How to Buy a Used Universal Remote Control

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How to Buy a Used Universal Remote Control

Most people know what it is like to open a drawer filled with remotes and not know which remote works with the device they wish to control. With the wide variety of consumer electronic devices available on the market today, users have a tendency to be overwhelmed with remote controls which come standard with these devices. With remote controls available for televisions, VCRs, DVD players, stereo systems, cable boxes, and other devices, many users turn to universal remote controls in order to reduce the number of extraneous remotes in their houses.

These convenient devices provide users with the ease of having one control which provides easy access to a number of household devices and systems. While it is not necessary to know how a used universal remote works in order to use it, knowing how these devices work together helps users more effectively control their systems. Consumers can visit a local high street electronics shop or shop on eBay without ever leaving their home.

Overview of the Remote Control

While remote-controlled devices were first patented by Nikola Tesla in 1898, none of the first televisions featured remote controls. The first wireless television remote control was introduced 1956, several decades after television was first developed in the 1920s. These early remote controls were very basic and only allowed the user to change the channel and volume through the use of ultrasonic frequencies.

The first infrared remote control hit the market in 1980 and proved an immediate success. By the late 1990s and early 2000s, however, a typical home theatre systems included a TV, a VCR, a DVD player, and a cable or satellite receiver, in addition to a stereo system and audio amplifiers, each of which had their own remotes. This proliferation of devices led to the widespread adoption of universal remotes, which allowed users to control multiple devices with one remote control. More recently, universal remote controls have expanded to include several types, each with special features for specific types of devices and uses.

Types of Universal Remote Controls

There are two main varieties of universal remote controls: pre-programmed remotes and learning remotes. Pre-programmed remotes come with a list of brands and devices that they work with, while learning remotes mimic the signals from an existing remote. Pre-programmed remotes are the older and less expensive of the two, while learning remotes have a wider field of use and come with a higher price tag. In addition to these two basic types of remotes, there are a number of extra features which are available for an additional price on many models.

Pre-Programmed Remotes

As mentioned above, pre-programmed universal remotes are designed to work with a limited number of devices and brands, usually between four and 12 different devices from most of the major manufacturers. While this may seem like a limitation, most manufacturers do not change the remote control codes for their products. For instance, this means that a Sony television purchased in the mid-1990s can still be controlled by a modern universal remote. All of the codes for the devices with remote supports are provided to users on a code table, which they can use to programme their remotes.

Programming a code into a remote is a simple matter of putting the remote into programming mode and entering the device code into the keypad. After inputting the code, users should try to control the device using the remote. If it does not work, they should continue entering codes for that manufacturer and keep on trying the remote until they find a code that works. Many of these remotes also have an auto-programme feature where they cycle through all of their available codes until they find one that works before saving that code into memory. Universal remote manufacturers also provide codes online, if users have a device which is not listed in the code table.

Learning Remotes

As their name implies, universal learning remotes learn and store signals from existing remotes. While they are extremely flexible and able to control a number of different devices, these remotes do require a teaching remote. Typically, to programme a learning remote, users put the learning remote into programming mode, press the key they wish to bind a function to, and then press the equivalent key on the teaching remote. A major benefit of learning remotes is that they can be programmed with only the selected functions which users desire.

Additional Varieties

Many models of universal remote controls, both pre-programmed and learning, offer a number of other features which make them easy to use and extremely customisable. Some remotes are PC-compatible, which allows users to connect the remotes to PCs via USB cables in order to programme in device codes. Wi-Fi-enabled remotes allow users to access their wireless networks on their remotes, which lets them view channel listings, news, and sports updates directly on the remotes.

LCD touch-screen remotes feature customizable screens that allow users to control which virtual buttons appear on their remotes. Last, radio frequency remotes use radio waves to overcome interference from walls and other obstacles. Infrared remotes only transmit in a direct line, and they are easily blocked by walls or distance. RF remotes allow users to transmit through walls and over longer distances to the RF controllers on the televisions, DVD players, or other devices.

How a Universal Remote Control Works

A universal remote is an extremely simple device. Like most remotes, a universal remote uses infrared light to transmit instructions to a receiver built into an electronic device. Commands are usually transmitted through signal modulation, which is interpreted by the device as a given set of commands. Each manufacturer uses a different signal strength and modulation to transmit commands to each device. A universal remote features programmable memory, which allows a number of different codes to be saved and accessed. By accessing the proper set of codes, a universal remote transmits the proper commands to a given piece of technology. Some high end models feature touch screens and customizable keymaps, which allow users to tailor their remotes to meet their individual needs.

Benefits and Drawbacks of Various Remote Control Types

Both pre-programmed and learning universal remotes have benefits and drawbacks to their use. While both types of remote controls fulfill the same functions, each type is better for specific users.

Remote Control Type



Pre-programmed Remotes

Ideal for those with a few devices

Ideal for those with older devices

Limited memory space

Difficult to find all relevant codes

Difficult to pair with a lot of devices

Learning Remotes

Ideal for those with a large number of unique devices

Controls home entertainment units

Controls lights and heating system of the entertainment room

Very customisable

Larger memory capacity

Requires a current functional remote for each device in order to learn the signals

Not all current remotes deliver frequencies learning remotes can understand

Learning remotes are best for users who have a large number of unique devices in addition to their home theatre setups, such as remote-controlled lights and heating systems. These remotes are also extremely customizable, as they are programmed one button at a time. Additionally, some learning remotes put out signals which are at higher frequencies than universal remotes can duplicate.

Questions to Ask Sellers About Used Universal Remote Controls

Before purchasing an item it is best to inquire about the integrity of the product. If buyers purchase their items online, they cannot physically try the products. Even trying items in stores limits buyers if there are no floor samples. Below are a few questions buyers should ask the sellers, regardless of venue.

  • When was the last time it was used?
  • Does it come with a user's manual?
  • Has it been programmed before?
  • What kind of batteries does it use?
  • What kind of devices were paired with the remote?
  • Can I see what the battery cage looks like?

The questions above are not all inclusive or exhaustive, but they can spark a conversation with the merchants. A red flag to any of the above questions is hearing that the sellers do not have answers to a question or multiple questions. If consumers cannot accurately determine favourable answers to the questions asked, they should move along to another merchant to ensure the best possible transaction.

Purchasing a Used Universal Remote on eBay

Users who wish to replace multiple remotes with one universal remote can find these devices at a number of outlets, but perhaps the easiest way to compare products and features is via an online marketplace. eBay provides consumers with the ability to compare hundreds of options, filter for preferences, and even communicate with the various sellers. Shoppers can find thousands of universal remotes by learning a few basic search methods.

Potential buyers can browse the selection of remotes by using the search bar located on any eBay web page. They can search by brand, model, or even by the type of remote desired. Shoppers can also narrow their results by using the "Categories" tabs or filter an overly abundant search by the condition of the items, prices, and geography of the sellers.

After finding items which meets their needs, buyers should always take the time to research the sellers. eBay's "Feedback" feature provides buyers with a convenient means of comparing sellers and seeing how they conduct business with shoppers. Buyers can rate their experiences with sellers and share comments on how the sellers acted, which helps provide future buyers with insight into the character and conduct of eBay's sellers.


With the increase of consumer electronic devices, users can quickly find themselves overwhelmed with remote controls, new or used. Average home theatre owners have at least four devices, each with their own individual remotes. The universal remote control allows users to consolidate their remote controls into one convenient device, which facilitates their use.

Universal remote controls are either pre-programmed or learning devices. Pre-programmed remotes are only used with certain devices, which are listed in the remotes' code tables, while learning remotes duplicate signals from any remote, so long as the universal remotes view the teaching remotes' signals. Users who wish to reduce the number of remotes in their houses can purchase universal remotes at almost any store or at online marketplaces such as eBay. Shopping for used remotes requires buyers to ask a few essential questions about the integrity of the products, but overall the process of buying used universal remote controls should be as simple as programming them once they arrive home.

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