Staying in control – the joy of universal and learning remote controls

Impose control over your home entertainment system with just one remote control

I have – hold on for a sec while we count – 8 remote controls which we need to control the batch of gear we are currently using. We find ourselves constantly juggling them, finding the right one for the task at hand (half of them look the same!) That’s especially fun in the dark while we’re watching a movie on a projector.

Universal and learning

There are two different kinds of remote controls that can help you out here: ‘universal’ and ‘learning’ remotes. Both kinds can replace several of your existing remotes, but they work in different ways (although there is some overlap). Universal remote controls carry within them an enormous collection of the control codes used by different brands of TVs and the like. That makes them easy to set up. All you have to do is enter a four-digit code from the list supplied with the remote, and your TV or whatever will be immediately drawn under its control. However, you are at the mercy of the remote’s built-in data. If your item of equipment, or its particular brand, has been omitted, then you will be out of luck.

That’s where learning remote controls come in. As their name suggests, these can learn the codes from your existing remote controls. That makes them all-powerful, but that comes at a cost: you have to put some work in. In fact, it can take quite a while to make your new remote learn all the codes from all your old ones.

So, what we have are universal remotes, which are easy to set up but limited, and learning remotes, which are hard to set up, but powerful.

But there is a solution even to this: remote controls that combine both capabilities. These tend to be touchscreen-based remote controls. That is, instead of having a slab of plastic covered with little keys, a large backlit LCD screen dominates the remote (there are still usually a few keys at least), and this shows pictures of keys. These so-called ‘soft keys’ are touched to perform the labelled function.

These can learn keys from your existing remote, but that is usually only to top up the huge collection of codes that is already built in. Some of the more advanced models even have provision for connecting to the internet and downloading into them whole pages of LCD screens and their matching codes specifically tailored for your own collection of equipment.