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Checking Out Types of Remote Controls

The remote control is a means to tell your system what to do. The term remote just means you don’t control your home theater equipment manually (by getting up and pushing buttons).

Hundreds upon hundreds of types of remote controls are available. Remote controls fall into the following categories, which are presented in increasing order of functionality and desirability:

  • Standard/dedicated remotes: These are the device-specific remotes that come with your system. If you stopped here, you might have ten or so remotes on your coffee table!

  • Brand-based remotes that come with a component: Brand-based remotes work with all sorts of devices from the same manufacturer. For instance, the Panasonic remote you get with a Panasonic home theater receiver usually has buttons for your Panasonic Blu-ray disc player and your Panasonic plasma TV. There are buttons for each supported device.

    A number of branded remotes that come with devices can be programmed (by inputting codes) just like the universal remotes discussed next. You’ll also find universal remotes included with devices such as cable set-top boxes that you rent or buy from your television provider.

  • Third-party universal remote controls: Many leading electronics brands sell so-called universal remote controls. These remotes supposedly work with any electronics device by way of onboard code databases. They generally come with manuals that walk you through setting up your remote for your specific components. Remember that you get what you pay for with universal remotes — you may not be happy with a $20 do-everything universal remote that you see at the megasize electronics stores. Some capability is always missing.

    Typical universal remotes come with a booklet full of codes. To get the remote to work with your specific gear, you usually need to look in this book, find the type of component (say, DVD player), and then the brand. When you find the brand name, you’ll see a number of codes (usually 4-digit numbers) — follow the directions with your remote to enter these codes. You usually have to press a button to put the remote in programming mode.

  • Learning remotes: Learning remotes can learn codes from your existing remote controls. You simply point your remotes at each other, go through a listing of commands, and the remote codes are transferred from one to the other.

    These remotes have a higher success rate than universal remotes because you are essentially using the same codes as your present remote — not codes that a database says should work. Some learning remotes have an onboard, preprogrammed database against which they try to match the codes being learned; others are completely learning-based. The downside of a completely learning-based remote is that, if you lose your original remote, it’s almost impossible to train this one.

  • Programmable remotes: Programmable remotes allow you to create macros, which are sequential code combinations that do a lot of things at once. So say you want to watch a movie on a DVD. You could program a macro to turn on your TV, receiver, and DVD player; set the receiver to the appropriate source and output modes; and start the DVD in the tray — all from one button. Now, if it could only pop the popcorn, too.

  • Proprietary systems: A number of closed-system control devices enable you to integrate control of all your home theater devices on a single control system. Companies such as Control4 and Niles Audio are renowned for their control systems.

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