How Do Universal Remotes Function?

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A universal remote can manage all of your electronics.

With an explosion in consumer interest in home theater systems, new technology for digital cable, DVR, HDTV, DVDs, and CDs is being developed at a rapid pace. All of these new gadgets come with new devices to control them, leading to three, four, five, or even six or more remote controls on your coffee table. These remotes manage a wide range of operations, including programming your cable box to record your favorite shows, setting up movie subtitles, and controlling CD volume, among others. The possibilities are endless, but so is the potential to lose a remote or become overwhelmed by all of the programming options.

A universal remote is a solution to this problem, allowing you to consolidate multiple remotes into one. Universal remotes come in a variety of types, with some having a lot of buttons and others having only a few. They are usually larger than the manufacturer’s standard remote, making them harder to lose between the couch cushions.

What can a universal remote control? The following are some of the electronic devices that can be operated with a high-end model:

  • CD changer
  • Laserdisc player
  • Amplifier
  • Tape deck
  • Game console
  • Computer
  • Light controller
  • Climate controller
  • Cable box
  • Satellite box

[source: Logitech]

Many universal remotes have a glow-in-the-dark feature, such as luminescent buttons or a backlit screen, allowing you to operate the remote even in low light conditions. Some high-end models come with an LCD screen for displaying information, and this feature often includes touch-screen buttons.

Unlike most ordinary remotes, many universal remotes have a battery backup feature, such as flash memory, allowing you to save your programmed commands between battery changes. Charging cradles are another option for maintaining programmed memory.

Not all universal remotes are the same, with some being relatively simple and others quite complex. In the next section, we will explore some of the key differences among universal remotes.

Universal Remote Technology

Universal remotes fall into two categories: multibrand and learning. Multibrand remotes come preprogrammed with codes to operate a variety of standard electronics, eliminating the need to enter numerous complicated codes manually. These remotes can typically manage about four electronic devices and usually control only their main functions, such as channel turning and volume control.

Learning remotes go beyond multibrand universal remotes. While they may also come preprogrammed to operate a number of popular electronic models, they have the ability to “learn” the functions of the original manufacturer’s remote. Simply hold your learning remote head-to-head with your original remote, and infrared signals will be transmitted to the learning remote, allowing it to replicate the commands of the other remote. If a new high-tech electronic gadget comes out after you’ve already purchased your learning remote, it can still learn all of the devices’ new commands. Some multibrand remotes can also be programmed to operate new devices, but it depends on the model.

Learning remotes are able to control a wider range of electronic devices than multibrand ones, making them truly universal. They can also be programmed with “macro” protocols, which will be discussed later. Multibrand remotes, on the other hand, are less expensive due to their relative simplicity. For example, the Sony RM-V310 Universal Remote Control comes pre-programmed to operate up to seven electronic devices and costs around $15. However, more expensive models like the Logitech Harmony 670 Universal Remote and the Logitech Harmony 890 Advanced Universal Remote Control are available for those who require more features, ranging from $65 to $400. Other types of universal remotes include RF remotes, PC-programmable remotes, and LCD touch-screen remotes. The latter allows users to customize virtual buttons. The latest trend is using smartphones as universal remotes, with the Melloware two-application suite allowing iPhone users to control their PC’s Window Media Center from a distance. When it comes to programming learning universal remotes, it is important to follow certain tips.

To send IR programming commands from your manufacturer’s remote to your universal remote, hold down the sending remote button until the command is received. You can experiment with the distance between the transmitting and receiving remotes, which could be between 4 inches and a foot depending on the strength of the IR signal. To ensure a stronger IR signal, replace the batteries of your transmitting remote. Turning off lights can eliminate distracting IR interference from fluorescent or incandescent light fixtures.

Programming electronics with universal remotes involves using the programming commands found in the booklet that comes with your original manufacturer’s remote. These commands will work with your universal remote as well. You can also find remote control commands online at sites like One advantage of many universal remotes is the ability to program macros, which allow you to program several commands into one button. Professional installers are available to program your universal remote for you, but the price can be high.

Before purchasing a universal remote, consider what you hope to get out of it. A simple, inexpensive multibrand remote may be a good choice if you want to simplify your remote control programming. A higher-end model may be necessary if you’re looking for a universal remote that can operate all of your electronics’ complex functions. However, beware of feature overload and choose a remote with only the features you need.

Don’t get rid of your original remotes from the manufacturers even after switching to a universal remote. This will allow you to program more later on, and in case you misplace the universal remote, you won’t have to start the reprogramming process all over again. For more information, check out related articles on how all-in-one printers, 3-in-1 flashlights, and all-in-one cloth diapers work. Additionally, sources such as The New York Times, Crutchfield, and PC Magazine provide helpful information on universal remote controls. Make sure to keep your remotes for convenience and ease of programming.


1. What is a universal remote?

A universal remote is a device that can control multiple electronic devices, such as TVs, DVD players, and home audio systems, using a single remote control. It is designed to simplify the process of switching between different devices and reduce clutter caused by multiple remote controls.

2. How does a universal remote work?

A universal remote works by sending infrared (IR) signals to electronic devices to control their functions. When a button is pressed on the remote, it sends a coded signal that is received by a sensor on the device. The device then performs the function associated with that signal.

3. How do you program a universal remote?

To program a universal remote, you need to follow the instructions provided by the manufacturer. Typically, this involves pressing a series of buttons in a specific sequence while pointing the remote at the device you want to control. Some universal remotes also require you to enter a code that corresponds to the device you want to control.

4. Can a universal remote control any device?

While a universal remote can control a wide variety of electronic devices, it may not be compatible with every device on the market. Before purchasing a universal remote, it is important to check that it is compatible with the devices you want to control.

5. Are there different types of universal remotes?

Yes, there are different types of universal remotes, including basic models that can control a limited number of devices, and more advanced models that can control multiple devices with advanced features such as voice control and smartphone integration.

6. What are the benefits of using a universal remote?

The main benefit of using a universal remote is the ability to control multiple devices with a single remote, reducing clutter and simplifying the process of switching between devices. It can also be more convenient and easier to use than multiple remote controls.

7. What are the drawbacks of using a universal remote?

One potential drawback of using a universal remote is that it may not be compatible with all devices on the market. It may also be more difficult to program and set up than a dedicated remote control. Additionally, some users may prefer the tactile feedback and ease of use of dedicated remotes for specific devices.

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