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Universal Remote Controls

Remote Controls Buying Guide

Remote controls have become a staple in every home, ...
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Remote Controls Buying Guide

Remote controls have become a staple in every home, most of us have many of them to control all of our devices, and they can be very sophisticated and technically challenging even for the most seasoned techie out there.

I remember a time when remote controls were wired to the device, not very remote really, but of course as technology progressed they became wireless and that is where we are today.

With wireless though you've got a few choices, IR or infrared being the most popular, with RF or Radio Frequency coming is second, and lately we've had Bluetooth remotes becoming popular as well.

While remotes are great for their convenience and usability, with all of these devices using remotes comes a small problem, or large problem depending on how many devices you have, of having a plethora of remotes hanging around your house. Personally I've got five remotes for the various things that I use, and I really should get a universal remote to help me organize things, but I've got a truly non-techie wife who can't even use a cellphone, so a universal remote is out of the question my household, even though I'd like to have one...

When we have all of those remotes floating around our houses, things can get confusing, and of course there's the chance of losing one then you'll have to actually get up off of the couch to do something with the device. That's where universal style remotes come in, they're used to control all of your devices from one single remote, in effect making your life even easier, and avoiding the possibility of losing one of the many remotes you have.

Some things to look for when purchasing a universal remote:

Compatibility is probably the first thing you're going to want to check out with any universal remote, even though they are called 'universal' that doesn't mean it really is. The best way to figure this one out is to check out reviews of the remote you have in mind, maybe find other people who have the remote and of course check the manufacturers website as well and even ask them device specific questions about their product.

Ease of use is something else that should be fairly high on the list of considerations when it comes to a remote, how easy is it to use? Will everyone in your family be able to figure it out? If it's just for you then one with many buttons and functions should be ok, but if other people are going to use it as well you might want to consider their technical knowledge as well to make sure everyone in your household can utilize the new remote easily.

Layout of buttons sort of falls under easy of use but not, are the buttons arranged in a way to make them easily accessible? Are they arranged intelligently, in a way that makes sense to you to be able to use it easier? You want to have the main functions buttons near one another, or at least those you intend on using the most often.

Number of devices that the remote can control is another big consideration, if you have five devices that need a remote, then make sure the remote you are intending on buying can handle those devices. Also you might want to consider expandability, if you get another product that uses a remote you'll want to make sure your universal remote can handle it. Your better off getting one that can control more devices than you currently own so you'll be 'future proof'.

Frequency – IR or Infrared, or RF, Radio Frequency is possibly going to come up in your choices as well. Which one you'll choose depends on range of devices for you and how your home theater is setup. Many devices work on IR, which essentially means line of sight or you must point the remote at the device you wish to control, but some newer remotes come RF enabled. These RF enabled remotes come with IR transmitters, and an RF receiver, so even if your devices aren't RF capable they can be with this remote. These new RF remotes work by transmitting the RF frequency to a separate small box, then that box converts the signals to the IR frequency and then transmits it to your device. So you can be farther away from your devices, you won't have to aim directly at them, and you can even have them hidden out of site in a cabinet and still be able to control them with the remote.

Range is somewhat important in that it all depends on your own setup, but if you want to control your devices from another room, or have a large viewing are, you should make sure the remote has enough range for your own situation.

Backlight is something else to consider, if you frequently watch movies in the dark, you don't want to have to turn the light on to find a button, a remote with backlighting can really help out in this situation.

Optional features to consider:

PC Programmable: Some newer remotes can be programmed with you computer via a USB cable, this does make it much easier to program them. Companies like Loogitech have remotes than are enabled like this, you just find your device and the software programs the remote for you.

LCD Screens and Touchscreens: More expensive remotes don't even have buttons, they rely on a full LCD touchscreen for everything, all of the buttons are virtually displayed on the LCD screen of the remote and you just touch the screen. While these are great innovations, and they're really cool to use and look at, you've got to take into consideration who is going to be using them? Do you have children? You don't want dirty fingerprints all over the touchscreen and of course there's the possibility of them breaking it as well. Some remotes just have built in LCD screens as well that aren't touch screens, they just make things easier and look rather cool. These can also be color or monochrome as well, expect to pay more for graphical displays and colored ones.

Standard or Rechargeable Batteries: Many remotes can use standard batteries, but the newer ones, especially those with LCD screens come with high power rechargeable batteries, if you don't want to concern yourself with having to make sure the remote is charged you might want to stay away from these types.

Now you can easily pay over $100 and upwards of $1000 for a universal remote, so it could be considered an investment depending on which one you decide to purchase. If you're going to purchase one of the higher priced one make sure it can do everything you need it to do, and control all of your devices.

Look around for reviews of course, since these are tech related gadgets it's easy to find many reviews online of numerous brands, styles and price ranges. Of course word of mouth is great as well for determining which remote might work best for you, talk to others who have purchased these types of remotes and specifically the ones that you might be interested in, you'll learn true and honest answers from other consumers like yourself that own the actual products.


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