With the complexity today of home entertainment systems, they have become not only confusing to set up (a process where Homebuttons can come to the rescue) but complicated to use once they are up and running. You end up with half a dozen remote controls on the coffee table and you have to memorize which remote takes you to which step as you navigate your way through getting set up to watch a movie (many people create a chart to help remind them). If you have surround sound then your image is coming from the TV while the sound is coming from you’re A/V receiver (or soundbar). As you switch between sources, from cable TV to DVD for example, you have to switch the input on both the TV and receiver.
Now that every TV is a Smart TV, it’s even more complicated because your TV, with its direct connection to the Internet, is actually a source itself, separate from your cable box and DVD player.
Once the setup is in place you get to know the routine and can follow the steps without a guide, but if you have guests, chances are they will be totally confused and, by pressing the wrong buttons, may put your system in a mode that you can’t find your way back from.
Everything On One Remote
The universal remote control resolves that problem. Many remotes that come with new components, and even those that come with your cable or satellite box, can be programmed to control several different sources, but their ability to simplify things for you is limited. They may not have buttons that correspond to the other sources. A universal remote can not only control everything in your A/V stand but can be programmed to automatically follow through the steps of several remotes by pressing just one button. You press a button labelled “Movie” for example and the remote will turn on your TV and put it to the right input, turn on the receiver and put it on the right input, turn on you DVD player and start the movie.
When they were first introduced in the 1990’s these remotes were complex and expensive. You’d be hard-pressed back then to find one for less than $1,000 and then you would have to pay a professional several hours labour to set up the complex programming. Now they are not only becoming affordable for the average consumer but the programming has been simplified to allow you to do your own setup. Something in the area of $100 could get you set up with one.
That’s not the whole story. There may be aspects of your system that throw a wrench in the works.
The remote control for any device send codes to control the unit. Every function on the remote control has its own unique code, and the group of codes is specific to that particular brand. The universal remote control has access to a library of codes that relate to each brand. When you program the remote to control your home entertainment system, you have to tell it that your TV is a Samsung and your A/V receiver is a Denon. It then provides the command codes and asks you to test which one works. The process is quick and easy – unless the codes you want are not in the library. This could be because your component is older, possibly from before the days of universal remotes (remember that old electronics, if they still work, are probably superior in terms of build quality than those manufactured today). In the case of a Bell satellite receiver, the codes may not be there because the universal remote is an American product and your Bell receiver is uniquely Canadian.
The Learning Remote
For the situations when there are no codes available the solution is a universal remote with a learning function. To program it, you point the original remote at it and press a sequence of buttons on each to transfer the code directly from a button on the old remote to the button on the new one. This is a very handy function because it allows you to build in to your universal remote the ability to control your gas fireplace, or motorized window coverings, or lighting system, if these are controlled by remotes. And if you can control them it means you can include them in a sequence of commands. So when you press the “Movie” button, it not only sets up your devices but closes the blinds, dims the lights and turns on the fireplace (you’ll have to make your own popcorn).
The Buttons Don’t Match The Functions
Every remote control has a lot of buttons on it to control the many functions of that particular device. Often the universal remote doesn’t have buttons that match that function. You can still use the learning function to teach a particular button what to do, but you have to remember that what it says on the button is not what it does.
The solution is to use a universal remote that has a display screen, on which you can create your own labels for the functions. So if your TV remote has a button that says “Netflix” you can create a label on the display screen that says that and it relates to a hard button beside the screen.
When your components are out of sight
Most remotes work with infrared beams that you direct at a target on the device you want to control. If you have your device tucked away out of sight in a cabinet, the beam can’t see the target. This is likely to be the case if you have a lot of components that you don’t want to see. The solution is to buy a universal remote that also comes with a hub which is installed in the cabinet with the devices. The remote sends it’s command to the hub using a radio frequency that goes through the cabinet door, and then the hub converts that to an infrared signal that the device understands.
An alternative to the hub is to install an IR repeater system. This consists of a small target outside the cabinet that you aim your remote control at. It is connected by a wire to an emitter inside the cabinet that sends the infrared signal to your device.
When you are accessing the Internet through your TV
Smart TV’s can create difficulties for a multi-step universal remote. This is because the download speed of your Internet feed is variable and various apps (such as Netflix and You Tube) upload at different speeds. As the remote runs through each step in the setup to watch Netflix it may move on to the next step before the last one was completed. With the sequence interrupted you don’t get the result you want.
The problem is not insurmountable but it can be a pain. You can program a delay between steps so that the remote waits until your Internet feed catches up, but if it is not using a hub (see above) it means that you have to keep pointing the remote at the TV while you wait for it to respond. If you stop pointing before the next step it won’t happen.
Worst case scenario is that the multi-step programming takes you as far as the screen with the apps displayed and you take it from there, using the hard buttons on the remote to navigate to where you want to be. It’s no longer one step but it works, and it eliminates frustration.
Doing Your Own Programming
Modern universal remotes are designed for ease of setup. If your system is relatively simple, and is like what most people have (i.e. TV, AV receiver, cable or sat box, and Bluray) you can easily set it up yourself. If it includes devices like a VCR or turntable that you still want to use and still want to control, then you may want to turn to an experienced hand to work out the programming for you (remember that if a device didn’t have a remote control in the first place, a universal remote won’t control it).
Save Your Remotes
Even after you have your new universal remote set up so that it can control your entire system, you should save your old remotes. Electronics are reliable to a point but you never know when something can go wrong and if you are completely dependent upon a universal remote that you accidentally dropped in the fish tank, you are out of luck without the old remotes. Take out the batteries and store them away in a drawer somewhere. You’ll also be glad you did when you upgrade your DVD player and want to give the old one to a friend.
Homebuttons Can Help
Since 1998 I’ve been setting up home theatre systems and universal remotes. Even though the devices keep evolving the basic principles are the same. Chances are if you have a problem, I’ve seen it before and if not I’ll be able to figure out how to solve it. I’m just a phone call away.