Updated May 18, 2018 by Richard Lynch

The 8 Best Universal Remotes

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We spent 47 hours on research, videography, and editing, to review the top options for this wiki. If you're tired of all the clutter on your coffee table, or you waste half an hour every day with your head underneath the couch, then one of these universal remotes is for you. They can control your TV, sound bar, cable box, DVR, DVD player, and sometimes even streaming devices. Start spending more time watching and less time fumbling for the right controller. When users buy our independently chosen editorial picks, we may earn commissions to support our work. Skip to the best universal remote on Amazon.

8. RCA RCR313BZ

7. Philips SRP5018

6. GE 33709

5. Logitech Harmony 650

4. Inteset INT-422

3. Sony RMVLZ620

2. RCA RCR504BR

1. Logitech Harmony Elite

Remotely Control Your Universe

When a user purchases a pre-programmed remote, it comes with a code table that can be used to program the device using its keypad.

Gone are the days of having several remotes cluttering up your coffee table for all of the electronic devices making up your home entertainment system. A universal remote is capable of simultaneous control over these devices, regardless of whether they're from the same manufacturers or not.

Acting as signal transmitters, universal remotes (as well as traditional remotes) leverage pulses of infrared light to carry a signal with binary code representing instructions or commands to be interpreted by a receiver, which is built into the target electronic device that a user wishes to control. In other words, think of the remote as a parent and your television as the child. The parent must give its child instructions for how to act and what to do, while the child must know how to interpret those instructions properly. Remotes and televisions are a bit different than human parents and children, but the idea resonates.

Instructions from a remote are transmitted using signal modulation, which the receiver interprets as a set of commands to be performed. Different manufacturers use different signal strengths and modulations for transmitting commands to a particular device. What gives the universal remote an edge over more traditional infrared remote controls is in its ability to store programmable memory, which allows it to recognize a variety of command codes for operating many devices.

Universal remotes fall into one of two categories, pre-programmed or learning varieties. A pre-programmed universal remote is designed to work with a set number of device types or brands, each with their own unique device codes. While this may seem like a limitation, keep in mind that major manufacturers don't often change the device codes associated with their products. This means, for example, that a Sony television or audio system purchased in the mid-1990s can still interface with a modern, pre-programmed universal remote because the device code has remained the same. When a user purchases a pre-programmed remote, it comes with a code table that can be used to program the device using its keypad. Learning remotes store signals coming from other teaching remotes.

A teaching remote is simply one with a particular code or function to which the learning device can bind itself. This is accomplished by holding down a programming key on the learning remote while simultaneously pressing the equivalent function key on the teaching remote. This allows the learning remote to recognize functions not supported by default for a particular device, which means that it can control devices that it wasn't originally designed to control in the first place.

The layout of a typical universal remote includes dedicated power, volume, VCR, and DVD keys as well as a numeric keypad and a switch or series of buttons to select a particular device at a given time. Many universal remotes are also compatible with PCs through the use of universal serial bus (USB) cables for online programming. Some remotes even feature built-in LCD touchscreens and are also Wi-Fi enabled, allowing users to access their wireless networks, view channel listings, news, and sports updates directly from the remote itself.

Integration And Ease Of Use

While a universal remote offers the consumer the potential to look for all the bells and whistles, it's important to keep the technology in perspective. In other words, there's no need to overpay for a remote designed to control 50 devices at a time if you only have 4 or 5 as part of your entertainment system.

While a universal remote offers the consumer the potential to look for all the bells and whistles, it's important to keep the technology in perspective.

That being said, some of the most cutting-edge universal remotes feature colored LCD touchscreens that are capable of displaying icons for your devices and even your TV's channel lineup. One must be sure the remote they choose has a reliable memory that can store information for several devices (e.g. a DVD player or audio system) as well as a wide range of compatibility with different brands.

Since a great deal of TV watching takes place in the evenings, the remote should have a good backlight, especially when it comes equipped with several different function or mode keys that need to be seen easily at night.

Finally, many consumers assume that if they can feel something familiar in their hands, it becomes easier to use. The same can be said for the universal remote control. For that reason, finding one that offers superior tactile feedback is crucial to successful operation. For many, this means large buttons that are both easy to see and to push.

A Brief History Of The Universal Remote

The remote control itself has a history dating back to the end of the nineteenth century. The first example of wirelessly controlling an object from a distance was in a demonstration by British physicist, Oliver Lodge in which he used a Branly's coherer (an early form of radio signal detector) to make a mirror galvanometer move a beam of light when an electromagnetic wave was artificially generated.

The remote control itself has a history dating back to the end of the nineteenth century.

Lodge's idea was further developed in 1896 by Italian inventor Guglielmo Marconi and Welsh electrical engineer William Preece. The duo succeeded in making a bell ring at the push of a button that was located inside a wireless-connected box.

While remote-controlled devices were first patented by Nikola Tesla in 1898, the earliest televisions did not include remote controls. The first wireless television remote control was introduced in 1956, several decades after television was first developed in the 1920s.

The first universal remote control was introduced by Philips Consumer Electronics in 1985 under the Magnavox brand name. In 1987, the first programmable universal remote was developed by CL 9, a company started by Steve Wozniak, the inventor of both the Apple I and Apple II computers.

By the late 1990s and early 2000s with the proliferation of more elaborate home theater systems, the growing need for universal remotes to control several devices at once became more common, hence the remote's popularity with cutting-edge home entertainment setups today.

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Richard Lynch
Last updated on May 18, 2018 by Richard Lynch

Richard grew up in the part of New York state that doesn’t have any tall buildings. When he’s not writing, he spends most of his time reading and playing video games. A massive fan all things sci-fi, he’ll happily talk with you for hours about everything from the deserts of Arrakis to the forests of Endor.


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