Anatomy of 6 Remote Controls
What are the key features to look for in a better clicker?
View Slideshow

October 12, 2009 by Steven Castle

One of the most important decisions you can make when buying a whole-house music system, home control system, or home theater system is choosing the remote control. It’s the thing you use to communicate with all that equipment. And it better work.

So what should you look for? After all, tons of universal remote controls are available. Some have a few simple features; others have a bevy of high-end amenities. We’ve compiled some feature sets of six remotes from popular custom install brands that showcase some of these features (click here to view the slideshow).

But all those features aren’t worth a hoot if you can’t figure out how to work the thing. So first and foremost, look for simplicity. Find something that’s easy to operate, has an intuitive layout of keys or touchscreen buttons, and doesn’t require a manual just to change a TV channel or select a different music source.

Another feature we highly recommend is two-way RF. That means wireless radio frequency control, not the traditional IR (infrared) that requires you to point the clicker directly at something. RF allows you to control components that are hidden behind cabinet doors, inside closets or in other rooms. The two-way feature gives you feedback that the command was received, so you don’t continuously press a button and without knowing what’s happening. You’ll pay more for a two-way RF remote, but for many electronics enthusiasts, this and other advanced features are well worth the premium.

Here are some important features to look for:

Ergonomics How does the remote control fit in your hand? Is it comfortable? Can your fingers press the buttons easily? Do you want a wand-style handheld remote or a larger touchscreen that might require two hands to operate?

Backlit Keypad Even if you’d love a touchscreen, look for hard buttons for the most common functions, such as volume control. These buttons should be backlit so you can see what you’re doing in the dark.

Charging Dock Look for this and make sure it comes with the remote, especially if it has a battery-draining touchscreen.

Number of Macros Macros allow the transmission of a sequence of many different commands, like turning on several components to start a home theater system. See how many macros can be programmed into your remote.

Receiver and/or Processor RF remotes require an RF receiver that takes the radio signal and transmits the commands to your components via IR or RS-232. Advanced systems require a processor as well. In some cases the receiver and processor are in the same unit. These usually need to be purchased separately.

Other Systems Look for the ability to control an electronic lighting system, motorized shades or draperies, as well as some home control functions.

Click here to view a slideshow of six remote controls.

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Steven Castle - Contributing Writer
Steven Castle is Electronic House's managing editor. he has been writing about consumer electronics, homes and energy efficiency topics for two decades. He is also the co-founder of GreenTech Advocates.

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