9 Best Universal Remote Controls | ExtensivelyReviewed

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Family rooms today are filled with numerous gadgets, gizmos and electronic equipment that cater to the entertainment needs of each member of the household. No family room is complete without a few or all of these pieces of technology – Blu-ray, DVD, and CD players, television sets, Wii, projectors, PS4, Xbox One, and other similar gaming and entertainment devices – each one with its own remote control. Thus, identifying which remote is for which device can sometimes get confusing, not to mention tedious. A universal remote for everything will solve this dilemma.

As the name implies, a universal remote can be used in lieu of multiple control devices. Your TV set, DVD, gaming consoles, and even the lighting in your home can be programmed into one all-powerful remote control. Anyone can benefit from a universal remote – whether you are a techie or just a regular movie buff. This guide will later present a comparison of the top universal remote controls on the market for you to decide which one works best for your household.

There are models that can handle as much as 20 individual devices, while some can only be programmed for 4 or 5 items. Some universal remotes are packed with features like touch-screen LCD color displays and a glossy finish, to boot. As expected, these units are more expensive than regular models with standard features. Regardless of your technical level, there is a universal remote that will best suit your needs and preferences.

If your entire home entertainment system is made up of only a few pieces of equipment such as a DVR, TV, and perhaps a DVD/Blu-ray player, a universal remote may not be necessary. However, if you have to shuffle between several individual remotes just to enjoy watching a good movie or TV show, then it is recommended that you get a universal remote. This will keep you from powering several components and switching inputs simultaneously. If you have a home theater system built around various content sources and an AV receiver, a universal remote will definitely make your life a lot easier. You may argue that AV receiver, cable DVR, and/or TV is capable of performing some universal control functions, these are most likely just the basics such as adjusting TV volume using your DVD remote.

A low-quality universal remote merely puts together the functions of various remotes into one unit without any added value. On the other hand, a premium-quality universal remote gets rid not only of remote shuffling and unnecessary clutter. It also minimizes button pushes by integrating several actions into a single press of the button. Thus, you do not have to turn your television set on, switch the HDMI input, power the AV receiver and change inputs, and switch the Blu-ray player on – in that order – before pressing “Play” to start enjoying the movie. With a single command, such as “Play Movie,” you can execute all these actions. These bundled commands are also known as “macros” or “activities.”

In the past, this functionality can only be found in professionally-programmed, high-end systems, but nowadays, even some comparatively inexpensive models (such as those in the Logitech Harmony line) are capable of performing similar complex tasks. While the idea of getting another remote may initially seem ridiculous and merely a waste of hard-earned money, the convenience and other benefits you stand to gain make the extra spending all worth it. Just imagine having a single, powerful remote in your hand instead of multiple remotes.

Selection and Testing Criteria Used in This Guide

To be worthy of being “universal,” a remote control must be able to handle a typical audio/video enthusiast’s various equipment, which on average is usually 5 or 6: DVD/Blu-ray player, TV/projector, media player, surround sound receiver, as well as one or two gaming systems. A remote that can handle at least 8 devices will usually be sufficient. For the average user, an infrared remote may be enough to do the job. This is because most devices are reliant on IR control, and not on IP. Your options, however, may be limited if you have a PS 3 or 4, and you want your remote to support it.

Aside from the number of supported components, the remote must have an organized on-screen display or button layout. The more important buttons like pause, play, and volume must be easy to access. The design must likewise be activity-based. More importantly, the universal remote must be easily programmable. Simply put, you don’t need to be proficient in C++ or JavaScript just to program your remote.

You can find myriads of cheap replacement remotes on the market today, but these offer very little functionality. Just try searching on Amazon as well as other online sellers. In the past, Sony had a line of quality universal remotes, but it has been discontinued. So did Philips that used to offer a number of programmable remotes in their Pronto line. Interestingly enough, a company aptly called Universal Remote Control was the niche leader with their URC-R40 among the bestsellers. However, they have since shifted their focus on professional-application control systems almost on an exclusive basis.

1. Logitech Harmony Home Control Review

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A unique system that allows you to control your home theater using your Android device, iPhone, or the simple remote included through a hub, the Harmony Home Control runs via RF, and not IR. Thus, component “line of sight” is not necessary. It is amazingly thin and light, and the battery can last for a full year. Operation is easy with the activity-based buttons including “Watch TV.” Updates have been made on previous versions to make initial setup a lot easier. The latter version probably offers the best value for your money as it has made your home entertainment system easier to enjoy than ever.

The universal remote is a hybrid, a cross between the Harmony 650 and more recent app-based models such as Beacon and Peel that utilize a hub or pod in distributing remote signals. Thus, you are guaranteed to enjoy the best of both types. Its pod is known as the “Harmony Hub” (sold separately at around 100 bucks) and a fully-functional remote system. The pod is the operation’s brains, storing setup info and software updates. It interfaces not only with the remote and the device, but also with Harmony’s cloud and your home network through Wi-Fi; and also the Harmony app through your iPhone and Android devices.

Unlike previous versions of Harmony models, you cannot setup the device using your PC. It has no surface or Windows phone app. You need an iOS or Android tablet or phone for the initial device setup. For details, you may visit Logitech’s support page and system requirements. The Harmony Hub is designed to be housed in the TV cabinet and send IR remote commands for your electronic devices. The pod’s is equipped with powerful infrared blasters that can bounce signals off furniture and walls for best results. Just like older versions, the new Harmony model’s signals can easily reach your gear.

Included in the package is a separate wired infrared blaster as well as another port for a second blaster (optional.) You can position the wired blaster to reach finicky or oddly-placed devices. If, for instance, you encounter issues with one of your devices like an Xbox 360, you can position the secondary blaster nearby to address the problem.

Aside from infrared, the pod can also send commands through Bluetooth to supported units such as Amazon Fire TV, PS3, and Nintendo Wii U and Wii. While the remote works seamlessly with the Amazon and Nintendo gadgets, you may encounter problems with PS3, in which case you may need to use Harmony’s PS3 adapter. PS4, meanwhile is not yet included in the list of the universal remote’s compatible devices. While Logitech is willing to include it, Sony isn’t too keen on exposing the PS4’s remote control profile.

Communication between the Hub and the remote happens via RF or radio frequency. It is not like standard infrared signals that need line of sight to connect. The system is quite responsive and would make you feel like using just any other regular remote. It is speedy and has no noticeable delays even while rapidly entering channels and navigating. If you have been using the usual IR-based universal remotes, the convenience offered by an RF remote would be a welcome change. You don’t have to bother pointing the remote directly to your devices as this will be an inconvenience especially when in the “turn on all” and “change inputs” stage.

When using the Harmony 650 and other older models, you need to point the clicker at the equipment for some time to make sure the commands are received. Only then will the device power up. The long time required to start up often leads to the user into thinking that the device isn’t working. With the Smart Control and the RF hub, that will never happen; and that makes the cost of the Harmony Home Control all worth it. In terms of physical attributes, the universal remote is lighter and thinner than standard remotes. The CR2032 wafer-like watch battery is primarily responsible for the sliver-slimness of the unit. Logitech claims that the battery is good for around 1 year.

One other great benefit is you don’t need to be in the same room as the gadget to operate it. If you forgot to turn off the TV in the kitchen and you have already moved to the living room, you can easily switch it off with the remote. Because the app uses the Wi-Fi in your home, and even cellular networks, you can control your system even from outside of your home – from anywhere in the globe, in fact.

The particular Logitech model can easily handle 8 various home theater devices. In our testing for this review, we set up a television, AV receiver and 6 various source devices. We also programmed an Xbox 360, Xbox One, cable DVR, 4k Projector, Amazon Fire TV, Roku 3, and PS3. The listed limit is 15 devices, so you can keep this in mind should you want more devices controlled by the remote. Not included in the limit are various home control devices like thermostats and lights, an unlimited number of which can be added, according to Logitech. Some users, in fact, claim that they were able to integrate at least 20 devices for home automation into the system.

2. Logitech Harmony 650 Review

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The Harmony 650 is roughly divided into 3 main segments. The color LCD screen, a 1×1” square display, dominates the top section. While it is not “touch-screen,” an upgrade is possible – but it will cost you twice as much just to upgrade your system into a Harmony One. Instead, there are 2 buttons on either side and 1 at the bottom that allow you to select contextual items on-screen. Available choices are available simply by browsing through the additional screens.

The middle portion is equipped with a 5-way directional pad, volume, and channel controls, as well as a few standard DVR keys like Menu, Info, Guide, and Exit. The bottom section contains standard video transport controls such as play, pause, and rewind, among others, and a keypad that accommodates 12 digits. Aside from the LCD, the entire set of buttons are backlit; thus, you can conveniently use the remote even in poorly-lit areas of the house. The remote likewise boasts of a DVR and TiVo-optimized layout that is ideal for people who are always on the go.

There aren’t many models in this review that don’t have rechargeable power management options to speak of. The Harmony 650 remote is among them. What it does use are simple and plain AA batteries. While a docking cradle is believed to be the most optimal power management system, being able to use any battery brand you prefer can be more cost-effective in the long run. Because the remote is equipped with a motion sensor, the AA batteries can last longer, or at least just as long as rechargeable types of battery.

Regardless of the features and price points of their products, Logitech adheres to a set standard for its line of universal remotes. The Harmony 650, for one, is ergonomically-designed. It is convenient to use as it fits perfectly in your palm. It also has sculpted buttons that make it easy to locate the play, rewind, and stop buttons. Backlit controls are likewise available for hours of listening to CDs or watching DVDs. These are standard design elements to Logitech remotes, and not only to the Harmony 650, and this is something that consumers can take into consideration when on the market for a universal remote. With a database containing more than 200,000 devices of different brands and makes, it may take some time to get used to it. Once you do, however, everything becomes easy as pie.

Perhaps the greatest feature of the remote’s device library is its ability to download a device like a CD or DVD player now, and add other devices like gaming consoles or Blue-ray player after a year or once you have bought these devices. The device library allows you to use the Harmony 650 even after several years from now, as you continue to add newly-bought devices and de-programming equipment that you don’t use anymore.

To program devices into your universal remote, just connect the remote to a Mac or PC with internet access using the USB cable included in the package. Then, find the devices that you currently have and program them into the remote. The entire process may take anywhere from 45 minutes to over an hour. However, once you have programmed everything and are starting to enjoy the convenience, the effort and time spent would be worth it. Pretty much every device we threw at it was compatible during testing, except our PS4.

To sum it all up, the Logitech Harmony 650 can make life a lot simpler. It is an all-inclusive and smart model. While the universal remote can be programmed for just 5 devices at a time, this should be more than enough if you do not have a lot of remotes to shuffle through.

3. Logitech Harmony Elite Review

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If you are looking for more than the vast control database, programming ease, and smart activities that the previous remotes mentioned in this review have, and you want a cool touchscreen model to make your home theater come to life, and have your smartphones integrated into the remote control system, then you may want to check out the model that sits atop the Logitech line of universal remotes – the Harmony Elite.

Dislodging the Ultimate Home as the flagship model in the harmony line-up, the Elite boasts of a built-in color touchscreen. No need to press on hard buttons to turn your TV on, watch a movie or listen to music. Just scroll on the screen up and down to select your desired activity, and tap. You will then be brought to a page that is customized specifically for the desired activity. Control options can go very detailed and deep. You can even customize the activity names or create your own.

The Elite is also ideal if you control a lot of devices as it can handle up to 15, more than the usual 8 in other models. In theory, the remote can replace as many as 15 remotes. You can also add smart home functionalities such as lights and thermostats. With the Harmony Elite, you can keep your home theater system in a gear closet or cabinet. The remote is equipped with 2 infrared blasters that can be stationed in front of the doors of the cabinet the hide your devices.

Similar to other Harmony Hub-based remotes, the Harmony app can be used aside from the actual remote functions. Likewise, similar to other Harmony remotes with Hub, the Elite can be used with numerous smart home appliances such as LIFX and Philips Hue lights, Insteon and SmartThings hubs, Nest thermostats, Sonos wireless speakers, as well as the IFTTT app. You can connect these products to the Hub through your home’s Wi-Fi network.

Using Alexa’s IFTTT channel and Amazon Echo, you can come up with voice control recipes for any Harmony Hub-based remote system. Through a simple setup with a set of voice commands, you can create recipes that can switch your complex home theater system on or off. For an additional few bucks, you can get Logitech’s Z-Wave and Zigbee hub bridge that will allow you to add more smart home devices.

The Harmony Elite, to put it simply, sits at the top of the DIY remote niche and is a joy to use. It is a responsive and polished professionally-installed system, but it costs a bit more than the average universal remote.

4. Logitech Harmony Ultimate Review

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A sleek universal remote control, the Logitech Harmony Ultimate is sleek and boasts of Wi-Fi, RF, IR, and Bluetooth connectivity, and a 2.4” color touchscreen that can recognize a number of gestures. It can be web-programmed via Windows PCs or Macs, but allows command editing even without connecting to a computer. It can be recharged using the included cradle, can control as many as 15 devices, and offers impressive options for customization. It can be interchanged with iPhones’ and Android phones’ app-based controls.

If a manufacturer releases a product named “Ultimate,” there must be a good reason behind it, and consumers will tend to expect much from the product. In this case, the Harmony Ultimate can be considered a dream universal remote. Logitech has added Bluetooth and RF capabilities to the previous models’ IR touchscreen features. Unlike IR connectivity, line of sight is not necessary for Bluetooth or RF; thus, the remote’s commands can easily pass through doors and walls, which is perfect for use with devices tucked away in cabinets and closets.

It is worth mentioning that with Bluetooth capability, you get a powerful remote that is natively compatible with the Sony PS3 that does not have IR capability. Bluetooth is also compatible with Nintendo’s Wii U and Wii game consoles. Wi-Fi connectivity is another major boost as it lets you update the settings of your remote via a computer or even the remote control itself, and wirelessly sync them to your Mac or PC using a USB cable – without tethering the device to the computer such as when using the Harmony 650. You can also use free iPhone and Android apps to handle your devices. This will allow you to use your phone in lieu of the Ultimate. The remote is simply packed with practically every feature you would want in a universal remote. While the design is similar to the Harmony Touch, the Ultimate is sleek and comes with a few improvements particularly in terms of ergonomics..

The Ultimate is part of Logitech’s line of affordable Smart Control solutions. However, instead of a touchscreen, it comes bundled as a new and glossy, albeit very basic remote that has no display. If you have a complicated setup, or you just want a dedicated touchscreen universal remote that also comes with hard buttons, you may be better off with the Ultimate as it can handle more devices. Otherwise, the Smart Control package offers better value, and is probably the top choice in the present Harmony line-up.

In some ways, you choice of remote depends on how badly you want a touchscreen model as it practically replaces some physical buttons. If you prefer pressing virtual numbers on a touchscreen to change channels instead of physical buttons, then a touchscreen model will do just fine, but it may take some time to get used to, especially if you’re accustomed to using clickers from your satellite box or cable service provider.

On the other hand, a touchscreen offers convenient access to your favorite programs. Harmony’s software simplifies the selection process as it allows you to choose as much as 50 channels to add to the remote’s grid of icons, but because of the screen’s relatively small size, some scrolling may be necessary just to find what you are looking for from a long list of choices. As previously mentioned, a number of gesture controls are supported. You can simply swipe up or down to adjust the TV’s volume while watching. By swiping sideways (right or left), you can scan through channels. Other remote control actions may be assigned to specific gesture controls or buttons. Sequences or “macros” can likewise be added.

The rechargeable battery can last for a few days with a single charge. However, it is sealed into the body of the remote and cannot be replaced. This means that the death of the battery will signal the remote’s demise as well. While the battery’s useful life should last for several years, there is no word from Logitech as to the exact life expectancy in terms of years. The more you use the Ultimate and the more you personalize the settings, the more you will love to use it. Some people prefer the Ultimate because of its Wi-Fi and Bluetooth capabilities, features that add convenience to using the remote for wireless syncing.

The touchscreen is an improved version of older models. Same goes for the gesture controls. The overall design is decent although the physical layout of the buttons can use some improvements. Another plus is the vibration feedback feature, a new addition. The tilt sensors that automatically wakes the remote once you pick it up is also a good feature. In previous models, you have to shake the remote a bit to wake it up. While you can use the smartphone apps in lieu of the remote, it is still more convenient to just pick up the remote if it is within reach, unless of course you want to try using the apps just to see how they work. Likewise, the apps have lots of room for improvement and the interface for tablets is practically non-existent.

This review, however, considers the apps as mere bonuses that allow other members of the household to have something to use as a remote. They just have to make sure that the proper apps are downloaded and the gadget is used within the Hub’s range. Set up is simple and you don’t have to worry about dealing with security issues. It is also important not to “duel” with other family members by using your own remotes. Although this review of the Ultimate mentions a number of downsides, it also appreciates Logitech’s efforts in coming up with the model. The Ultimate is simple enough for an ordinary user to set up and use, while it offers a host of functional elements. Simply put, the Ultimate is generally a very impressive product.

To sum it up, the Ultimate is perfect for users with myriads of devices. It is also a better alternative to other products in its class. It may cost a bit more, but the benefits – specifically the minor improvements and the inclusion of the Hub – easily outweigh the extra budget needed.

5. Ray Super Remote Review

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There is virtually nothing traditional about the Ray Super Remote. With a full touchscreen display, it does away with the mess of dozens of control buttons. Software updates can be downloaded via a Wi-Fi network. When connecting to devices, however, the device mainly uses IR. Thus, line of sight is necessary for this Super Remote.

A distinct advantage of this model over other universal remotes such as the Harmony Hub/smartphone app combos is the fact that app downloads are not necessary. The Super Remote likewise assists you in finding shows that you may find interesting to watch. This is because available choices as sorted by genre, and the remote can even give you heads up on when your preferred shows are broadcast. On the downside, the remote needs to be charged every day just like a smartphone. It can therefore be exasperating if you fail to have it charged the night before. Likewise, you can’t expect tactile feedback from the touchscreen that you usually expect from conventional remote buttons. Some users may find this irritating. However, if you fancy the idea of using a smartphone-like universal remote that is compatible with most big brands without actually using your smartphone, then the Ray Super Remote could be the answer.

6. URC Digital R50 Review

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Actual product users love the URC Digital R50 primarily because of its “punch through” control for the onscreen display, transport and channel. With this feature, individual buttons can be programmed to perform various functions. For transport control, for instance, the play, stop, skip, and pause buttons, among others can be programmed to operate both DVR and DVD controls, and other components as well.

Another helpful function is the learning mode feature. While other universal remote models may offer the same function, the URC R50 has a device code selection and disjointed onscreen setup that makes it possible for more convenient installation and use of the feature on the URC device. Intended to be an all-in-one-remote, the R50 is ergonomically designed, though it may pale a bit in comparison with the Harmony 650 or the Harmony Home from Logitech, the two products we deem to be the top two on this list. The URC R50s front boasts of a unique design that many users find appealing. The buttons are logically organized, something that average users will appreciate.

While the R50 boasts of a color screen, it is not touchscreen. The channel and activity buttons can be viewed onscreen and the corresponding buttons are conveniently located at the side. There are likewise no docking cradle option, and rechargeable batteries for more efficient power management. Instead the device uses ordinary AA batteries that are easily available from any store. They also cost a lot cheaper than their rechargeable counterparts. No support and help options are available for the programmable remote. While a set up wizard or the learning mode feature makes it possible for onscreen programming, there is no user manual that we could find to speak of. There is likewise no accessible online technical support. The Universal Remote Control website, oddly enough, offers minimal information about their own products.

A lot of people are tickled by the idea of programming a universal remote system that does not require internet connection. In contrast to the Harmony line of universal remotes. The R50 relies heavily on its onscreen wizard for setup. It is also worth mentioning that the remote comes with a set of instructions in a single sheet. Thus, although not having to rely on the internet may work well for some, the absence of an online user manual (even in PDF format) or an interactive chat may be a big issue for other users.

During our testing, we encountered a minor issue with the remote’s setup wizard. while Logitech’s Harmony line are easy to find and program, the R50’s setup wizard requests for your selected devices make and model, instead of the device code. Then, it will try to match your input with the code that best suits your remote. It will now be your responsibility to test the code after the wizard setup has selected it for you. If the code does not work, then the entire process starts all over again until the wizard recommends another code, which, to put it bluntly, can be tedious.

Depending on your level of technical skill, your ability to work without a user’s guide, and the accuracy of the setup wizard in selecting the appropriate code on the first attempt, the entire configuration time may take anywhere from 30 to 45 minutes, longer in some instances.

7. URC RFS200 Review

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The RFS 200 from URC is probably the most affordable remote that is equipped with a reliable RF control. It offers the choice to separately turn on your devices but maintains a master switch that integrates control of various devices such as your TV, DVD player, stereo and even your slow cooker – simultaneously. The volume control can also handle all the devices to make a surround home theater system easy to control without the need to swap or switch. It is compatible with virtually all types of stereos, MP3 docks, satellite radios, 8-track tape decks, and even lights.

Among the remote’s best features is the IR PowerBlaster that can significantly boost your RF range. At the same time, it converts the remote’s RF signal into IR before pushing it to older equipment to allow them to function without having to aim the remote. The only major drawback is the unit’s lack of frequency change. Thus, if your neighbor is using RF, control of your devices may accidentally be grabbed.

8. Sony RMVLZ620 Review

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Once the undisputed standard for high-quality universal remotes, the dazzling Sony model of yesteryears is now sold at a heavily discounted price. This doesn’t mean that the RMVLZ620 is mediocre. It is just a bit outdated. The remote can control as many as 8 video or audio equipment, and comes with 12 assorted macro buttons that can be programmed to perform specific commands from your existing remotes that you want included. This can be quite a handy feature if you are trying to operate an obscure and strange gadget like a Betamax or a phonograph.

The remote is a fast learner and it does so in a straightforward manner – without any complex procedures or unnecessary step, and this is always a good thing. Sony universal remote can work with both new and old products. Thus, you would appreciate whether you just got the latest 4k TV for your living room, state of the art wireless speakers installed in the room, or you simply need a remote for your old Sony Trinitron.

It may not have a touchscreen display, and it may be lacking in back-lit buttons, but for its price, it can still prove to be a solid buy, especially if you are into classics.

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