How useful are universal remotes?

I was thinking about getting a universal remote to control some stereo stuff and whatnot. I was wondering, how “universal” are they, really? Will they control an off-brand DVD player? A CD changer from the 90s? An Onkyo minisystem from 10 years ago?

Do they all cover the same set of devices, or are some more universal than others?

Get a Logitech Harmony remote. You set them up on a computer and they use an online database that has virtually every electronic device known to man already programmed into it. For the few devices not already programmed into the database, the controller has a learning port that you can beam signals from remotes that you have. The Harmony remotes are also “activity-based” rather than component-based, meaning that instead of turning on a TV, cable box, and receiver, and then setting the TV and receiver to the correct inputs, you hit one button labeled “Watch TV” and it does all that for you.

But anyway, if the remote code isn’t in the Logitech Harmony database, your run-of-the-mill universal remotes certainly aren’t going to. You can see if the devices you have are in their database here (I searched and it does indeed have your Onkyo mini system in the database).

Second this. The Logitechs will also record remote codes from the old original remote.

Those Logitechs are awfully expensive, the cheapest I see if $95. Other brands sell for $20.

I have a One-4-All URC-6131 which is nicely reprogrammable. The biggest plus is that it can control my DVR. I wanted to set up some extra features so I found the codes for resetting certain buttons and it’s just great. There are online listings that can be easily found (just be careful, some sites are actually just malware traps). I think it has since been superseded by a newer model but it’s still available on Amazon for less than $20.

I have had very few problems controlling a variety of devices using standard URC-type remotes. Just don’t expect much from the $4 models. The main things to look for is does it have enough buttons for all the features you want to use (preferably already setup once the device is selected) and does it control enough devices (e.g., 6-8-10). Layout might also be a key. On the 6131 the FF/RW etc. buttons are kinda small which is a pain since I use those most.

The biggest headache I have is that they don’t control Beta VCRs. Even some of the Sony ones don’t provide good coverage. But again, by looking up key codes online and reprogramming, I’ve gotten by. So unless you are talking about that vintage of devices, don’t worry about it.

Yeah, they’re not cheap, but ultimately you get what you pay for. The $20 remotes are just going to come with a limited list of generic brands it controls, and you’ll have to go through one-at-a-time seeing if a code works and what remote buttons work and don’t work.

You can find some of the older Harmony remotes on eBay for considerably cheaper (there’s this one for $30, for example) and they still work fine with the database and everything. I think the main reason the newer ones are so costly is they all feature color LCD screens which is probably overkill for what you want to use it for.

I support Logitech Harmony too. It’s not perfect, but it works perfectly within the limitations of how much control is programmed into the device.

Example… your TV might have separate codes for power - on, off, and toggle. It might have only on & off. It might have only toggle. Harmony will remember the state the TV is in based on what was last done with the remote. Turn the TV off some other way, and Harmony is out of synch. There’s a Help button to fix you if you find that you’re actually in a different state than the remote thinks you are in, and it works quite well.

The annoyance I have is my DVD player. Put in a DVD, and it turns on. Go to your remote and hit “watch DVD” and the DVD (which has only a “toggle power” remote code) toggles the power off. I’m 90% sure I can work around this in the remote software, but the easiest/simplest solution has been to close the DVD tray via the power button on the player. If someone else is using the remote, I just tell them to hit help and follow the prompts.

Another annoyance relates to getting the timing delays right for source switching. My TV has a dumb logo it puts up and all remote input is ignored while that logo is up. There’s a fine line between getting the remote to wait the proper amount of time and the length of time where it’s a pain-in-the-ass to keep the remote pointed at the device with no ability to control anything else… like say the volume that is way too f***ing loud.

BTW, the harmony remote is the single best piece of equipment in my entertainment system. I’d go back to a standard-def 35" CRT before I’d go back to the old style universal remotes (or the array of confusing single-device remotes). Not that anyone is pointing a gun to my head to make such a decision… I’m just saying that $100 (or even $300) is worth every penny when your setup is usable by the wife, the babysitter, and the grandparents while still meeting your needs.

That’s one of my annoyances too. Actually, I think my real annoyance is the fact that we’re in the year 2010 and we’re still controlling complex, multi-device AV systems with infrared beams of light that require a direct line-of-sight. Why we haven’t come up with truly universal, smart control systems (using Bluetooth, for example) that know the state of devices is beyond me.

Do Harmony remotes work with Macs?

Get a learning remote. I picked up a Zenith on Ebay for $12 and it works great. It even worked on an old stereo system I bought in 1989.

Although the OP didn’t specify, I assumed they didn’t have the original remotes to all their devices, in which case a learning remote would be less than useful. But if they do have the original remotes and are just looking to consolidate, then a learning remote is definitely the cheapest way to go.

IIRC mac remotes all use bluetooth, while “standard” remotes use infrared (which is cheaper and much simpler to implement, while bluetooth can do a lot more). As far as I can tell from a quick google search, the current logitech harmony devices don’t support bluetooth out of the box.

No, I don’t want to control a Mac with it (although I wouldn’t mind that.) I was just wondering of there is some special Windows software required to load the codes from the database onto the remotes.

Oh ok. From what I gather: yes it works with Windows and OSX, with people working on Linux compatibility. Logitech Harmony - Wikipedia

The Harmony application works quite well with a Mac. Regardless of what kind of computer you use, you will need an internet connection to access the online device database.

You will probably find yourself tweaking the setup several times, but the basic steps of the setup are to tell it what components you have, then tell it what needs to be on and what inputs need to be selected to do a particular function.

For example, to watch TV using a satellite receiver, a TV and a surround amp, the remote will need to turn on the TV, the satellite box and the amp. The TV will need to be on input “HDMI 1” and the surround amp needs to be on audio input “AUX 1” with the surround mode off.

Once you get all that plugged into the setup, you just press the “Watch TV” button once, and the remote rolls through that script. Likewise for watching movies, listening to CDs, etc. It does a good job of making an otherwise imposing and confusing system very easy for guests or technophobe parents to use.

Another Harmony fan, I have 3 of them (for different rooms)!

Before I moved and consolidated from my living room couch I could control:

-DVD player
-A/V Receiver
-2 satellite receivers

  • Ceiling fan/light combo
  • Air conditioner unit
  • Electric fireplace

All from 1 Harmony remote.

Plus it has passed the ultimate test, when my mom comes over to babysit my daughter and she wants to watch a DVD, my mom can press “Watch Movie” and every input is automatically switched, and every device is powered-up!

I went from 9 remotes to 1!

I have used other universal remotes, and I always found I could never get 100% functionality out of them. They were always lacking one or two certain features that required me to have more than one remote. That has since gone away since I bought my first Harmony!


I have found the only trouble with universal remotes is that they only work within THIS universe! :wink:

When I got my Harmony remote, I found that it didn’t control my CD player correctly. I ended up calling the help desk, and they were extremely helpful. They swapped the remote instruction set for my CD player for an alternate one and it worked great. Also, my VCR had a toggle power button on the original remote but the Harmony was programmed by default with separate buttons (or something like that). Since the configuration of the remote is done over the internet, the help desk tech just asked how my VCR worked, then could easily and quickly correct the setting in my configuration on their server. I updated the remote once, and everything worked great.

Ditto the lag between commands and button push -> actually sending the signal. Oh well, I still love it.,

Like others have said, “other brands” are terrible, and don’t offer the flexibility of a Harmony. The activity buttons are an absolute godsend. “Watch TV” turns on my TV (and switches to the correct input if it wasn’t already on it) and turns on the cable box. But “Watch TV w/Surr.” turns on my TV, sets it to the right input, turns on the cable box, turns on the receiver, sets the receiver to the right input, and mutes the TV. With one button. If I then want to watch a movie, it’ll turn on the DVD player, switch the receiver input, and switch the TV input. When I hit “power” it’ll turn off everything it had turned on.

With an “other brand” remote, here’s how you do the following:

Watch TV:
Press “TV”, press “power”, press “Cable”, press “power”, press “TV”, press “input”.

Watch TV w/Surr.:
Press “TV”, press “power”, press “Cable”, press “power”, press “TV”, press “input”, press “mute”, press “AUX” (IF your universal actually has an Onkyo MC35TECH code), press “input”. Volume control and channel control need to then be switched back and forth between “TV” and “AUX” inputs separately.

It’s not comparable in the slightest.