Don’t buy that universal remote control just yet…

Kevin Costner said it best in Waterworld when he uttered the eternal words: “DRY LAND IS NOT A MYTH!”  It’s not. Especially if “dry land” is a metaphor for “a single remote control for your whole A/V system.”

And the only remote you’ll ever need may already be in your house — it may already be on your coffee table! — just sitting there, barely tapping its potential.

Here are three steps to help get closer to that magic number of 1 without having to pony up for a new remote:

Step 1: Elimination.

Fewer components means fewer remote controls. Do you really need an A/V receiver? Maybe not. How many different ways do you need to access Netflix? Just one will do.  How about that VCR? Keep it in a closet until your parents visit bearing that old VHS tape of you in the one local commercial you did as a child in the ’80s. (What? That’s just me?)

My recommendation: Any equipment you haven’t used in at least four months you should disconnect and store elsewhere ’til needed. Seriously, if you only use a device two or three times a year (if even that much), you don’t need to have it out all the time, cluttering things up, forcing you to integrate it into your system full-time.  That’s what auxiliary inputs are for (the kind they put in easy-to-access places on your TV and/or receiver). Only pull out that old laserdisc player when you have to watch the original trilogy in its purest form one more time…

Step 2: Consolidation.

Take stock of what’s left, especially any equipment that might be old & outdated.  If you’re going to buy anything new, I’d rather see you upgrade the gear that matters most than spend money on a remote.  This is your chance to upgrade smartly, replacing two things with one, further reducing your number of components.  For example, if you like your surround sound set-up and need an A/V receiver, consider getting a receiver with a blu-ray player built-in. Or a blu-ray player with smart apps built in. You get the picture.

In my main media room, I’ve only got four items: a Sharp HDTV, a Samsung Blu-ray player (with smart apps), a soundbar, and a DirecTV box. That’s all we need 99% of time I’m there, so that’s all I have set-up full-time.

FYI: Another thing to look out for when upgrading your equipment: Company specific protocols designed to help reduce the number of remotes you have to use. For example, Sony offers Bravia Sync, which allows Sony TVs to control other Sony products. Panasonic offers the similar Viera Link, Sharp offers Aquos Link, and LG offers SimpLink. Sometimes they even work with each other, allowing a Sharp TV to control a Sony receiver, but I still consider those “happy accidents” more than something you can count on.

Step 3: Customization.

449A4793If you have a cable or satellite box, then it comes with a remote that’s surprisingly versatile.  Your remote is probably set-up to turn your TV on and off (something the installer should’ve done before he/she left), but it can also be used to control at least two more devices.

If you have an A/V receiver or a soundbar as part of your system, then you should take advantage of a remote feature called VOLUME LOCK.  This takes the volume buttons on the remote and locks them to one device (i.e. not your TV).

Real life example: My DirecTV box and Blu-Ray player plug into the TV, and I’m using the TV’s “digital audio out” port to send all sound to the soundbar.  I locked the volume keys on the DirecTV remote to only control the soundbar. Since the soundbar automatically turns on whenever the TV turns on (and it turns off on its own too), I don’t ever have to worry about it.  Whenever I want to watch TV, I just hit a single button (“System On”).  If I want to watch a Blu-Ray, I need to take the additional step of switching inputs on the TV, but since I’m only using two inputs, that’s easy enough. (In fact, I’ve disabled all the TV inputs I don’t use.)

We also have a room with an A/V receiver that does not power on/off on it’s own. In that room, we have a very similar set-up, except we just leave the receiver on all the time, so we never have to worry about it.  We also use the TV as the HDMI switcher.  The receiver powers the surround speakers and sets the volume and that’s it.

If you don’t have cable or satellite, but you do have a newer TV, the TV’s remote might also similar functionality, allowing it to be your main remote if you only have a couple other components.

Now, you may not be down to just one remote control by this point — especially if you have an Apple TV or Roku or some other device you can’t live without.  But the above line of thinking should help you get down to one remote that you can rely on the vast majority of the time.  It’ll also make things tremendously easier for guests and non-tech savvy people who live under your roof.  (Besides, if you have an Apple TV, you should really be using a bluetooth keyboard anyway!)

And if you have taken the time to streamline your set-up (at least mentally), but you still think you want a universal remote, the really good news is that now you won’t need to get an expensive one.  As much as I love Harmony remotes and the like, they can cost well over $200 for a nice one (the kind you’d need for a complicated set-up).  That money could be better spent elsewhere… or not at all.


Addendum #1: The above is going to be painfully obvious to some of you. Sorry about that. Thanks for reading anyway! This post is for people who don’t like to think too much about the tech in their home, they just want it work well.

Addendum #2: If you don’t have the manual for your cable/satellite remote, don’t fret. DirecTV remotes are programmed by the DirecTV box itself actually, via the SETTINGS menu. No instructions needed. For other companies that don’t do things so visually: Just go to the support section of their website. They should have a whole section devoted to programming the remote, as well as manuals you can download.

2 thoughts on “Don’t buy that universal remote control just yet…

  1. Another good option if you have the roku is the remote app for your cell phone or tablet. Really convenient, especially if you have kids who lose the remote, like I do.

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