If I asked you what the most important part of your audio/video entertainment system is, what would you say? The TV? The speakers? Sure, a properly calibrated TV gives you a great picture and high-performance speakers give you realistic sound. However, there is only one thing that means the difference between a system you are happy with and one that makes you wonder why you spent the money in the first place. It’s probably not any of the things you think.
Many of my clients have reached out to me to fix systems that their previous installers had setup for them. Interestingly, most of the systems did work as they were designed to. The problem is that they were often a bit complicated to use and were not being operated properly. People are busy and have hectic schedules. By the time they sat down to relax, they forgot which remote does what. This is why the most important part of your entertainment system is not your TV or your speakers. It’s your remote control.
Each of your components probably came with its own remote, so they can add up pretty quickly. However, a well-programmed universal remote provides some very useful advantages. One of the more common requests I get is to eliminate the clutter and confusion caused by having multiple remotes. My clients want to be able to pick up the remote and not think about how the system works or which input they must switch their TV to, in order to watch cable or a blu-ray movie. They want it fairly self-explanatory when they pick it up. That’s where good programming comes in. Even a good remote that may not have been programmed to be simple could take away from your experience. When the system is easy to use, everyone is happy.
Many quality universal remotes, such as those made by Universal Remote Control Inc, RTI and Crestron share a common capability in their programming called a “macro” (also known as an “activity”). Basically, a macro is a sequence of steps, triggered by pressing a single button. One example of a macro is a “watch TV” button. When you press that button, the remote will send out the proper commands to turn on your TV, turn on your A/V receiver and turn on your cable box, then set the TV and A/V receiver to the correct inputs to watch TV and finally changes its buttons’ functionality to control the cable box so you can channel surf as you please. Without a universal remote control handling all of those steps, you would need three separate remote controls to do the same thing, along with at least five button presses. A single button press on one remote is far more efficient and eliminates the possibility of pressing an incorrect button or needing to know which inputs to switch to.
Aside from macros, all of the remotes mentioned above can be programmed to go directly to your favorite TV channels. The idea and function is the same as a macro, but the way it works is to have the remote automatically type in a TV station. If you want to watch HBO and the station is 501, press a button labeled “HBO” on the remote and it will tell the cable box to tune to 501. This is quite a useful feature, since not many of us know the station numbers without looking at the channel guide.
Moving up to higher-end remote controls, there are many which offer 2-way communication with certain components. What does that mean to you? When the remote sends a command to a component, the component will send information back that you can see. The best example of this is when you are controlling an iPod. With 2-way communication, you are able to navigate the iPod from the remote as though the iPod was right in your hand. You can see the list of artists, albums and songs, giving you the ability to choose exactly what you want to listen to. Some other amazing 2-way functionality is used with home automation. You can see if your lights are on, control how bright they are or turn them off, check the temperature and change it to be more comfortable, and adjust the shades to raise or lower to the level you want. Of course, there are many more applications, but these are a few of more common ones.
Perhaps one of the most useful advancements many remote controls have incorporated over the past several years is the use of RF (radio frequency). RF-capable universal remotes do not directly control RF devices, but send signals to a RF receiver. That receiver then translates RF into IR (infrared) commands and sends those commands to the components. This allows you to control components that are not directly in front of you or perhaps inside a cabinet behind closed doors. You can place components out of sight and not worry about having them in plain view or within reach of children. Not only is this aesthetically pleasing for most people, but also keeps everything safely tucked away.
Programming a powerful universal remote is typically done by computer, especially if you want the remote to be customized to your preferences and take advantage of macros or 2-way communication. The best thing to do is have an expert program it for you. It’s likely that you’ll get what you want faster and more effectively. Making the remote as simple as possible is important, so you can sit back and enjoy your entertainment system.
Happy channel surfing!