Universal remote reviews: FAQs
Do I need one?
There are a number of reasons for buying a universal remote control, but the most common is to reduce the clutter of having several remotes in one living room. If having three or more remotes on your coffee table doesn’t trouble you, then buying and programming a remote control isn’t for you.
Keep in mind that having several remotes means needing to keep all of them stocked with fresh batteries, so owning a single all-in-one remote is certainly more economical.
For people who own large amounts of electronic equipment, a universal remote to control all of their devices might be more attractive. Advanced remotes can control larger numbers of devices, and not all are necessarily more complex to use or to programme.
Individuals with limited sight or dexterity can find universal remotes tailored specifically for their requirements, though the ones we have tested thus far have not been particularly impressive.
We recommend checking our online reviews before making any purchases.
How easy are they to program?
Programming a universal remote control is generally done by inputting a four or five figure model code directly into the remote using its own buttons.
Universal remotes come packaged with instruction manuals that typically devote several pages to listing all of the brands and models the device is compatible with, and the codes you need to input for each one accordingly.
Many remotes can receive updates for codes for new devices via the internet (see below), and once these have been installed you simply input the relevant new codes as usual.
Alternatively, a number of universal remotes are ‘learning’ devices, which can mimic the functionality of a device’s own remote control.
The process requires a degree of patience, as you have to aim the two remotes at one another and press each button in turn on the old remote, followed by the corresponding button on your universal remote in order to memorise each function.
Though this might seem laborious, the advantage is your universal remote will be able to ‘learn’ to control devices that other universal remotes might well be incompatible with. Of course, the process will be rendered redundant if you are buying a new universal remote in order to replace a lost or broken older controller.
Will it work with all of my electronic devices?
It is worth being sure that any remote you buy will be compatible with the electronic equipment you own. Many remotes boast compatibility with thousands of brands or models, though in reality only a fraction of these are relevant to the UK market.
Most big name brands are typically covered, and a number of remotes are capable of receiving updates through being linked to the internet. These updates, once downloaded, will programme new brand and model codes into your remote, in theory future-proofing it against new purchases.
What if I only want a replacement controller for a single device?
If you are only seeking a replacement for a lost or broken controller for a single electronic device it is still worth considering a universal remote, though it will be better to avoid more expensive remotes designed to control greater numbers of devices.
Above all, try and check that your chosen remote will be compatible with your electronic device via code entry, as with the old remote lost or broken you will be unable to perform a device-copy procedure via the new remote’s learning function.
Alternatively, it can be worth contacting the manufacturers of your electronic device to see if they can supply you with replacement controllers. Depending on the cost of a replacement and the amount of time you may have to wait to receive it, it may still be worth considering getting a universal remote instead.
Can it control my digital set-top box?
A number of the universal remotes we have tested have proven incompatible with UK digital Freeview set-top boxes. These have tended to be the models for which the relevant product codes for these digital receivers, or set-top boxes, are unavailable, and the remote itself is unable to download or learn updates. In such cases we penalise the remotes accordingly in our reviews.
Those remotes that can receive updates via the internet tend to be safer bets for ensuring you can control Freeview set-top boxes with them, as future updates for the British electronics market are likely to encompass the most common set-top box and PVR brands.
However, if your universal remote has a learning function (see above) you will be able to ensure it can control your set-top box, provided you are prepared to input the functions button-by-button from your original set-top box remote into your new universal remote.