How to Compare Universal Remote Controls

by David Lipscomb

It's a fact of life that home electronics require remote controls for their critical functions. The problem arises when you have multiple remotes from your Blu-ray player, satellite box and television cluttering your coffee table. The solution is to use a universal remote control, consolidating them all into one convenient and intuitive device. A well-chosen remote relegates all others into a shoebox in your closet, leaving one device that's easy to use for the entire family. Since the remote control is your interface with your system, you'll want to take the time to settle on the right one for you.

Find out how many devices the universal remote can control. Universal remotes often limit the amount of devices that they can control, so ensure that the remote you choose can handle all of your devices.

Determine how the remote control is programmed. Many remote controls rely on an authorized dealer network to program the remote or make changes. Typically, this involves a fee with every edit. Since your remote needs to control all of your system components, frequent changes to five, six or seven devices may prove costly over time. Make sure the remote you choose is something you can program yourself if you make frequent system changes.

Select a smartphone-based kit if you prefer the look and feel of your phone or compatible tablet. These kits operate using proprietary apps, along with electronics that operate over your Wi-Fi connection. The commands you enter into your smartphone are converted into infrared signals, used by the vast majority of consumer electronics devices.

Evaluate the complexity of your home theater. Many universal remote controls incorporate macro functions, sending multiple infrared, or IR, codes per button press. This function allows users to turn on all their home theater devices and get them on the right inputs with one button press. Find out how many commands can be sent per press on the remote you are considering to determine if it makes your system easier to use.

Look at the remote's backlighting system. Touchscreen remotes light up the entire display, which may be distracting in a dimly lit theater environment. Conversely, remotes with hard buttons typically only cause the buttons themselves and sometimes a small display to illuminate.

Evaluate the feel of remotes in your home prior to finalizing on one device. You may prefer the feel of a hard button remote that fits into one hand. The key advantage of these remotes is the tactile response offered by buttons of differing size and shape, allowing you to pause and skip chapters without looking at the actual controller. Many touchscreen remotes are two-handed affairs, which you may prefer or find cumbersome.

Determine if the remote is radio frequency compatible. This information is detailed in product literature or on the manufacturer's website. Infrared signals are blocked by hard surfaces, making it impossible to control your components in another room or behind closed doors. Radio frequency, or RF, kits convert radio frequencies emitted by the remote back into infrared using a small converter box. The box then outputs signals from multiple infrared emitters stuck to the sensors on each unit. This enables hiding of the components in a closed cabinet or another room. RF kits are normally separate additions to your compatible remote control.


  • IR repeater kits perform a similar task as RF kits but are compatible with every remote on the market. Signals are received by a small sensor on the outside of a cabinet, relayed to flashers via routing electronics. These kits are available separately from a variety of local and online electronics retailers.
  • Remember that "universal" and "learning" are sometimes considered different things depending on the manufacturer. Inexpensive universal remotes operate on pre-programmed codes only. Learning remotes are "taught" by aiming the original remote at the programmable unit, or through codes sent from a computer.


  • Consider adequate ventilation for your audio and theater components if they are placed in a cabinet behind closed doors.

About the Author

David Lipscomb is a professional writer and public relations practitioner. Lipscomb brings more than a decade of experience in the consumer electronics and advertising industries. Lipscomb holds a degree in public relations from Webster University.

Photo Credits

  • Hemera Technologies/ Images