What You Need to Know when Choosing Universal Remote Controls

Universal remote controls are a common feature in many households, now that the average home consumer has at least three devices they need to manage, including a television, a cable box and a DVD player. While many devices come with universal remotes, not all universal remotes are suitable for all applications, so make sure you know what you're getting when you're shopping for universal remotes.

How Many Devices Do You Need to Manage?
Universal remotes are a great way to replace half a dozen remotes for different devices, but they're only as good as their programmable features. Some universal remotes only manage three devices, while others can manage as many as you own. Look at how many devices you need to manage, and whether or not your universal remote can handle all of them. If you've got five devices that you need to manage, but a universal remote that can only handle three of them, you'll have to use extra remotes for some of your devices. When you're shopping, look at the top row of buttons on universal remotes. These are usually labeled with the devices the remote can operate, such as TV, DVD, Audio, etc. High-end programmable remotes with touch screens can usually be adapted to operate everything.

Do You Have a Universal Remote?
Because today's home electronics consumers typically have so many devices, many manufacturers ship universal remote controls with their products. You may find that you can program your television remote control to work with your DVD player and your cable box, so check your current remote controls to see if you have universal or programmable functionality. From there, evaluate whether the functionality supports all of your devices, or if you'd be better suited by replacing your remotes with a single universal remote.

Look for Oddball Buttons
Some devices have special functionality that a regular universal remote control won't support. Many universal remotes won't support a multiple-disc DVD changer, on-screen menus for high-end TVs or the On Demand button for your cable converter. If possible, bring your existing remote controls with you when you're shopping for universal remotes, and compare the functions and programmable features on each remote before you buy. If the remote doesn't have all of the buttons you need, you might have to keep shopping or decide what features you can live without.

Is It Programmable?
People often confuse universal remotes, programmable remotes and learning remotes. While many remotes come with more than one type of functionality, not all remote controls include all of these features.

Programmable, in particular, can have two meanings. Some manufacturers label any remote that uses codes to control different devices as "programmable." If your current remotes have unique buttons or features, you'll need a truly programmable remote, one that lets you customize the actions of certain buttons to replicate the features on your existing remote.

"Learning" remotes have the ability to mimic most remote control features, but you'll need to keep your old remote handy to teach these functions to a learning remote. Both programmable and learning remotes will need to have custom functions reprogrammed when their batteries run out, so you'll need to keep your original remotes in a safe place.

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