purchase every product we review with our own funds. We never accept anything from product manufacturers. Our goal is to be 100% objective in our analysis, and we do not want to run the risk of being swayed by products provided at no cost.