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Best Universal Remote Control

How many remote controls do you have in your house?

You've got a TV, Cable/Freeview/Sky box, VCR, DVD Recorder, Hi-Fi and Home Theatre Equipment?

Which remote do you pick up?

Get a Universal Remote Control Unit and make life easy for your family!

No more figuring out which one to pick up to do what.


Best Programmable Remote Control

This Christmas my wife and I purchased a new TV, Freeview box and 5.1 Surround Sound / DVD Player system. With the other home entertainment system items we owned, we now have 6 remote controls, and my missus was doing her head in!

So I spent pretty much all of Christmas and the first week of 2006 researching the best remote control for my money. My budget was to be a maximum of £100 (US$176), but I eventually bought my unit for £88 and that included VAT and delivery charges, and gave me a far superior product than if I had spent just £15 less on a more budget model!

I wanted something that was going to be easy enough for my family to use, flexible enough to replace all of my remotes, was capable of learning any infra-red commands from my existing remotes, looked good, had legible commands and an LCD screen that helped you along the way.

A Universal Remote Control should be able to control every piece of equipment in your home entertainment system. For example, to watch TV just one button press will turn the TV on, the Freeview box, the Surround Sound system, while simultaneously setting everything to the required inputs for it all to work correctly. Changing to a different activity should be just as easy, e.g. to listen to music CD's, it will turn off the TV and Freeview, turn on the CD Player and again adjust the inputs, perhaps even acting as a remote control dimmer for turning the living room lights down, and even closing the curtains if you get motorised drapes!

I discovered three remotes that seemed the very best out of the lot, and were in or near my price bracket (wifey holds the purse-strings!). There are loads more, ranging from software that you can install into your handheld PDA device (assuming it has an infra-red emitter and that it is powerful enough), to the exceptional Phillips "iPronto" tablet remote, which although being quite awesome in its abilities and is the ultimate in home cinema system luxury, its a weeny bit pricey to say the least - well worth a look though.

Anyway after about 3 weeks and hours and hours of research on forums and user reviews I narrowed it down to the following three remote control units.

Sony RM-AV2500

Looks very cool. A bit more pricey, and rather large. But if you're thinking of having a Sony remote control, there have been some bad reviews about some of the other (newer!) models. Only go for the RM-AV2500 which has been on the market for couple of years now.

Models such as the RM-AV3100 have been reported to lock-up, requiring the batteries to be pulled out to reset it, thus losing all your careful programming!

Also the buttons on the RM-AV3100 have been said to stop working after a few months to a year. Not very good. However the RM-AV2500 didn't seem to have this problem.


Home Theatre Master MX-500

This is basically the "professionals" choice. It is like the industry standard remote of choice. Robust, straightforward, but can be difficult to setup for novices, and has been around for a couple of years now, but still a very good remote.

Logitech Harmony 680

This is the one for me! Its very cool and clever. Its not the top of the line model (thats the considerably more expensive flashy Harmony 880 which I think is over-rated, and also has some design problems with the battery charger).

It remembers which items of your setup are off or on! The other two mentioned above don't.

It is "activity-based", meaning rather than choosing a button programmed using "macros" like the others, each button has an activity such as "Watch TV", "Watch a DVD", "Listen to CD".

It has a unique internet approach to setting it up. You will need a computer and Internet connection to access the web site, which leads you through setting it up, and a cable (supplied) plugs into one end of the remote, and the other into your computer. After setting it up, it uploads a program with all your settings into the remote, and voila, you can control your system. You just repeat the process if you want to tweak any settings. We found it to be easy to learn and use.

It also has a Help button to guide you through troubleshooting. Mrs. P is very happy now!

More Info on the Logitech Harmony 680 Universal Remote Control

Click here for my review of the Logitech Harmony 680 universal remote control and the Logitech Harmony 880 Review.

The Difference Between Universal Remotes and Learning Remotes

Universal remotes are a great choice if you've lost or broken your remote control. A universal isn't such a great choice if you have an old or unusual piece of equipment that's not in its pre-programmed memory. But it's great if you've lost or broken your remote -- it already knows how to operate the vast majority of equipment.

Basically Universal remotes come pre-programmed with the codes to operate hundreds of different consumer electronics devices. You select the ones you use and you're done. Some have additional features such as macros, which allow you to store a sequence of button presses onto one key.

Learning remotes receive the infra-red beam from your existing remotes and store the frequency and pulses in its memory. You typically can store any button from any remote on any of the learning remote's keys, and you can do macros as well, so a single button-press can turn on all the relevant equipment, put it in the right mode, and even tune to your favorite station.

Learning remotes are especially useful when you have a table full of remotes and you need to consolidate. The newest ones are specifically adapted to home theater use, with buttons for balancing the sound image.

The great thing about the Logitech Harmony range of remotes is that the "setting up" web site has a database with an absolutely massive list of remotes that they already know about, you simply choose the make and model number for your kit, and yet the Logitech remotes can also learn any infra-red command codes that it doesn't know about. Best of both worlds!

Where Can You Find More Universal Remote Control Information?

There is a massive amount of choice available, and some very good online reviews and user forums, which is why it took me so long to decide on the best learning remote control I could get for the least (or sensible) amount of money.

I think the best review site can be found at www.remotecentral.com

There are many excellent resources available on Google.com, simply perform a search for "remote control reviews" or "best universal remote control" and you will find an oasis of useful information.

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