by EH staff and Chris Chiarella
Apple sold about 13 million iPads last year, 14 million the year before, and more than twice that in iPhones. With so many smart phones and tablets in the world, it’s natural to want to connect those bright screens with the other bright screens in the house–the smart TV.
At $500, an iPad is an expensive remote, but it can be excellent for controlling your television and other connected AV gear.
What’s the best way to control your TV with your iPad or iPhone? Well, that actually depends on what you want to do, how much work you want to put into it, and how much you want to spend. There are methods suited to nearly any user.
(Note that all of our comments herein are applicable to both the original iPad and the newer iPads.)
Wondering what smart TV to buy? Find out how to decide with our FREE guide, Getting the Best Smart TV for You: Features, Where to Buy, How to Set Up a Smart TV, 4K TVs & More.
The iPad communicates with other devices one of two ways. It connects to the internet via Wi-Fi, supporting the fastest, state-of-the-art 802.11a/b/g/n version. Bluetooth is the second flavor of wireless inside the iPad, typically used for connecting accessories such as earpieces or keyboards or Bluetooth speakers. In my experience, Bluetooth range is a robust 30-35 feet and does not require a direct line of sight between linked devices.
Now, most of the remotes currently littering your coffee table use infrared (IR) signals to send their commands to the television or Blu-ray player or whatever. It’s an older technology which requires line-of-sight between the remote control and the component’s IR receiver. And IR is not supported by the iPad (some Android tablets do feature built-in IR).
First, most new smart TVs actually come with an app available for download from the iTunes app store (there are usually Android versions as well). Those smart TV apps often will allow you to control your television’s basic functions and also offer more comprehensive control over things like your TV’s built-in media services. Some TV apps also allow sharing of phone or tablet content with the TV. This lets you show photos and videos you’ve taken or play music on your TV rather than make your friends crowd around your small portable screen.
Search in the iTunes app store for your band of smart TV, and check the app description for model compatibility.
An app is also much easier to use for searching through your TV’s online content services than a remote. With most remotes you have to use the up and down arrows on a virtual onscreen keyboard to enter, for example, a movie title. With the TV’s app, you can use the iPhone’s touchscreen to tap in the movie name.
Using a TV’s own app is an attractive option because 1) you won’t have to do any setup to configure it to your model and 2) it’s free. A TV’s app allows you to essentially have two (or more) remotes in the house in addition to the real remote that came with your TV. This is especially useful if you want to turn the TV volume down, but someone else has the remote. Note, that this method controls your TV via Wi-Fi. Not all TVs can actually be powered on or off directly via Wi-Fi, so you still may need the original remote for that.
A major downside of using the TV’s own app is that it usually can only control the TV. If you want to operate other components in your system, such as your DVR or Blu-ray player, you’ll need additional apps for that, and the result is a pile of apps, which is just as tedious as a pile of remotes.
To solve that problem there are a number of universal remote apps on the market. If you’re lucky, they will be able to connect directly with your TV via Wi-Fi and give you control, but in most cases you’ll need a device to bridge the connection between your iPhone/iPad and your TV and other components.
Some of these bridge devices use Bluetooth, and others use your home networkThe bridge device takes commends from your phone/tablet’s mobile app and converts them to infra red to control your TVs and components. Roomie, iRule, iRemocon and Logitech Harmony all offer apps and bridge products that let you control nearly any TV or home theater component.
A universal remote app will require some setup and programming on your part. You’ll need to know the model numbers of all your components, and you’ll need to tell the app how you want things to be controlled, for example, in what order you want things to turn on.
If you have a very complex media system, then you may be better off with a professionally installed control or home automation system from companies like Control4, Elan g!, RTI, Savant, URC and others. All those systems will include complete control of your TV and media room via an app with the option to add more control devices and more home systems (such as security and heating/cooling).