Remote controls have come a long way in a fairly short amount of time. Today’s models have built-in touchscreens, can operate the lights and thermostats and can link to the Internet. They can be used in the swimming pool, can locate your favorite music CD and light up so you can find them in the dark.
With so much going for them, it can be difficult to determine which features are the most important to consider when shopping for a remote control. We asked Pete Baker, vice president of sales and marketing at RTI Technologies, and Jon Sienkiewicz, director of marketing at Universal Remote Control, for their expert advice. Based on their input, here’s our Top 10:
1. Macro Capability. In the “old days,” getting your A/V system to play a movie may have required that you press a half a dozen keys on your remote. Remotes with macro capabilities cut that process to just one touch. A button labeled “movie,” for example, could turn on the TV, lower the lights, turn on the A/V receiver and the Blu-ray player, select the correct audio and video inputs on the TV, set the surround-sound mode and even lower the room temperature.
2. Radio-Frequency Communication. A remote control that’s able to transmit its commands to components via radio-frequency airwaves offers a few advantages over a traditional IR (infrared) remote. Because signals transmitted by an RF remote can travel through doors, walls and other structures, you’ll be able to operate your A/V equipment from anywhere in the room (or the house, for that matter). This also means that you’ll be able to hide your components behinds the doors of your entertainment cabinet, inside a closet or even in the utility room in the basement.
3. Programmable. If you’re interested in using your remote control to operate more than just the audio and video components in your family room, make sure it can be programmed to handle lots of different tasks. For example, you might want to be able to dim the lights or lower the motorized shades from your remote.
4. DIY. Would you like to be able to program your remote yourself, or would be you more comfortable leaving it a professional home systems installer? Some remotes are designed to let DIYers take a crack at programming, but if your control plans are elaborate, involving lots of devices and several macros, it’s best that you bring in a pro.
5. Customizable Display. This goes hand-in-hand with programmability. The more tasks your remote is programmed to handle, the more important it becomes to customize its buttons (see below) and screen. With a customizable screen your home systems pro will be able to create a page of commands that relates specifically to each device and system you want to control, activity you enjoy, or family member who uses the remote. For example, a page titled “lights” would display only those commands used to operate the lights. Another page called “activities” could bring up a list with items like “bedtime,” “party,” “morning,” and “good-bye.” Engaging the bedtime button, for example, could turn off the lights, set back the thermostats and close the window shades. Finally, each family member could have his or her own “favorites” page. Your page might display icons for ESPN, CNN and The History Channel, while you’re 12-year-old son’s shows MTV, Cartoon Network and Discovery Channel.
6. Color? Screens can display information in either color or black-and-white. Color is usually more engaging, but black-and-white is more affordable.
7. Button Layout. Make sure the buttons—both in how they’re labeled and how they’re arranged—make sense to you.
8. Ergonomics. Similarly, you’ll want a remote that feels comfortable to hold. Consider the comfort level of everyone who’ll be using the remote, including the kids, the in-laws and the babysitter.
9. Docking Station. This is particularly in homes where the remote is always lost. A docking station offers a place to put your clicker other than on the cushions of the couch. Plus, it recharges the batteries the remote is always fresh and ready to go.
10. Aesthetics. Unless you plan on keeping your remote control in a drawer, look for a model that will look good on your coffee table.
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Lisa Montgomery has been writing about home technology for 15 years, with a focus on the impact of electronics on a modern lifestyle.