Sound Advice Column: Learning universal remotes, changing volume between HDTV and cable/satellite

Sound Advice
By Don Lindich

Distributed By McClatchy-Tribune Information Services

Q: I write to ask for your advice on a universal remote. Although I consider myself technically curious and patiently persistent, I am now confounded by the variety of controls for the TV (Olevia), DVD/VCR combo (Sony) and set-top box (Motorola/Verizon FIOS) and annoyed by the apparent redundancy but actual adversity of the various remotes.

The bugaboo currently seems to be the Olevia, which can’t be configured to have its volume controlled by the set-top box remote because (depending on whom you believe), “They won’t accept our codes,” (Olevia) or, “They don’t share their codes” (Verizon). A classic dilemma on the order of, “It’s a software problem,” vs. “It’s a hardware problem.”

I’ve reviewed your site, checked the Logitech site about the Harmony remotes, read CNet, Amazon, Googled Universal Remote, reviewed Remote Central (what a great name!) and done lots of other research.

It’s time to ask you to distill it all into another of your 350 word odes to clarity and inner technological peace.

Mt. Lebanon

A: I think I can give you clarity pretty easily. Have you considered a learning universal remote? Rather than use preprogrammed codes, they learn commands from the remotes you own. You point them at each other, press appropriate buttons, and the universal remote will pick up the commands through the IR signal sent to it.

A good learning remote can learn anything from the remote pointed at it, and many of them will allow you to name the buttons for each component. They also may be preferred by those who hate the ritual of going through a list of codes to find the right one.

Given the gear you have, I’d check out the Universal Remote Control MX-650. It retails for $149 and allows you to name specific actions on its LCD screen, which is very helpful when programming obscure, component-specific commands.

Q: What would cause the sound to go quiet and loud on broadcast channels? You could be watching “Wheel of Fortune” and the sound gets quiet and it gets louder again. So when you turn up the sound and a commercial comes on, you have to turn it down again because it’s too loud. It does not fade in and out on commercials. I had Dish Network come out, and they said it has nothing to do with the signals received from the satellite. They said the stations that receive and send signals out on those channels is where the problems lies.

Marseilles, Ill.

A: There is not much you can do about it. Dish is correct; it comes from the stations themselves. The commercials are recorded and broadcast at a higher average level. I hate it myself and deal with it whenever the broadcast switches from programming to commercial. Sadly, I just reach for the remote and hit the mute button or turn down the volume for the commercials.

At the 2008 Consumer Electronics Show, Dolby Laboratories demonstrated Dolby Volume, a new signal processing technology that compensates for volume inconsistency. It’s a very promising technology that will find its way into TVs and audio components in the future, to the relief of many people just like you! Read about it at Dolby Volume Works.

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