Everything at the click of one button?
Gone are the days of one remote control for the television, another for the DVD player, yet another for the surround-sound speakers, and so forth.
“Universal remotes bring less clutter and fewer batteries,” says Matt Swanston, director of business analysis at the Consumer Electronics Association in Arlington. “It lets you control all the components together.”
Last summer’s Adam Sandler film “Click” posed the question: “What if you had a universal remotethatcontrolledyouruniverse?”
Some people have taken advantage of the technology in a universal remotecontrol,butotherpeopleare still overwhelmed by the buttons andcodesinvolvedinprogramming one more apparatus.
Cable companies are among the parties offering universal remotes, says Lisa Altman, Comcast spokeswoman in Silver Spring, Md.
The company provides a remote thatcancontroluptothreehomeentertainment devices in addition to the digital video recorder built into the television service, she says.
“Havingoneremotemakesitalot easier and more efficient,” Mrs. Altman says. “It’s one easy-to-use, hand-held device.”
Comcastprovidescustomerswith instructions in a welcome kit that includes the necessary codes for programmingtheremote.Virtuallyany television with a remote signal is compatible with Comcast’s universalremote,Mrs.Altmansays.Ifcustomershavequestions,theycancall customer service.
Logitech’s Harmony remotes are compatiblewithjustaboutanyproduct on the market, says Nathan Papadopulos, marketing communicationsmanageratLogitechHarmony Remote Controls in Fremont, Calif.
Logitech has an online database that stores the information for 175,000 devices from 5,000 manufacturers.
If someone purchases a Logitech Harmony remote, he accesses the Internet through the software that comes with the remote. Then he tellsthesoftwarewhichcomponents hewouldliketousewiththeremote. The remote is hooked to the computer through a universal serial bus (USB) cable.
Onecontrol,costing$100to$500, can replace up to 15 remotes.
“It’safairlycomplexthingweare accomplishing here,” Mr. Papadopulos says. “We are making it as sim- ple as possible for people.”
The older the products, the more likely the database is to have the informationneededtoprogramtheremote,hesays.Ifanewproductcan’t be found online, the Logitech Harmony remote can learn the signal needed for the command.
“Ifit’snotinthedatabase,takethe original remote and point it at the bottom of the Harmony remote and push a few buttons,” Mr. Papadopulos says. “We take those commands and build the signal needed.”
After a Logitech Harmony remote is programmed correctly, a one-button command can turn on whateverdevicethepersonwantsto use, to watch a movie or listen to music, he says. The remote knows the “state” of all the devices in the setup.
“People are really frustrated with all the remotes they have,” Mr. Papadopulos says. “It causes clutter, and it’s too complex to operate. Not only do you give the baby sitter a long list of howto care for the kids, but a long list to explain how to control the remote.”
For those who are too intimidated to program the remote control themselves, a professional installer can do the job, says Hank Eisengrein, national sales manager for custom professional products at Universal Remote Control Inc. in Harrison, N.Y.
Most of the company’s remotes that cost more than $400 need to be programmed by a professional installerthroughapersonalcomputer, Mr. Eisengrein says. The remotes range in cost from $150 to $1,000. The top-of-the-line remote controls 255 devices inside or outside the house.
Thecompany’slessexpensiveremotes are programmed through an extensivedatabaseofinfraredcommands that are listed in the instruction book, he says. If devices are not listed in the instruction book, infraredsignalscanbedownloadedby placing the remotes head to head. Usually homeowners can program these remotes by themselves.
A professional installer, though, mightcreatescenesettings,inwhich lights are dimmed and music is turned on a certain level. A scene can be created for when a person comeshomefromworkorforfalling asleep.
“People think about remote controls just for the TV,” Mr. Eisengrein says. “You can have motorized curtains or motorized projection screens. In some sophisticated installations, you might use motorized pop-up lifts for TVs from a piece of furniture.”
In addition to infrared transmission of signals that are operated through line of sight, universal remote controls can operate through radio-frequency transmission, Mr. Eisengreinsays.Therefore,thecontrol equipment could be hidden in custom cabinets or a closet.
If people can get a universal remote control to operate more than one device, it makes them happy, says Phillip Swann, president of TV Predictions.com in North Beach, Md.
“The multitude of remote controlsisamicrocosmoftechnologyin the country,” Mr. Swann says. “The more you get, the more confused and complicated your life can become. Something as simple as flippingchannelsonaTVcansuddenly become an algebra exam.”
He says he doesn’t think that the majority of people will make the effort to program universal remotes.
“There is a reason there are 16 or 17 remotes on someone’s coffee table,” Mr. Swann says. “[People] are too intimidated to program them into a universal remote control. The mistaken impression people have of Americans is that they are tech-savvy. We are anything but tech-savvy.”
Further,mostcompaniesstandto makealotofmoneyfortheirunique technologies, he says, and they don’t necessarily want consumers to use a universal remote control.
“Theywant their product in your hands, unless they come up with their own universal remote,” Mr. Swann says. “Generally speaking, theywouldlikeyoutousetheremote that comes with the product.”