See what and how many components the remote can operate. Also see how you can switch from controlling a DVD player to the TV or cable tuner, for example. Memory is important for holding all those control codes but also for enacting macros, in which more than one thing happens when you press a button. For example, you might program a macro button to turn on the TV, the audio/video receiver and the DVD player at once. Some remotes can also control electronic lighting and motorized drapery systems. Check and see how many macros you can program.
Many higher-end remotes feature small LCD screens, even touchscreens. See if your fingers are small enough to press the right buttons, and keep in mind that LCD screens use more power. You may want one with a recharging dock. “Hard” buttons on the sides of LCD screens for controlling basic functions like volume and source control are good to have.
One of the most important factors in selecting a remote is ergonomics. Be sure the layout of buttons is organized and intuitive. Hold the remote in your hand, and see if it feels comfortable. See where your thumbs rest and where the most important buttons are placed. Are they easy to reach without contorting your hand? Back-lighting of buttons is also helpful if you watch TV or listen to music in the dark.
A lighting control system offers tremendous convenience. You can turn on or off a group of lights at one time—even lights throughout your home. You can set “scenes” that bring one or more lights up to certain levels for entertaining, romance or cleaning. You can control outdoor lights, garage lights, and any other lights from a number of lighting control stations in your home. Even better, a lighting control system can save you energy costs—both by dimming lights to use less electricity and by enacting preset scenes that use the lights in selected areas more wisely.
Lighting control systems are operated one of three ways. Less expensive systems can work over the home’s existing electrical wires, or “powerline.” Advances such as Universal Power Bus (UPB) have made these systems more reliable in the past few years, though they tend to be for smaller and do-it-yourself applications. Wireless lighting systems use RF signals between a wall switch (or keypad) and a central controller, or a controller and a lamp module, for example. These are great for retrofits where you don’t want to make holes in the wall to add the control wiring. The most reliable—and expensive—systems are hardwired, meaning they operate over special “bus” wiring, usually installed in new homes before the walls are closed. These are used mainly in whole-house systems in homes of more than 3,000 square feet.
You’ll need to control a system like this, and many different styles of in-wall dimmers and keypads are available. These can replace a wall switch with a keypad containing six or more buttons, each capable of enacting a preprogrammed lighting scene, including all off and all on. To control outdoor lighting, look for systems with astronomical clocks that can turn on lights at dusk, even though that time changes every day. Some lighting control systems can also operate motorized drapery and shading systems and whole-house audio systems and can work in sync with security systems. A vacation mode will enact lighting scenes while you’re away; to do this, the system stores your lighting habits in its memory.
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