Not all that long ago, a single TV remote control was all that was needed for a good night's entertainment to sit watching programmes whose viewing schedules were decided by broadcasters. With the advent of VHS recorders came another remote control, but that did not seem a problem. Then came teletext, so the television remote control had to have many more buttons on it, but that too did not seem so overwhelming.
Skip forward a few years and, for the average family entertainment system, there is not only a TV remote control but remotes for satellite / cable, DVD, DVR, surround sound, and a whole host of other boxes and gadgets to control in order to watch television. Nowadays, the coffee table in front of the average person viewer is laden with remote controls, each looking remarkably similar. Different coloured buttons marked with tiny symbols seem to multiply as if by magic.
Help is at hand with the universal remote control for all AV equipment. Just a little helpful information explaining the technology behind the remote control allows the user to make an informed choice when purchasing one remote for all their gear.
A Brief History of How Remote Controls Work
Although original television remote controls look similar to today's remotes (only much fatter), they worked instead by ultrasonics, that is, sound emitted at much higher frequencies than humans generally can hear. (There are documented cases of dog owners trying to change channels, only to have the family pet jump up and start barking and howling. House and car keys in most people's pockets, when jangled in front of the set, also made televisions do very strange things.)
It was not long before remote control designers clued into these peculiarities and set out to remedy the problem. Within a few months, infrared remote controls began arriving as standard equipment with most new televisions. Infrared is light, but at too low a frequency for humans to see.
The problem with relying on a light-generated signal is that the first infrared remotes were 'deaf' – the user had to point the remote directly at the set without any obstruction, often having to get up from their seats to be nearer the TV in order to change a channel or adjust the volume. Customers and designers both realised this essentially defeated the whole point of having a remote control.
However, by modulating the infrared signal, then sending it out in a series of coded pulses, the remote controls and receivers could be made much more sensitive and selective, meaning the remote no longer had to be pointed directly at the set. Instead, the infrared could bounce off hard surfaces and still be picked up by the receiver sitting inside the television. From this point onwards, things got a lot more complicated. Different manufacturers began using different modulating frequencies for the infrared. Not only that, but they used different pulses and pulse sequences at different frequencies for different commands. While this had its advantages – namely the television would not accidentally operate the brand new VHS recorder sat underneath it – it meant that the user now needed two controls, one for the television and another for the VHS player/recorder.
As new types of devices came onto the market from different manufacturers, the number of remote controls mushroomed. Today, the average home possesses at least three or more remote controls, all taking up space on the coffee table.
The Universal Remote Control
The universal remote control emerged, promising to be the panacea for customers frustrated by the sheer weight of buttons adorning their coffee tables and chair arms. A universal remote control, at its best, is programmed once to operate every single device used to view and listen to programmes, and virtually all universal remotes do just that. Most universal remotes come with a booklet enclosed, listing just about every different manufacturer, make and model of set available. Armed with the set model number, the user simply programmes in a series of codes, and the remote then communicates with that particular set.
Most universal remotes can mimic many different sets at the same time, so, if the user's television is manufactured by one company while the DVD or DVR is manufactured by yet another company, the remote can accommodate this, and be programmed accordingly to function with every device. There may be the odd, little-used function that may not work, but most users are willing to put up with this, as long as the key functions work correctly.
A costlier version of this, with the advent of the Internet and its subsequent connectivity, is one where the user plugs their newly-purchased remote into their home computer via a spare USB port, visits the remote control manufacturer's website, enters the make and model of the equipment they want to control, and the website then uploads the correct codes into the user's new remote control. Though slightly more expensive than having to look up the individual codes from a booklet, it means that, at least in theory, as long as the remote manufacturer keeps their website up to date with the latest codes for the latest sets, the remote control never becomes obsolete.
Some manufacturers market remote controls that 'learn' the correct frequencies and codes by 'listening' to the existing remote control. They have inbuilt infrared receivers so that, by pointing the new remote directly at the old remote, then pressing a function of the old remote, the new one picks up these signals and store them in memory.
Some universal remotes advertise themselves deliberately as being big and chunky, not only as a boon to partially-sighted people, but to reduce the difficulty in locating the remote when someone puts it down thoughtlessly in a place where it might otherwise be easily overlooked.
iPad and iPhone Universal Remote Control Features
Now, with the arrival of such advanced technology as the iPhone and iPad,, there are even more kinds of remote control systems in play. Rather than having a separate remote control for different devices, these remote control systems, which are little more than a tiny infrared transmitter that plugs into the top of the device, generate the required modulation frequency and codes required to operate independent audiovisual units, thereby becoming another form of universal remote control. One advantage of this over other styles of universal remotes is that the user is ostensibly familiar with the controls and feel of the iPad or iPhone, making it potentially easier for the user to operate the device as a universal remote control rather than having to master yet another different piece of technology.
Miniature Universal Remote Controls
Another form of universal remote control, though not necessarily truly universal, is the key fob remote.. This is a tiny remote that is designed to hang from a set of house or car keys. It normally has only a few TV functions, such as channel change, mute, and on / off, and is a handy way to have a basic remote at one's fingertips that is less likely to be misplaced.
How to Buy a Universal Remote Control on eBay
eBay is an optimal online source to comparison shop for the best availability and price for your remote control needs. While typing in simple search words like 'universal remote' brings up an amazing number of choices, your overall search is significantly faster and more efficient with the addition of more specific keywords, such as 'large button&', or 'mini&', or even 'iPad&', into the search box. Be aware that many remotes that appear to be unit specific can and do perform many more functions that permit you to programme access to DVD players, DVR recorders, and much more.
It is a good ideal to always check the seller's information page about the remote control you have chosen. Verify that it is capable of programming the specific make and model of television, DVD, DVR, or other pieces of equipment you own. If you are purchasing the type of remote that downloads codes from a website, consider visiting that site before making your purchase to be certain the remote can communicate with your particular equipment.
The advent of the universal remote control may be the panacea to many people's dreams, but it is important to be aware that different manufacturers use different modulation frequencies and different codes to perform the myriad functions that today's modern equipment demands. Thus, careful selection of the correct remote control is essential for satisfaction and success. If in doubt, the user should check the manufacturer's website, or email the vendor to check that the remote they want to purchase is indeed compatible with the user's equipment. Sellers and manufacturers are typically happy to help and assist in any way they can.
Alternatively, if the user already owns a portable Apple product, it might be worth looking into one of the plug-in units that turn the iPhone or iPad into a remote control. These may seem like an expensive alternative, but, as new equipment is released with new frequencies and codes, the user can be confident they are still be able to control their numerous units from one convenient central location.