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Universal remote buying guide

Why one remote control is better than six

Ralph Graves is one of Crutchfield's blog editors, and part of the company's social media team. He writes about home audio/video gear, specializing in Apple-related and wireless technologies. Ralph holds a master's degree in music composition, and his works have been released on various labels. He's served as product manager for an independent classical and world music label, produced several recordings, and worked extensively in public broadcasting. Since 1984 he's hosted a weekly classical music program on WTJU, and is also active as a blogger and podcaster.

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The Logitech® Harmony® Home Control

The Logitech® Harmony® Home Control lets you control virtually all your home theater components and home automation devices with a single remote and compatible smartphone app.

It’s a common sight: a coffee table cluttered with remotes — but which one goes with which component?  Consolidating all your home theater controls into a single universal remote greatly simplifies the process -- not only for you, but for other family members or house guests who might use your system.

Why choose a universal remote?

A universal remote consolidates all the command functions of the remotes (or remote apps) it replaces into a single device. And that means you can have one-button commands — or macros — to turn on and control your entire system. So watching TV can be as simple as pressing a single button marked “Watch TV,” and let the remote fire up your receiver, TV, and cable box.

Multibrand remote for the basics

Multibrand remotes, which are a type of universal remote, are often free with certain gear like TVs and receivers. They generally come pre-programmed with infrared codes for many popular brands of gear, so you can control more than just one component in your system. Normally, these remotes can give you basic control over an assortment of standard audio/video components, such as receivers, Blu-ray players, TVs, and cable boxes.

Although a multibrand remote can typically operate the basic functions of most components, it may not be able to control every function of every piece you own. For example, a remote pre-programmed with the operating code for your Blu-ray player can normally turn on the player's power, adjust its volume, select the menu item you want, and play your disc. It may not, however, have control over more specialized features, like turning the director's commentary on or off or accessing behind-the-scenes footage.

Programmable remote for greater convenience

Control multiple devices with a single button
Macros let you consolidate commands. Press the single button for "Watch TV," for example, and your smart universal remote will send out commands to all the necessary components. So your TV and receiver will turn on, ready to go. And if you include home automation controls into your remote, that "Watch TV" command could also adjust the room's lights and even draw the blinds through compatible devices.

Harmony remote

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Touchscreens for greater flexibility
Some of the most sophisticated remotes use a touchscreen LCD. Operating a remote’s touchscreen is similar to that of a smartphone. Some touchscreen remotes offer button layouts and icons that are fully customizable — so you only see the controls you really need.

Remote plus smartphone
An advanced type of universal remote — such as Logitech’s Harmony remotes — also uses a smartphone and tablet app for further accessibility. Just as the physical universal remote can replace a box full of single-component remotes, the universal remote app can replace the single-purpose control apps on your device. By consolidating all the control functions into a single app, you can create macros that can be activated with a single screen tap.

This type of system usually has two components; a hub that connects your home Wi-Fi® network to your home theater system. This lets you use Wi-Fi commands broadcast from your smartphone or tablet to be relayed to your components. The hubs sometimes have IR blasters that can be attached to your components that aren’t connected to your network. These are used for components that are stored in cabinets or otherwise out of the line of sight for infrared commands.

A handheld remote is also part of the system.  The remotes for these advanced systems usually have touchscreens (in addition to control buttons), and sometimes swipeable touchscreens that mimic the operation of those on smartphones and tablets.

RF vs. IR (radio frequency vs. infrared)
Most remotes send commands to components via an infrared (IR) beam. In order for the command to be received, there must be an unbroken line of sight between the remote and component. Some remotes also use radio frequency (RF) waves to extend control beyond line-of-sight. Just like AM and FM radio waves, the RF signals can pass through walls and ceilings — making it a great option if your audio/video system is stored in a closet, or if most of it is in another room.

What can you control?

Home theater components
Because you can load commands from just about any remote or system into a universal remote, you can control virtually every component of your home theater system. In addition to on/off , volume, and other basic functions, a universal remote will let you do everything you could with that component’s remote. So you can do things like change the brightness of your TV screen or select a different input for your receiver using your remote.

Logitech Harmony 950 menu


 Lights, thermostats and other “smart” home functions
In the case of Logitech Harmony remote systems, that Wi-Fi connection gives your remote access to far more than just your home theater system. Most home automation devices, from smart thermostats and light controllers to home security cameras use your home network to receive commands and send data.

Harmony Smart remotes can not only control those devices, but also incorporate them into macros. So in the morning, for example, a single finger tap could adjust the thermostat, turn on the bedroom lights, start a playlist on your audio system, and activate your coffeemaker.

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Last updated November 30, 2016
  • jim

    Posted on 8/19/2015 2:11:15 PM

    does anyone make a universal remote that can control both rf and ir signals? My cable company supplied an RF remote for the tv but all my a/v equipment uses IR.

  • Ralph Graves from Crutchfield

    Posted on 8/20/2015 9:46:12 AM

    Universal makes an IR/RF remote. I've also forwarded your question to our advisors, who can give you more options.

  • Tom Longlais from Marinette, WI

    Posted on 8/25/2015 12:42:41 PM

    I need to replace my speakercraft MZC-66 multi-room amp. It currently operates 6 separate rooms via wall mounted keypads in each room. Do you have a system that would be compatible or easy to install?

  • Ralph Graves from Crutchfield

    Posted on 8/26/2015 2:31:50 PM

    I've passed your question on to our advisors. They can get a more detailed description of your current setup and help you find something that will fit your needs.

  • Darrell from Mt. vernon, Il

    Posted on 10/27/2016 9:44:19 PM

    I've always wanted a remote that can surf all my tv channels, at variable speed, while I do other things and wait for something worth watching. Is that too much to ask?

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