Universal remote controls and a website all about them

Week 16, 2003  

Q) What a jury rig!  I have a Sony plasma TV that only has two RGB connectors and one S-Video connector.  I had to buy a bunch of converter boxes to hook up a DVD, HDTV receiver, and VCR to my Sony surround sound system and my plasma TV.      Now I know why people pay the bucks for someone to install everything!    Next, one remote to easily control everything! Have any suggestions?  Thanks for your column!

-Bob Ellis

Q) I now have accumulated at least 5 remotes: Toshiba TV, Universal (Radio Shack VCR replacement), Onkyo Receiver, Dish Satellite, and Panasonic DVD player.   The Onkyo doesn’t accommodate my Toshiba TV, but controls almost everything else except the satellite.   How do you decide which remote to use?   My husband refuses to mess with the whole setup, so I don’t use the external speakers, just for TV programs.   I’m sure I’m not the only one with this dilemma.   Any advice?

-Susan.I. Greenberg, Murrysville, PA

A) The two of you definitely are not alone.   Many of today’s families are now hit with a bad case of remote control overload.   This has been caused by a combination of several factors.   First, new products such as DVD players, home theater surround sound, and HDTV, once the exclusive realm of audio/video enthusiasts, have become more widely adopted by everyday TV watchers.   These products have many different features and functions, which vary from brand to brand.   It is no longer as simple as punching a few button to program your Toshiba TV’s remote so it will work your Mitsubishi VCR.   Depending on age, the TV remote may not even have a DVD option. When you take all the various electronics brands and available features and functions into account, it is almost always impossible to get one of your component’s remotes to fully work everything that you own, as Susan has discovered.

Bob mentioned, “Now I know why people pay the bucks for someone to install everything!”   If you had gone to a professional home theater dealer/installer for your equipment, it is likely they would have told you a remote control is as much of a component as your television, speakers, or DVD player, and sold you a dedicated learning remote control with your system.

Having a specialized remote that controls every piece of equipment flawlessly can add a great deal to the enjoyment and satisfaction you receive from your home entertainment system.     It’s a wonderful thing to hold one remote in your hand and have total control, rather than fumble around with several remotes just to do something simple like stop the DVD player, then turn off the VCR.

As you both may have already guessed, this kind of functionality doesn’t come cheap.   Advanced learning remotes currently sell between $99.00 and $999.00.   The more you spend, the more features you get such as joysticks, LCD displays, and the ability to control tens of different devices.   A good place to start learning and shopping is www.remotecentral.com, where the “clicker picker” tool will help you find the remote of your dreams.   There are many remotes listed, along with user reviews and technical information- exploring the website should help you both find the perfect remote to make your lives easier.   If I had to recommend one for each of you, for Susan it would probably be the Home Logic UR362 with LCD display for only $99.00.   Bob, who has already spent big bucks on his plasma screen, might want to spend a bit more on the Harman/Kardon “Take Control” for $349.00.     Whatever you both decide on, good luck to you both.

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