Nowadays, there’s a good chance that your TV has a lot more hooked up to it than just a cable box or antenna (remember those?), especially if you’re putting together a home theater. In fact, it’s not uncommon to see a DVR, Blu-ray player, stereo receiver, and a couple of video game consoles surrounding most folks’ televisions. The result? A pile of remote controls littering your coffee table or — more often than not — getting lost among your couch cushions. If you find yourself in this common predicament, a universal remote control can really help. You don’t necessarily need one remote to rule them all, but it certainly helps cut down on the clutter.
If you’ve ever taken a look at the universal remote control models available online or at a local electronics retailer, you know that the selection can be intimidating both in terms of features and price tags. That’s why we’ve put together this group of our five favorite remotes covering a range of budgets, along with advice on who they’re best suited for. We’re sure you’ll find one that fits your needs (and budget).
The first pick on our list of recommendations isn’t a remote in the traditional sense, but it’s perfect for those who’d rather control everything using an iPhone, iPod touch, or iPad. The L5 Universal Remote is a combination of hardware (a small dongle that attaches to the docking port on your device) and a free app.
What sets the L5 apart from any other remote, other than the fact that its interface is simply an app on your iOS device, is how much customization it offers. You can customize the placement of buttons for each device, in addition to changing the size of the buttons to fit your taste. The infrared emitter requires no additional power source and can be left connected in case someone calls while you’re watching something. The only downside is that, due to its small size, the emitter might be easy to misplace.
The WR7 is a great entry point into the world of universal remote controls. It can manage up to seven individual devices. What’s more, it has a macro capability for each device button that can be used to trigger a programmable series of commands when pressed, such as powering on the device and switching your TV and receiver to the appropriate inputs with a single tap of your fingertip.
In addition to its built-in support for many devices, this remote can learn commands from any other remote you aim at it. A power off button can turn off every device in your setup with one press, and every button on the remote is backlit for ease of use in darkened rooms.
This step up from the URC-WR7 adds support for three more devices (for a total of 10) and a basic LCD display, but that’s not the big draw here. The standout feature is its built-in RF transmitter and included receiver base.
RF (radio frequency)-capable remotes like this one let you control devices that aren’t directly in your line of sight. In fact, they can be hidden behind cabinet doors or placed out of view entirely. They work by sending their commands via radio signals to a small receiver placed near your components. The receiver then “blasts” out infrared (IR) signals that are picked up by your devices. You can also connect small IR emitters to the RF receiver, then discreetly stick them over the IR receivers on the front of your components, if needed.
Randy Nelson has spent most of his waking life since the age of 5 playing video games and the last 14 years writing about them professionally.
In the rare moment he’s not playing or writing about games, he can be found checking out the latest iOS apps, streaming inappropriate amounts of TV and movies, and obsessing over his home theater settings. Randy has written for Tecca, IGN, Next Generation, Official Dreamcast Magazine, PSM, and Joystiq. He also loves cats. You can follow him @DangerPenguin.