A good remote can make the complex home theater dead simple to use.
One of the biggest issues that comes along with a home theater system with multiple components is that some people have a hard time changing the inputs to get the system working. Even if all you have is a DVD player, a game console, a receiver, and a cable box things can get complicated. If you need a different input on the TV for the PS3 and you also need to change inputs on an AV receiver things get complex.
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It can be even more frustrating if changing these inputs requires you to find and use three or more remotes. You can imagine how things can get much more complex if you have multiple game consoles and other items in the theater setup. The easiest way to reduce the remote control clutter in your living room or media room is to move to a universal remote control.
When I say universal remote most people immediately think of those you buy in the checkout line at the local Wal-Mart and have to press codes into for an hour until you find one that works. Some of the universal remotes are like that, but some of them program using a computer. There is a huge difference in the functionality of some remotes and when it comes to making things easy to use with your home theater you get what you pay for.
Things you need to look out for when buying universal remote include how it programs. The cheap remotes that need you to enter codes and aren’t capable of learning may not have what you need for your components. A learning remote is able to read the signals from your factory remote and learn them so it can work the components. If the codes aren't there and the remote can't learn frequencies, you just wasted some money.
You also need to keep an eye on how many remotes the universal can replace. Some can only do two components while others can do as many as 15 or more. Prices vary wildly and sometimes the key components will be missing to get the price down.
Of all the remotes on the market today, my personal favorite and hands down choice in my home is the Logitech Harmony One. This learning remote can replace 15 other remotes and all of the high-end Harmony remote controls have an awesome activities feature. That means you can program your components in, tell the software used for programming what components you use for specific tasks like games or movies and the remote creates a button for you. When you hit that button all the inputs are changed automatically with one remote and a single button press. This is how home theaters were meant to be controlled. The Harmony One has a touchscreen and is powered by a rechargeable battery. You can pick up the Harmony One for about $170 on Amazon and it is worth every single penny.
If you like the idea of the Harmony One, but you need something cheaper, the Harmony 650 is a step down. Be warned though, it is a big step down. The Harmony 650 will only replace five other remotes, but it does have the all-important activities feature and backlighting. It’s just not as easy to use as the Harmony One.
If you have a really tight budget and only want a basic remote that will replace up to seven other remotes the Universal Remote Control URC-WR7 might be worth a look. The remote sells for under $35 and has four buttons for your favorite channels and backlighting. The big reason this remote is so cheap is that it has no LCD. It does support macros, which are sort of like the activities that Logitech offers. I would bet the set up process is more complex.
Not all of the Logitech Harmony lines of universal remotes look like the remotes we are used to seeing. One of those is the Harmony 1100. This is one of the higher-end Logitech remotes with tons of functionality and a design that looks like a tablet and leans heavily on the touchscreen. The downside of the touchscreen is that with most of the controls on it you will have to look down to use your components. The 1100 has a 3.5-inch LCD screen and RF capability. With an optional RF blaster, the 1100 can control components that are hidden away behind doors. You can order the Harmony 1100 for about $280.
If you need a bargain basement universal remote control and you want the convenient computer based programming of the Harmony line form Logitech, the Harmony 300 is what you want. This remote sells for under $40 and can replace four other remote controls. It programs using the Harmony software and supports over 225,000 devices and up to 5000 brands of gear. It has buttons for DVRs, favorite channels, and a button for watching TV that will turn stuff on and off with a single button press. This remote only has the watch TV activity; you will have to manual change inputs. The remote is also not a learning remote.
All of the remote controls on this list are not created equal. Any of them will be better than having to fight with four different remotes to watch a movie though. If you can afford one of the higher-end Harmony units like the Harmony one you will not be disappointed.