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I have a confession to make. The wiring in my home theater is convoluted enough to make Rube Goldberg scratch his head in confusion. I don’t want to go into the details, but let’s just say there’s an older HDTV with only a single HDMI port, two switchboxes, a receiver with no HDMI support, a Blu-ray player, a DVR, an Apple TV, two game consoles, a region-free DVD player, and— lease don’t laugh—an HD DVD player.
Needless to say, if I didn’t have a universal remote, I’d spend more time selecting the correct inputs to watch something than I would spend watching it—unless my movie choice was Lawrence of Arabia, of course. With a universal remote I never have to reach for the correct remote for a specific device and I’m able to automatically change all of the input settings without having to remember which box is plugged into which input on which switch and via what type of cable.
Logitech’s Harmony 700 is a great choice for users who have a normal number of devices (it supports up to six) and would like a fully programmable remote that is also rechargeable. The Harmony uses an activity-based approach when it comes to controlling your TV. You program the remote using the included software, compatible with Windows and Mac OS X, to change inputs and power up devices depending on what you want to do. Create activities for watching TV, playing a video game, watching a movie and more.
You can select activities from the remote’s color screen, and if something goes wrong when changing from one activity to the next you can use the remote’s help function to troubleshoot. Chances are you just weren’t pointing the remote at the TV during an input change, and the remote is smart enough to ask you questions about device status to get everything back up and running correctly, in a matter of seconds.
The Harmony 700 features comfortable, backlit buttons that are grouped together in a logical manner. Of course, it is fully programmable so you can always reassign a button to suit your needs. Logitech maintains a device database that is constantly updated, ensuring that the latest home theater components will be supported. It includes an AC adapter for charging; you can expect to get a normal week’s worth of use from the remote between charges. If you've got more than six devices to control, consider moving up to the Harmony 900 or Harmony One.
Universal Remote Control’s RF-20 might not be as flashy as the Harmony. It features a monochrome screen and uses the traditional code input method for learning commands for different devices, but it gets the job done. It does support macro commands which allow you to send multiple commands simultaneously to several devices. This allows you to turn on several devices and change inputs to start your favorite activities with the press of a button.
The RF-20 can control up to ten devices, making it a great choice for folks with a lot of components attached to their HDTV. It is powered by four standard AAA batteries and features backlit keys for easy visibility when you’re watching TV with the lights turned low. An optional RF extender kit is available, if you’d like to eliminate the need for line-of-sight IR control, and the RF-20 even has the ability to learn commands from remotes that don’t have compatible control codes!
TiVo’s Slide Remote isn’t a jack-of-all trades remote that allows you to automatically change settings to your heart's content. Instead, it’s aimed squarely at TiVo owners. The remote is designed to control a TiVo Series 3, HD/HD XL, or Premiere/Premiere XL DVR. It uses a Bluetooth interface to control these devices, but also features an IR emitter to control the volume and input settings from your TV and receiver.
The Slide Remote gets its name from its most stunning feature: while it appears to be a standard DVR controller at first glance, you’ll be happy to know that its top slides up to reveal a full QWERTY keyboard. You can use the keyboard to search for shows or for videos on YouTube, type in URLs for RSS feeds and more. It is a great option for anyone who would like to take advantage of the rich online features that TiVo DVRs offer.
Both the standard remote buttons and the keyboard are backlit for easy viewing in any lighting conditions. The unit is powered by two standard AA batteries. In order to add Bluetooth functionality, you’ll have to plug the included receiver into the USB port on your TiVo.
Only a Few Examples
These are only a few examples of the multitude of universal remotes on the market today. B&H offers more than two-score, ranging from basic models that can simply replace a lost TV remote, all the way up to large programmable touch-screen models that can control more than a dozen devices.