The universal truths of universal remotes

A universal guide that’s a lot more impressive than the old TV guide.

Watching the best Netflix movies or greatest Stan TV shows is easy on a home theatre setup. Just turn on your 4K TV with a TV remote. Then turn on your home theatre with a different remote. Next, press some sort of home button on your TV remote. Then navigate to either Netflix or Stan.

That’s if your TV natively supports Netflix or Stan. If not, you’ll have to power on another device with a separate remote just to stream. Oh, don’t forget to switch the audio input on your home theatre system so it’s actually playing sound from your TV and not the FM transmitter you never even connected. Now you’re ready to stream after a handful of perhaps-second-nature steps these days but, ultimately, it’s not a very straightforward approach.

You other option is to press one button on a single universal remote to do all of the above.

What is a universal remote?

Unlike certain tech items (modems and routers spring to mind), a universal remote does what it says on the tin. They can be bought to replace a single remote or to consolidate the functions of multiple remotes into one.

Where they really shine is in handling tasks that are otherwise initiated and then controlled from multiple remotes, such as turning on your TV, powering on a sound system connected to that TV, as well as other TV-connected devices you use for watching content. This is made easier by programming macro keys. Then, instead of having to reach for the TV remote to control channels and the home theatre remote to change the volume, you can control it all from a compatible universal remote.

What is a macro?

In the context of universal remotes, a macro is a single-press solution to a task that would otherwise involve multiple button presses on a single remote or multiple remotes. Depending on the universal remote, a macro may be controlled by a dedicated button or a nameable touch-screen function.

You might create a macro on a universal remote that turns on your TV, your home theatre system, and a Foxtel set-top box, then automatically selects the correct HDMI input and the sports channel from the Foxtel box or the home page on your Fetch TV. While this would normally involve juggling multiple buttons across three remotes, it’s all handled via a single button press on a compatible universal remote. Once configured correctly and everything’s switched on with the macro button, you can also switch channels and control sound from the universal remote, too.

Logitech Universal Remotes

Replacement vs consolidation remotes

There’s no need to fork out for a fancy high-end universal remote if you’re simply seeking to replace a faulty, broken, or missing remote in your home. That said, universal remotes of all budget levels can be used to both replace and consolidate a growing army of remotes that threaten to take over your precious coffee table space.

That said, look to providers like One For All if you’d prefer to take the traditional approach of juggling multiple remote controls. One For All offers replacement remotes for popular TV brands Samsung, LG, Sony, Panasonic, and Hisense. You can also grab a replacement Foxtel remote. Cheaper universal remotes should perform the same task, but check compatibility online before you commit to buying.

In terms of consolidating remotes, it really depends on which remotes you want to combine into a single universal remote, what those remotes control, and how many there are that you want to retire. Even cheaper universal remotes should work with basic TV/sound/set-top box configurations – again, check online first before buying – but more complex combinations including game consoles and non-entertainment smart devices will likely require a higher-end universal remote to control everything.

Corroded batteries not included

Remember to take the batteries out of your existing remotes if you replace them with a universal remote and don’t intend to use them for a long time. Batteries left inside remotes (and other electronic devices) that aren’t used for a long time may corrode and can damage the battery connectors or otherwise cover the battery compartment with corrosive gunk.

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Universal remote buying guide

Here’s the essential need-to-know details for buying a universal remote:

  • Where possible, check compatibility of your remote-controlled devices with an intended universal remote purchase
  • Looking to replace a faulty, broken or missing remote? You can save bucks on a cheaper universal remote
  • Cheaper universal remotes can still control multiple devices, particularly if you’re only looking for TV controls (including attached playback devices)
  • The more devices you want to control, the more you’ll have to spend
  • Smart home functionality tends to be exclusive to high-end universal remotes
  • Programming cheaper universal remotes is more painful than expensive options, but you really only need to program a cheaper option once
  • Universal remotes with backlit buttons or LCD screens make low-light navigation easier
  • Cheaper universal remotes tend to use replaceable batteries, while more expensive options may have a rechargeable battery

Cheaper universal remotes

On the budget-friendly end of the scale, you can pick up a universal TV remote at Kmart (like the
Audiosonic Aluminium Universal Remote) or Big W on the cheap to replace a faulty or dead remote for an in-home tech item you’re not quite yet ready to replace. Similarly, Bunnings has universal garage remotes or a cost-effective smart infrared hub for controlling air-conditioner units (or other remote-controlled devices) via universal remote smartphone app.

There are also cheaper universal remotes like the Sansai 5in1 from online outlets like Kogan.com that’s designed to either replace or consolidate up to five entertainment devices.

One For All universal remotes

As mentioned above, One For All makes replacement remote controls for popular TV brands. But it also sells comparatively inexpensive replacement remotes for smart TVs in general, as well as universal remotes that can control multiple media devices.

The Essence 2, for instance, is built to control two multimedia devices (TV, set-top boxes, etc.) or you can opt for the Essence 3 or Essence 4 to – you guessed it – replace the remote controls for three or four multimedia devices, respectively.

One For All’s Streamer Remote is a simplified universal remote with fewer buttons and backlit keys. It’s designed to combo with three devices: for example, TV, soundbar and streaming devices.

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Pricier universal remotes

If a cheaper universal remote opens your eyes to the potential of removing multiple remotes from your coffee table – or simply not having to feel like you’re the only apparent Doctor of Remotes in the home who knows how to get everything working in sync – premium remote controls do more than just replace remotes.

Logitech universal remotes

Logitech, for instance, may be a more familiar brand in terms of quality gaming gear like keyboards, mice, and headsets, but the PC peripherals manufacturer also has made a name for itself by writing the book on popular universal remotes.

The Logitech Harmony 350 is an affordable better-than-starter universal remote that can control up to eight remotes, more specifically video-playback devices like TV, set-top boxes, Blu-ray players, home theatre systems, and so on. It can be configured for one-touch options for watching TV, which would turn on the tele, the sound, and even a set-top box (if required).

If those macro functions are of interest, though, it’s worth looking at the pricier Logitech Harmony 650. It can replace the same number of devices as the 350, but one-click activities are easier to program via the colour screen.

Smart home compatible universal remotes

Logitech has also cornered the market on high-end universal remotes that are designed to do more than just control multimedia playback devices. The Logitech Harmony Companion or Logitech Harmony Elite are both built atop the versatility of the Logitech Harmony Hub. That Harmony Hub can also be bought separately, and it acts as the heart of universal functionality that’s so meta, it doesn’t even need a remote to control it.

Both the Companion and Elite do come with remotes, but you can just as easily use the Logitech universal remote app on your tablet or smartphone to control devices without actually needing the remote. What kind of devices? Outside of the multimedia devices of cheaper universal remotes, the Harmony Hub can be used to control game consoles, smart lights, smart locks, shades, plugs, and smart home hubs.

This means that those same macro functions for a single-press solution that’d otherwise involve multiple remotes can also be applied to compatible smart devices. So, for instance, watching Netflix can be complemented by automatic dimming of smart lights.

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