of all this is not intended to be a tutorial on any given remote, but rather a
discussion on the different types of remotes and the capabilities available to
help you know what to look for in choosing a remote. This first
installment is going to cover the handheld conventional style remotes that
primarily use buttons, some combined with small LCD displays, and the touch
screen type will be covered at a later date as I wanted to concentrate on the
more affordable and popular types first.
There are several types of remote controls that you may come
across while setting up your home theater system. The early equipment came
with a remote control that would only operate the device it came with.
Eventually equipment manufacturers began to furnish the type remote control that
could be programmed to operate more than one device. For example, many TV
remotes can be programmed to also operate your VCR, DVD player, amplifier and
perhaps your cable box or satellite receiver. Then there is the
programmable remote that can be used to fully integrate the control of your
devices within your system. We will discuss each type as we work through
Device Specific Remotes These are the remotes that are furnished with
equipment and will only operate the device it was furnished with.
These remotes are not very user friendly and are the source for having the need
of several remotes laying around. They do serve a couple of purposes
though. They will have buttons for every operation of the controlled
device (something a universal remote may not have) and they point out the need
of a better way.
right is a remote for a GE DVD player. That is all it will control
and thus would be considered a device specific remote.
Button Groups Before going into the other types of remotes it is
necessary to go over the various button groups that are associated with
remotes. These groups are generally a collection of buttons that serve
associated purposes. Also these groups may have different names depending
on the remote control.
Remote Control Group This group of buttons are those that would
control functions of the remote control itself. This may be only a button
or switch that is used to select the different devices that the remote is to
control. There may be a light button that will cause the buttons to be
illuminated. There may be a program button used for programming the
remote. To the right/top is a remote that uses a mode button to select
which device the remote will control. To the right/bottom is a
remote that uses a slide switch to select which device the remote will
Device Basic Control Group This group of buttons are those used for
the basic control a device. Operations such as volume, channel up/down,
the numeric keypad are examples of buttons in this group.
Transport Group This group would be buttons that would be associated with a
VCR or DVD player, such as, but not limited to, play, stop, FF, REW and pause.
Display Group This group is normally associated with a LCD screen
such that what the button does is labeled on the LCD display adjacent to the
button. Normally this group of buttons will only be present on the fully
programmable remotes, like the UCC MX-850.
Power Group This is usually a pair of buttons one power on
and the other power off. These are normally only found on the fully
programmable remotes, although a single power toggle will be present on
all of the other remote types.
Navigation Group This is a group of buttons
used to navigate device on screen menus.
Universal Remotes So named because they can be programmed to operate a
number of devices with the idea that a single remote would be able to operate
all of the equipment in your system. Generally these remotes will have a
switch to select a device and once selected the remote buttons will operate that
device's and not the other devices. These remotes are generally programmed
by selecting the device and then after pressing the key combinations to put the
remote into the programming mode, a three or four digit code for the
manufacturer of the device is entered. To terminate and save the
programming, another button or button combination is used.
The basic method of operation of this type of remote is to select the device
then press the buttons required to do what is required. For example, to
turn up the TV volume, the TV device is selected (button or switch) followed by
the use of the volume up/down buttons. Next if it is desired to change the
channel on a cable box, the cable box is selected and then the channel up/down
button or numbers can be used to change the channel. Forget to select the
cable box device would cause the TV to change channels rather than the cable box
and this is generally the problem with these type universal remotes.
Some of the universal remotes will have the ability to force the volume
control to be always the TV volume regardless of which device is selected
on the remote. In this case the TV volume will be controlled even though
the remote has the cable box selected. A good step forward, but still not
as good as it should be, because you still need to switch between devices for
complete control of your system.
Zenith Universal Remote furnished with their
Programmable Remotes These remotes are the best answer for a home theater
system that incorporates many video sources and a surround system. They
can be programmed to accommodate just about any system configuration to provide
control as though your system was fully integrated. to fully appreciate
the differences of a programmable remote it is necessary to understand the basic
philosophy difference between the prior types discussed and the programmable
remotes. The programmable remotes are task orientated as opposed to device
orientated. In other words the selection is made to watch TV via satellite,
for example, rather than set the remote to control the TV or satellite
receiver. With the programmable remote every button on the remote will be
geared to watching the TV via the satellite receiver. Not only will the
volume up/down buttons control the TV volume (or surround amplifier if so
programmed) the channel up/down and numeric buttons will control the satellite
receiver rather than the TV.
Not only that, but the button used to select the task of watch TV
via satellite will be programmed with a macro that will automatically send
out the appropriate codes to the TV to select the satellite input as well as to
cause the surround amplifier to select the satellite receiver. The idea
here is to push a single button and have the entire system end up set up to do
the viewing task desired.
By extension then if we select the task of view a DVD, we would expect
the TV to switch to the DVD input, turn the DVD player on and switch the
surround amplifier to the DVD input. Additionally, the transport group
would operate the DVD player, the volume would control the TV or surround amp
and the channel up/down buttons would control nothing. Programmable
remotes will give you the flexibility to set up your system in just about any
way you can think up.
MX-850 Programmable Remote
Macro Programming In the last topic I mentioned a macro being
programmed to send out multiple codes. That is one of the largest
differences with a programmable remote over a universal remote. The
ability not only to assign many different device codes to buttons as needed, but
to be able to program a single button press to perform multiple
operations. This is the key to being able to set up a completely
Learning This capability
of the programmable remote is what separates them from all others. The
ability to aim your current remote to the programmable remote and have the
programmable remote record the IR signals button by button is essential to
insure the true universality. Where universal remotes will have a group of
keys for the most often required operations, they will never have every key that
may be required. For example, the Zenith universal remote shown above does
not have many of the device specific buttons on the GE DVD remote, also shown
above. Buttons such as the zoom, slow, setup, guide being some
examples. With the MX-850 programmable remote shown above, these buttons
can be added to the display group buttons on a secondary control page for the
DVD and labeled on the LCD display. The IR control can be learned into the
buttons and viola! we have every button we may need.
Summary When choosing a
remote to allow getting rid of the need for multiple remotes, you want to do
your homework and be sure the one you choose will do all you want it to do.