The Best Universal Remotes For 2019

Time to free up some space on your coffee table.

Be sure to visit IGN Tech for all the latest comprehensive hands-on reviews and best-of roundups. Note that if you click on one of these links to buy the product, IGN may get a share of the sale. For more, read our Terms of Use.

The proliferation of home theater components and gaming consoles has led to an explosion of remote controls that often wind up scattered across the coffee table. This is valuable real estate that is better suited for pizza boxes, coffee mugs, frothy beverages, and magazines. While it’s true that most remotes that come with a TV can act as a remote for other products, functionality is always limited and the process for teaching codes and commands to the main remote is often tedious and frustrating. So what can you do to solve the multiplying remote crisis? You’ll want to get the best universal remote.

With a single click, the best universal remotes switch your entire home entertainment center from playing your PS4 to watching Netflix on a 4K streaming box—and the remote will even take care of switching video signals and turning off consoles for you. What’s more the best universal remotes these days can even control air conditioners, smart lights, and thermostats (assuming they’re compatible). If you have been struggling to master your domain, the best universal remote could be just the thing you need.

TL;DR – These are the Best Universal Remotes:

The No-Frills Universal Remote – Logitech Harmony 350

The 350 is Logitech’s entry-level universal remote, but it still lets you control up to eight devices. Like all the Logitech all-in-one remotes, setup is easy using the computer app (PC or Mac) to add your components and set up your macros. There are five programmable Favorite buttons that you can assign your five most-watched television channels to for easy, quick access. It only has one Watch TV macro button, though. And there’s no backlight to the keys, so if you’re in a dark room it might be hard to see what you’re pressing. If you need a bit more you can step up for just a few dollars more to…

The Best Universal Remote for Most People – Logitech Harmony 650

While it has an MSRP of $80, the 650 can easily be found for almost half that most of the time on Amazon, and even less if you dig around at places like Walmart. It can replace up to eight remotes, is easy to set up, and has three macro buttons. Additional macros can be set up and accessed through the remote’s color LCD screen. The LCD screen also has a help menu that will walk you through a series of questions if, for instance, your television didn’t turn on when you hit the Watch TV activity. The buttons are backlit so you can still see what you’re pressing in the dark.

The Luxury Car of Harmony Universal Remotes – Logitech Harmony 950

If eight devices just isn’t enough, the 950 will replace up to fifteen remotes. The LCD screen is larger than the one on the 650 and is where you’ll find all of the macro buttons you set up. It comes with a charging base so you don’t have to worry about replacing batteries. The 950 even has a motion-activated backlit that will turn on when you pick the remote up.

Best Smarthome Integration Universal Remote – Logitech Harmony Hub

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 it’s 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.

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 setup and use on a daily basis. There’s 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 there are some cheap options that will only control two devices. These cheapo models can also be frustrating to use and don’t have enough features to make them worth the money – even if they’re just $10.

As far as the signals used by remotes go, the overwhelmingly majority of components are controlled through IR (infrared) signals. In order for IR to work, you need to have a clear path to the IR sensor on the device – so don’t 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 of 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 doesn’t 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 I’ll 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. It’s easy to add or remove devices as you upgrade your system and adjust any of the Activities you’ve 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 before we get to my picks for the best universal remotes – they’re all from Logitech. The reason is simple; they’re really the only good ones out there nowadays. 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.

You may also like...

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *