1.0 Overview: What is a Universal Remote?
A universal remote control is a programmable remote control for home theater use that can control each and every component in a home theater system. Many of today's remotes download the needed code for all of the required equipment in your rack via an online interface. Simply tell your Web interface which cable box, which Blu-ray player, which receiver and which DVD-Audio player you have and, within seconds, the codes are downloaded into your universal remote. Hard buttons on the remote are assigned to the basic standards sent from the remote company. Information is sent for onscreen controls, assuming your remote has an LCD screen. Users can modify these commands if desired past the remote company factory standards.
2.1 Factory Remote Controls
Factory remote controls range from basic functionality to full learning remotes. Audiophile components tend to come with heavy, metal remote controls that are designed to make you feel like you are in control of a serious piece of equipment. AV receiver remote controls tend to be OEM "learning" remote controls that potentially teach your entire system's commands. HDTVs come with some level of learning, but neither receivers nor HDTV remotes compare to the functionality and ease of use stereotypically found with the better under-$500 universal remote controls on the market today.
2.3 IR Remote Controls
Most AV components, especially older ones, are infrared (IR) controlled, which requires a direct line of sight from the end of the remote to the AV component and sometimes results in less-than-perfect control of systems.
2.4 IR Repeater Systems
Larger AV systems using IR devices often use IR repeater systems, which connect the IR "eyes" on your gear with repeater elements that connect to a control block. This block connects to a main eye that receives commands from your primary seating position. This is a good, affordable way to get control of your entire system.
2.5 RF Remote Controls
Radio Frequency (RF) remote controls are a more expensive option than IR, but they work far better. No longer do you need to point your remote directly at your components. In fact, you can have your gear in an adjacent room and the commands work like a charm. Today's better universal remotes are RF-controlled.
3.0 Touch Panel Remote Controls
Touch panel remote controls are the king of the "wow" factor, as these beaming, large, color command systems allow anyone in a family to have pre-programmed access to virtually every function of a home theater or home automation system. Touch panels range in size from a few inches to 20-plus inches. Touch panels can be hardwired (faster and more reliable) or can be wireless via a network or Bluetooth (more mobile). Touch-screen remotes and home automation systems require professional installation by an AV integrator, as they are complex and require significant amounts of hardware, control wiring, custom code and beyond in order to make them function in accordance with the client's needs.
RS-232 is a hardwired, locking connection system that allows many slightly higher-end AV components to talk to each other quickly and effectively. RS-232 is the AV industry standard for connectivity, although Ethernet connections to the Internet have also become quite popular for AV components in recent months.
Keypads are in-wall, often smaller versions of touch-screen remotes. Often located near lighting or security controls, these keypads can operate any number of functions around the house, including distributed audio, distributed video, HVAC, security cameras and much more. Keypads can be as small as four inches and as large as the largest touch-screen remote (more than 20 inches), as they all can be installed in someone's walls.
3.3 Aftermarket GUIs
While custom programming is one of the most profitable and sexy elements of a modern-day home theater and/or home automation sale, there are a number of companies that sell pre-made interfaces that look quite good and have many of the most popular components pre-loaded and ready to work on your Crestron, AMX or Control 4 remote control system. While there is a cost to these pre-made pages, they often can save you money in overall programming time. Also, just because a custom installer is technically very capable doesn't mean he/she is a good artist. Your remote might end up looking far more sexy when you use a pre-made graphical user interface.