When it comes to our home entertainment setups, losing the remote is already a big enough struggle. When we’re then faced with a smorgasbord of remotes for everything from our AV receiver and 4K TV to our consoles, soundbars, and whatever streaming devices you might have, the prospect of keeping track of which remote is for what device and where it’s hiding can feel daunting. So, how do you get through that web of complexity? A universal remote.Universal remotes aim to simplify all the fuss by taking all the functions of your various remotes and consolidating them in a single device. Some simply need to be programmed so they can use an IR blaster to control the various components of your media center, at which point you’ll be able to switch between what you’re controlling with the press of a button.Advanced remotes that include Wi-Fi and Bluetooth can control an even greater number of devices and help manage your smart home. Others feature hubs that will sit at the heart of your TV stand. And, with some of the most capable remotes, you’ll be able to control entertainment devices and smart home gadgets alike. Here are our top picks for universal remotes that’ll help you tame your home theater.
TL;DR These are the Best Universal Remotes:
1. Logitech Harmony Companion
Best Universal Remote
What makes a universal remote great? It’s the ability to control a wide variety of devices. You want a single remote that can control your TV, your soundbar or AV receiver, perhaps your cable box. But why stop there? The Logitech Harmony Companion doesn’t just let you get a universal remote for the devices on your media center. It extends well beyond that to effectively become a remote for your smart home devices as well.You can use the Logitech Harmony Companion with a wide array of gadgets, as it supports controls through not just an IR blaster but also Bluetooth and Wi-Fi. You can use the remote to change the channel on your TV one second, dial down the volume of your soundbar the next second, and then turn down the lights immediately after. You can even set up automation to let a single press perform multiple actions. The Harmony Companion also works with Logitech’s mobile Harmony App, so if you lose the remote in the couch and don’t want to dig it out, you can use your phone in its place.
2. SofaBaton U1
Best Budget Universal Remote
Some universal remotes can seem over the top if you just want more basic control over all your devices. In that case, the SofaBaton U1 has just what you need. This is a more affordable universal remote that’s still prepared for the modern age of smart TVs and streaming devices.The SofaBaton U1 can remember and control up to 15 devices at a time, letting you control your TV, Blu-ray player, AV receiver, soundbar, Apple TV, and plenty of other devices you might have in your entertainment center. It can control devices over either IR or Bluetooth, letting it support hundreds of thousands of different products. Switching between devices is extra easy as well, as the SofaBaton U1 has a scroll wheel for switching devices and an OLED display to show your list of devices. You don’t have to worry about that OLED display burning through the batteries too quick either, as the remote has a motion-activated function to limit brightness when you’re not using it.
3. GE Universal Remote
Ultra Cheap Universal Remote
GE’s universal remote may not be as flashy as many of the others on this list, but it smokes them when it comes to affordability. This remote will give you the fundamental controls you need and then some. It has directional buttons for navigating menus, volume and channel controls, and the usual number pad. But, it also has ABCD buttons for DVR, cable and satellite; playback controls; and buttons for switching to control four different devices.This remote can control your TV, Blu-ray player, sound system, and even some streaming media players like Roku boxes. If you don’t need any more features than that, then this remote can save you a whole bunch of money with its sub-$10 price tag.
4. Logitech Harmony 950
Best High-End Universal Remote
If controlling eight devices at once just isnt enough, the 950 will replace up to fifteen remotes. The LCD screen is larger than the one on the 650 and is where youll find all of the macro buttons you set up. It comes with a charging base so you dont have to worry about replacing batteries. The 950 even has a motion-activated backlit that will turn on when you pick the remote up.5. Sevenhugs Smart Remote X
Best Point and Click Universal Remote
There aren’t many universal remotes of note outside of Logitech, but that’s exactly why we like the Sevenhugs Smart Remote X so much. While it doesn’t feature any real, physical buttons, this remote uses of a fully digital screen that allows it to adapt to any device.What’s more, it shoots out IR, Wi-Fi, and Bluetooth signals to work with a variety of home entertainment and smart home devices. It’s greatest trick though is its point mode, which allows you to control any device simply by pointing at it rather than having to tap around the screen to pick another thing to control.
The Sevenhugs remote uses a combination on a motion sensor, accelerometer, gyroscopes, and three external sensors to map your living room and know which way you’re pointing the remote. So you can go from changing the channel on your TV to lowering the temperature in the room and then changing the mood lighting in the room with ease.
6. Logitech Harmony Hub
Best Smarthome Integration Universal Remote
This is not a universal remote, but instead, the Harmony Hub helps you connect your home. It can be used with a smartphone app as the remote or bought together with the Harmony Companion remote or the 950 (the package of hub and remote is called the Harmony Elite).The hub connects to your wi-fi network and can control devices via Bluetooth for you PS4 users. (The PS4 can still not be turned on without pressing the button on its front or with the PS button on a controller.) Since its connected to your Wi-Fi network, it can also control smart home devices that are on your network as well, such as lighting, security, etc. This will allow you to set a macro to adjust your home’s lighting to the desired level, which is pretty cool. Even better; it is compatible with Alexa for voice activation.
7. Caavo Control Center
Best Universal Remote Hub
With the Caavo Control Center, the remote itself is just a small piece of the puzzle. This kit comes with a capable HDMI switch that has a bit of its own smarts built in. The hub can connect to up to four HDMI input devices then connect to a TV or soundbar with its HDMI out port. This will set you up to use your remote to switch between inputs with ease and even control your TV with your voice while you’re subscribed to Caavo’s $3.99/month service.Since this device has to pass through your HDMI signals, it’s fair to worry about quality. But, the Caavo Control Centrer has you covered with HDMI 2.0 and support for 4K HDR content
You can connect TV tuners, game consoles, and smart streaming devices like a Roku or Apple TV. From there, you’ll be able to use your voice to ask for channels, shows, and movies, then the Caavo Control Center will do the work of pulling up the content you want. You can even control it with an iOS device whether you’re at home or on the other side of the world, and smart home assistants work with it as well.
What to look for in a Universal Remote
So what do you need to consider when choosing the best universal remote? In my experience, it really comes down to two things: what type of signal is used to control the products and how easy it is to set up and use daily.Theres also a limit to the number of remotes a universal remote can replace, but even the most affordable remote can control up to eight devices, which is more than sufficient for most people. Beware though, as some cheap options will only control two devices. These cheapo models can also be frustrating to use and dont have enough features to make them worth the moneyeven if they’re just $10.
As far as the signals used by remotes go, the overwhelming majority of components are controlled through IR (infrared) signals. For IR to work, you need to have a clear path to the IR sensor on the device so dont have closed cabinet doors on your component shelving, unless the doors are made of glass. IR signals will also bounce off of some surfaces though. For instance, my projector is mounted on the ceiling, but I can point the remote at the screen and it will bounce off the screen and turn on my projector if the angle is right.
PS4 users might notice an issue with IR remotes, in that the PS4 doesnt have any IR sensors. The PS4 needs to be controlled by either Bluetooth or through HDMI CEC (Consumer Electronics Control). This severely limits the universal remote options for PS4 users. However, there are some solutions that Ill mention in my picks. You might also see RF (radio frequency) remotes. They have the benefit of being able to send their signal through objects, which is helpful if you have components stacked up in a closet.
…it just comes down to how easy is it to set up and use. Logitech has this part down.
Once you have a universal remote that will control enough devices with the right type of signal, it just comes down to how easy is it to set up and use. Logitech has this part down. All universal remote programming is done through their desktop app. It walks you through the process of selecting the components in your system, and then creating macros (that it calls Activities). Then just one button press will turn on your display, cable box, and AVR or any other combination of devices. Its easy to add or remove devices as you upgrade your system and adjust any of the Activities youve already created. A universal remote is really a necessity for anyone with a home theater that has multiple components. Adding one to yours will make your movie watching and game playing experience more enjoyable.One last note about my picks above for the best universal remotes – they’re almost all from Logitech. The reason is simple; they’re practically the only good ones left. The cheap universal remotes on Amazon ($15 and under) are terrible. And there are a few in the $30 range, but at that point, it’s better to buy the low-end Logitech Harmony. The other companies that were making universal remotes over the past 10-20 years either stopped selling to consumers and only now sell to installers, or they realized they couldn’t compete with Harmony and stopped.
John Higgins has been writing and testing all manner of audio, video, computer, and gaming gear since the early ’00s. He has written for print and online publications including Home Theater, Wirecutter, Sound & Vision, SoundStage!, and Channel Guide. He is also a post audio editor, composer, and musician in Los Angeles.Kevin Lee is IGN’s Hardware and Roundups Editor. Follow him on Twitter @baggingspam
Mark Knapp is a regular contributor to IGN and an irregular Tweeter on Twitter @Techn0Mark