The Universal Remote Control: what it is and how to choose it

Il Telecomando Universale: cos'è e quale modello scegliere

TV, projector, motorized screen, Soundbar, amplifier and DVD or Blu-ray player, not to mention Apple TV, Sky Decoder and maybe even a PlayStation; and we are not even mentioning lights, air conditioner, video surveillance and everything else. The truth is that every time you add a component to your home cinema, you end up with a new remote control, and before you know it, your home theater dream is in danger of turning into a high-tech nightmare. For at that point, how do you figure out which HDMI port on the TV is connected to the amplifier? And what is the right remote control to turn up the volume? And millions of other similar questions.

In general, it is already possible to use one remote control to manage multiple heterogeneous devices, thanks to a communication protocol called CEC (Consumer Electronics Control) and implemented through HDMI. In theory it should work a bit with all brands, but in reality everyone reinterprets it in their own way; just think of Panasonic’s Viera Link, for example, or Sony’s Bravia Theatre Sync, or even Sharp’s Aquos Link. The truth is that as long as you stay in one manufacturer’s ecosystem, everything works just fine; but when you have accessories from different brands, it becomes necessary to resort to another kind of solution: the Universal Remote Control, or URC, a device to gherm them all, the remote control of remote controls.

The market offers different solutions, each with pros & cons, and most importantly, different costs. Broadly speaking, however, these types of devices are divided into pre-programmed and programmable:

  • Preprogrammed Universal Remote Controls: They already possess a preconstituted arsenal of codes from all major manufacturers and device models. They are the most immediate and easy to use, but they often do not support less popular brands and devices; they also almost never support high-end and ultra-high-end products and pre-amplifiers worthily. On the other hand, they work even without the original remote control.
  • Universal Programmable Remote Controls: They can acquire the signal directly from the original remote control, and repeat it every time you press the right button. However, they require training, which lengthens the time and makes the procedure rather tedious. In fact, you have to “teach” them every single button on the original remote control; and in the absence of the latter (perhaps because it is broken), you cannot proceed with the configuration.

The choice of one or the other depends purely on the type of devices you have in the room, how they are connected, and your budget. Here is what we recommend based on the type of room.

URC for Living Media Room

For a Living Media Room, the suggestion is to adopt the Logitech Harmony ecosystem that allows you to control media devices, lights, and other home devices at the touch of a button.

With Harmony, you can have all the features of home entertainment and home automation at your fingertips in one experience, reasonably simple to set up and extremely versatile. These are very stylish smart remotes, often featuring color touchscreens, backlit buttons, motion detection, and one-touch home automation.

Logitech’s technology is pre-programmed; this means that the remote is immediately ready to use and compatible with more than 270,000 home automation and entertainment control devices, from TVs to set-top boxes, through CD players, game consoles, AV receivers and streaming media players to smart lighting, some locks and certain thermostats. Devices from Apple, Denon, Sonos, Philips, Swisscom, Samsung, Hue, and LG are supported; and support for IFTTT enables programmability of automations. Just press “Goodnight” then to turn off the TV, lock the front door, turn off interior lights, and turn on exterior lights.

Those who do not want an additional physical remote control can instead turn their smartphone into a universal remote control thanks to a hub that supports Infrared, Wi-Fi or Bluetooth signals. Simply download an app and purchase the inexpensive Harmony Hub.

URC for Home Theater

Those with more sophisticated needs will surely find Control4 products pleasing, a platform that offers the best balance of price, ease of use, and power. It is a customized, unified intelligent system for automating, managing, and controlling connected home devices (so not just a home theater), including lighting, audio, video, air conditioning, intercom, security, and even HVAC and pool systems, even remotely.

It is the ultimate the market has to offer and, once configured, is the absolute easiest to use. That’s why it won the Mark of Excellence Division 2020 Smart Home award at CES 2020 in Las Vegas. With smart remotes, hubs, controllers, apps, and displays it puts a huge variety of devices at the user’s fingertips, allowing them to finally manage their entire home or store with a touch, or a voice command.

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