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Alt.CES: I just want ONE remote control

Computers & Mobile Craft & Design
Alt.CES: I just want ONE remote control


altCES1.jpgSome day our grandchildren will look at photos of remote controls and laugh uproariously at how tacky, inefficient and impractical they are/were.

Seriously, why can’t anyone do remote controls right? Most remotes have dozens of buttons, most of which you never use. And you need several remotes just to do anything… one to turn on the TV, a cable remote, DVD, stereo, TiVo… And if you lose one of the remotes in a couch cushion, good luck trying to navigate menus with the buttons on the unit itself.

The closest I’ve found to a satisfying remote control experience is using my iPhone to interface with my AppleTV. It connects via wifi so I can start or stop music or movies anywhere in the house, and it uses the phone’s touchscreen to provide gestural navigation. Of course, if I want to turn on my TV I’ll need the TV remote for that.

Come on, personal electronics makers, get on the stick and make the remote control (as we know it) obsolete!

[image, CC]

52 thoughts on “Alt.CES: I just want ONE remote control

  1. Jasper says:

    How about the logitech Harmony?

  2. Mark Hood says:

    I agree, the Apple remote app is a great way to interact with equipment. When someone allows me to use an iPhone as my universal remote, I’m sure I’ll love it.

    In the mean time, check out the Logitech Harmony range – I bought one (the 885) and while it was relatively expensive it has honestly replaced every remote control I had. I think I spent more on failed universal remotes in the past than this one cost!

    There’s no ‘point and learn’ for IR codes as there is with other so-called universal remotes, and no complex codes to look up, enter and go obsolete – it connects via USB to a PC/Mac and you tell it what devices you have. Then you link the devices into ‘tasks’ (for example, it suggests a ‘watch movie’ task, and you just answer simple questions about which device, which input, etc and it makes a single button for it).

    It also remembers the state of the system – so it knows to change channels when you switch from watching TV to playing a game, but if you then decide to watch a movie it’s smart enough just to switch as required. If it fails for some reason just hit the ‘help’ button and it guides you through fixing the problems.

    I’m not associated with them, just a happy customer.

  3. max.elliott says:

    Most of those remotes are JP1.3 compatible. You should look into it. It’s a standard interface that allows some remotes to accept custom programming for any IR remote controlled device out there. I just discovered it myself, and have a cable coming to reprogram my remote.

  4. Clayton says:

    The iphone remote thing is a gimmik. The thing with remotes is that you shouldnt have to look at them to use them. I cant feel the buttons on it so its lame. The Tivo remote is the best designed remote that exists today. Its ergonomic, the buttons are placed properly etc. I wonder if someones ever hacked it out to be more programmable.

  5. Anonymous says:

    I’ve used a number of combined/universal remotes and I always seem to end up going back to using the individual original ones.

    The universal ones don’t have all the buttons I end up needing or they map them to things I can never remember. It’s ok if you just need simple things like volume, channel, play, etc. But if you have to dig up the original remote for more specialized things you might as well have it out already.

    I have tried the activity-based remotes like the Harmonys and I find them to be awkward as well. I guess I much of what I do doesn’t lend itself to a description like “Watch TV.”

    As far as JP1 remotes go, I was under the impression that fewer new remotes are supporting JP1. I may be wrong.

  6. Chris Gosnell says:

    It seems like such a straightforward thing to solve (I avoided the catch of a word like simple)…

    It is interesting to note that in ‘iWoz’, Steve Wozniak’s story about his life in general, he had this idea for a teachable, universal remote control, after designing the Apple II.

    I remember as far back as the original palm pilot we have had ‘universal’ remote control apps. the problem with the palm pilot was that the IR led was too faint. You could get an add-on to boost the output or replace the led circuitry with your own.

    I am not familiar with JP1, but as I see it, the problem is that the remotes are ‘one way’ only. The problem will only be solved when the communication is ‘two way’ so that the devices don’t get out of sync.

    For example, to turn on the TV and set the cable box to channel 30, I can create a ‘macro’ button on the remote to do this. But if the TV is already on, it now turns off, and for the casual user the system is ‘broken’

    Maybe we Makers should just hack the devices to accept zigbee networking. Hmmm, with a small microprocessor to see if the device is already on, and an interface into the existing device IR, or button circuits, this could be very interesting….

    1. says:

      What you need to keep devices from getting out of sync is “discrete IR codes.” Most TVs use the same command for “on/off,” but some (particularly high-end) also have separate commands for “on” and “off.” Same goes for video sources and other stuff that can get out of sync.

      You’ll need a few things to make this work:

      1) Your device (TV, cable box, etc.) will need to have discrete codes. Search online to find out what discrete codes your device knows.

      2) A JP1 remote (or one that you can program with “raw” or “pronto” codes). You’ll see those when you search for the discrete codes in the 1st place.

      3) Lots of patience and persistence. This also applies to spouses and children who are prone to scolding “I was watching that” while you’re debugging. Particularly when you’ve got “off” working just fine, but can’t seem to make “on” work.

      Look here for more info, it’s a FANTASTIC resource

  7. Jace says:

    I got one as a wedding present a few years back, and I’ll never go back. It’s ridiculously easy to program (all via usb and your computer), incredibly powerful and surprisingly intuitive. The only reason not to have one is the price, but you can find great refurb deals all over the internet.

  8. Dave says:

    I’ve had Logitech Harmony remotes for the past 5 years. They are the most cost effective easy to use universal remote on the market. The only other competitor that’s close is Crestron, but they cost in excess of a $1000.

  9. Odin says:

    If you want a good universal remote, you have to spend the $$.

    I have an OLD (second gen) logitech harmony remote, and it replaces all of my remotes unless I need to do a strange, one time only configuration. Those remotes are seriously worth their money.

  10. Chris McDonald says:

    I bought my parents a Logitech Harmony last year for $120. It controls their new tv, surround system, dvd player, blueray player and satellite receiver. They don’t need to know where anything is plugged in. They simply press activities and select what they want to do from the lcd screen. The remote then automaticly selects the right inputs on the tv and surround system, turning on or off the right components. Also all the buttons act as you would expect them to. When you press volume up it turns up the surround system insted of the tv. When you press channel up it changes the channel on the sat box rather than the tv.

    Once in a while it gets confused as to what state the devices are in and then its as simple as pressing the help button and the remote automatically tries to fix the problem.

    The only time I get calls from my parents is when something gets unplugged. Then I got to try and remember which of the tv’s 15 inputs that it was plugged into. Its also fun trying to explain over the phone what a hdmi cable is and what it looks like. I’m some glad I didn’t have to use component cables. Its hard enough to get them to plug a single hdmi cable in, I can’t imagine them getting 5 rca plugs into the right holes.

  11. JD says:

    +1 to the Logitech Harmony series. I have the 880. Plug it into the computer via USB, tell the software what you have for devices, whammo bammo, done.

    I got mine for $100 a year ago. I will NEVER go back. It’s also extremely sturdy (the misses loves to drop remotes).

  12. punknubbins says:

    Sony decided they didn’t want my PS3 to play nice.

  13. Will says:

    Just got a Harmony 520. Absolutely the best purchase I’ve made in a while. Incredibly well thought out design.

    I’m not planning on throwing away all of my original remotes, but I also don’t plan on using them more than once every year or so.

  14. MysticX says:

    I haven’t tried it yet, but you might want to try out remotecontrol II for WM phones. It is supposed to learn codes and have macro functions. It is expensive, but compared to a super fancy touchscreen remote it isn’t bad.
    Check it out at:

  15. says:

    Excellent remotes, I’ve had mine for years and I don’t ever need my original remotes

  16. glenn says:

    I was pretty skeptical of the logitech remotes too – too pricey, will it really work? I ended up buying a refurbished harmony 800 for $100 (the built-in rechargeable battery with charging cradle is awesome!) and haven’t looked back.
    I had it set up with all my devices (including mythtv) in about an hour – 20 minutes of which was downloading/setting up the linux client software.
    Now instead of 5 remotes sitting around, I have one.
    Good stuff.

    Also, I they have a ps3 ‘repeater’ thing available that engadget reviewed a while back.

  17. Bruno says:

    Hey guys.
    What about this option? Seems fantastic to me.

  18. Mark Gowdy says:

    There’s now an add-on for Harmony remotes, allowing it to control your PS3. Of course, it’s not free. But it works, and works well.,en

    Good luck

  19. Woody says:

    Thinkflood RedEye looks really awesome for using your iPhone/Touch to control your stuff.

  20. fenwick says:

    Come on people, is it really THAT hard to program one of your remotes to handle multiple things? And don’t blame the remote because you lose it in the couch cushions, that’s your fault. Be grateful that remote controls exist. This post/thread is honestly pathetic. Someone in the Maker community should be able to program a remote control.

  21. Jason von Nieda says:

    As others have said, this problem has been solved. The Logitech Harmony remotes are amazing and truly work. 10 minutes of setup work and you are done. Instead of “Turn on the TV, set the Cable box, hit TV/VCR, switch the switcher, turn on the receiver, change source to TV” you have “Watch TV” and “Play Xbox”.

    Get one right now. You’ll never look back.

  22. Chris says:

    Epic Fail. The Harmony may be a good solution to the current mess, but the problem needs to be solved by a standards group to figure out the details like separate on/off codes, unique device ID’s, etc, so we don’t need the Harmony.

    Manufacturers also need to make the codes available instead of treating them as a trade secret and making more work for everyone to reverse engineer.

  23. Frank says:

    Which remote to buy? This sounds like a gadget web site.

    No one has mentioned NetRemote + Girder ( This has been around for more than 10 years. it used to be open source, but is now comercial :(

    Girder runs on your PC and allows you to control anything. Home automation, or all you home theatre equipment. Think of it as the control hub.

    Then, use NetRemote on your Pocket PC as the Remote to control anything. Two way comunication means if you are controlling your music collection, you can display songs and album artwork on the Remote.

    It can be used as a simple remote – Infra Red output, or use a wireless connection to your computer to perform more complicated actions. For example, turning on and off your home entertainment center. Girder can issue a list of commands. And, it can also except inputs, so it can detect if the equipment is on or off before trying.

    Unfortunately, I can’t vouch for the current versions. I had this set up when I had cable tv. But I dropped cable so I could spend that money on my making activities.

  24. Andy L says:

    A large part of the ‘problem’ when most people complain about “too many remotes” is that they don’t truly understand what their home entertainment hardware *DOES*.

    So when, for example, my mother, complains that it’s difficult to “use all these remotes”, what she’s *really* complaining about is that it’s difficult to remember and/or understand, that the TV has multiple inputs and that the DVR is connected to the component input and that the blue-ray is connected to the HDMI.

    Mother and countless others like her have learned to get the equipment into the state they want by rote memorization of a sequence of button presses, but they know that if they screw up that sequence they might not be able to “fix” it without a lot of random button pressing.

    The three remotes could easily be replaced with a single off-the-shelf multi-remote, but that would only make it *MORE* difficult to use, because it would not solve the underlying problem that operating the TV requires knowledge and understanding of how all the componants of the system are connected.

    The solution to this problem has to be either people taking an interest in how their equipment works (Not likely. Andy, Why should they?) Or for equipment to somehow learn to talk to each-other and work out on it’s own how things work. Entertainment systems should be able to detect that you’ve hit “play” on your remote and should not only power on the blue-ray, the stereo, and the TV, but should also automatically switch the TV to whatever input the human has happened to connect the blu-ray to.

    Until our home entertainment equipment starts talking to each other, it’s never going to solve this issue for anyone but the tinkerers. No matter how fancy your remote is.

  25. Anonymous says:

    I second the idea of two way communication. Feature one would be a find the remote button on the TV just like my cordless phone has.

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