Universal Remotes Roundup

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When multiple remote controls occupy the TV room, they clutter the coffee table, disappear into the recesses of the davenport and make for an uncomfortable stretch when the one you need is out of reach. There has to be a better way.

To the rescue comes the universal remote, a handheld device that replaces all your other remotes yet can control every audio and video component in a home theater. Such remotes vary in sophistication. All but one in this survey contains a color screen or appropriates the touch screen of the user’s iPhone, iPod touch or iPad. The single non-screen model is meant for young children.

The six remotes for adults can each run a variety of devices without you having to displace one code set to accommodate another. They range from the Harmony/Logitech Harmony 700 Advanced Universal Remote, with simultaneous support of up to six devices, to the Universal Remote R50 Digital Remote Control with 18-component capability. Remotes that piggyback on an iPhone or other iOS device are practically unlimited in the number of IR components they can control. Universal remotes also contain macro capabilities so that you can assign one button press, for example, to emit a series of signals to turn on the TV and A/V receiver, power up the Blu-ray player, open its tray and switch components to the appropriate inputs. Sorry, but unless you have a mega changer or choose to stream a movie, there’s still no remote-assist for lifting you off the sofa to insert a disc.

The Sony RM-KZ1 TV Remote Control for Kids is in a class by itself because it’s designed to limit functionality. Intended as a means of parental remote control, the greenish RM-KZ1 has no channel up or down buttons. Seven numbered buttons, each with a unique color and shape, is pre-assigned by the responsible adult so the child can only watch particular channels. (A 10-digit keypad for programming the remote is sequestered under an allegedly child-proof cover.) Buttons are provided so the child can turn the volume up or down within a limited range. The splash-proof remote is meant for children ages 3 and up. Batteries are not included.

As owner of a universal remote, you’ll have access to codes for thousands of infrared-controlled (IR) devices. Set-up routines vary from entering a few digits per component as listed on an enclosed pamphlet to downloading the codes via an Internet-connected computer. You program the Harmony One Advanced Universal Remote, for instance, from a PC or Mac via the supplied USB cable. For some models, the most direct way to install the codes is by pointing your dedicated remote at the universal remote so it can capture the signals. Models that have this capability are referred to as IR learning remotes. So, for example, a sensor on the bottom of the VooMote One shell for an iPhone or iPod Touch is the way it learns how to control unknown devices.

Advanced remotes are typically rechargeable, sometimes through a base station that stays plugged into a wall outlet. This is the case, for example, with the Harmony One. Even remotes that use disposable batteries can be turned into rechargeable devices by substituting optional rechargeable batteries that get refreshed in a separate charger. Remotes with buttons that briefly illuminate when one is pressed are a great convenience feature, especially if you’re watching TV in the dark. These are referred to as “backlit” buttons.

A new category of universal remote has emerged in which the remote’s intelligence and interface reside in an app you download into a mobile device such as an iPhone. So, in the case of the two types of VooMotes from Zero1.tv all power comes from the attached mobile device; all buttons are on the mobile device’s touch screen. The VooMote One is an IR transmitter built into a shell that wraps around an iPhone or iPod touch, while the VooMote Zapper is an IR plug-in accessory for use with an iPhone, iPod touch or iPad. Each model connects to the iOS device’s dock port; both rely on the free VooMote One Universal Remote Control app downloadable from the iTunes App Store. Once installed, the app enables you to customize menus. So, for instance, a Room Control feature lets you create a device bundle for each space. Then, as you enter your living room, den or bedroom, you touch the apt icon on your mobile device to bring up the room’s devices.

Though you use an app-loaded iPhone, iPod touch or iPad as the controller, the Beacon Universal Remote Control System from Griffin Technology is different because commands are relayed wirelessly via Bluetooth to within 30 feet of a stand-alone Beacon pod equipped with IR emitters. Beacon can pair with up to eight mobile devices, and it supports switching control between the two most recently connected devices. Your iOS handheld runs Dijit's Universal Remote App, which even includes a customized electronic program guide. The IR Beacon can operate up to two months on four AA batteries, according to Griffin.

If you have any questions about universal remotes, please feel free to post them in the Comments section below. We’re always pleased to hear from you.

  Logitech Harmony 700 Logitech Harmony One Universal Remote R50 Sony RM-KZ1 for Kids Zero1.tv VooMote One Zero1.tv VooMote Zapper Griffin Technology Beacon for iOS
Max. Devices 6 15 18 2 unspecified unspecified unlimited
Battery Type Rechargeable Rechargeable 4x AAA 2x AA power from iPhone power from iPhone/iPad 4x AA
IR Learning Yes Yes Yes No Yes Yes No
Macro Capability Yes Yes Yes No Yes Yes Yes
Touch Screen No Yes No No on iOS device on iOS device on iOS device
LCD Backlight Yes Yes Yes No on iOS device on iOS device on iOS device
Buttons Backlight Yes Yes No No not applicable not applicable not applicable
Connector USB USB None No Adapters for iPod touch and iPhone 4 Dock connector on iOS device Wirelessly via Bluetooth
Base Station No Yes No No No No No
Dimensions unspecified unspecified 8.9 x 2.3 x 1.1" 6 x 2.5 x 1" 5.4 x 2.6 x 0.7" 0.3 x 1.5 x 0.8" 3 x 3 x 2" 
Weight     9 oz 9.1 oz 1.6 oz 0.7 oz 11.5 oz
Color(s) Black Black Black Green Black Black or White Black

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I have a Logitech Harmony which I love--except for one thing. I have two baby grandsons who grab the remote and inadvertantly change the settings. Actually, I think my adult kids do this, too. Are there any remotes that have locking or sign-in features so that only certain people can change the settings? Thanks!

Hi Laura -

The Sony RMVLZ620 Integrated Remote Commander is an impressive name for what is, quite frankly, a pretty impressive device for a replacement remote control. 

You can control up to eight devices from this single remote. It's got a database of common codes built-in and it comes with a sheet of hundreds more. If you have the existing remotes handy you can place each one a few inches in front of the RMVLZ620 one at a time and "teach" it how to take the place of each remote.

 The RMVLZ620 also has a simple lock and unlock function. This is not a parental lock. Your tweens and teenagers can figure it out faster than you can say, "Don't watch..." This lock is to prevent inadvertent use and to keep your toddler from blasting your Whitesnake CD at 7 o'clock in the morning.

Please contact us via e-mail if you have additional questions:  AskBH@BandH.com