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The Best Universal Remotes for 2021

todayMay 5, 2021 7

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Owning and operating a home theater system is one of the most empowering feelings. Who needs a movie theater when you can replicate the experience in your living room with a smart TV, Roku Streaming Stick, and/or Amazon Fire TV? Who needs friends when you’ve got a Denon surround sound? Who needs anything when you’ve got a 4K Blu-ray player? OK, we’re getting away from the point here, which is that a home theater system can be a great way to experience your favorite flicks with your loved ones (and friends). Controlling your A/V system can be a bit of a hurdle. That’s where universal remotes enter the picture.

A solid universal remote control consolidates all your home theater hardware controls into one easy-to-grab smart remote, so you can finally shelve the five dog-chewed clickers sitting on your ottoman. Better yet, if you’re a double screener (scrolling through Instagram on your phone, with Netflix on in the background), there’s even a smart remote control with an app for your mobile. Think of that. You may not even need to touch a remote.

Like many home theater products, universal remotes are made by numerous companies. Some cost hundreds of dollars, others less than $10. Where does one even begin, you ask? Not to fear. That’s where we come in. We’ve rounded up the best on the market, from models with bare-bones controls to the most advanced and interactive remotes money can buy. The Logitech Harmony 665 is our top choice because it is affordable and easy to use.

The best universal remotes a glance

The best universal remote overall: Logitech Harmony 665

Why you should buy this: It handles just about all of your entertainment devices at an unbelievably low price.

Who it’s for: Anyone looking to control their entertainment system without spending a fortune.

Why we picked the Logitech Harmony 665:

Your days of fumbling with complicated tech and multiple remotes are about to be over. The Harmony 665 isn’t the most advanced remote on our list, but its rich set of features, ease of use, and low price make it an easy choice for our top pick. It replaces the Harmony 650 as our previous top pick, as the 665 improves over the older model in three important ways: It can control 10 devices instead of eight, all of the buttons are now backlit for easier use, and you can program up to 23 favorite TV channels for quick access from the color screen.

You’ll need an internet-connected PC to get the Logitech Harmony 665 up and running, but once you do, intuitive buttons like “Watch TV” will execute multiple commands, powering up your television, cable/satellite box, streaming device, DVD player, etc., and switching the TV to the correct input in one fell swoop. The initial setup and configuration process can be a bit time-consuming, but unless you’re constantly adding or removing devices from your universal remote controller, you’ll likely only need to do it once.

Keep in mind: As an infrared-only remote, the Harmony 665 can control things like your TV, A/V receiver, smart device, and cable box, but Bluetooth-only devices like PlayStations and some streaming media boxes still will need their own dedicated remotes, or, one of the other two Logitech remotes on our list.

The best universal remote for the smart home: Logitech Harmony Companion

Harmony Companion

Why you should buy this: It’s a perfect blend of power and simplicity.

Who it’s for: Anyone looking to control their smart home from the comfort of their couch.

Why we picked the Logitech Harmony Companion:

The Harmony Companion is built for the 21st century. It lets you control up to eight devices at once, from Philips Hue lights and smart TVs to A/V components enclosed within cabinets, using either the included remote or the companion app for Android and Apple devices. The included Harmony Hub acts as the brain of the system, sending commands via infrared or Bluetooth depending on the devices you want to control.

Unlike the Harmony 665, which sends infrared commands to your devices directly, you don’t need to point the Harmony Companion remote in a specific direction. It uses radio waves to communicate with the Hub, and its wireless signal even works through walls.

Setting up the Harmony Companion is done wirelessly with the Harmony app for smartphones, which also can act as a remote control. This makes the Harmony Companion is much more versatile than the Harmony 665.

It features integration with Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant, so if you have a smart speaker at home you can issue voice commands like, “Hey Google, ask Harmony to turn on Sports.” The physical clicker also sports a variety of activity-based buttons for everyday tasks, with robust customization and a marathon battery to match.

There are three caveats when considering the Harmony Companion:

  • The buttons aren’t backlit, making the Logitech Harmony Companion difficult to see in a dark room.
  • The lack of an interactive screen means the remote can’t help guide you through a series of troubleshooting steps should something go awry. You’ll need the Harmony remote control app to get that kind of help.
  • While the Harmony Companion can control Bluetooth devices, it doesn’t have a built-in mic, which means that newer voice-capable devices like TVs and streaming boxes still will require their factory remotes if you want to speak instead of scrolling.

The best affordable universal remote control for multiple devices: SofaBaton U1

SofaBaton U1 Universal Remote

Why you should buy this: It’s affordable, easy to program, works with Bluetooth and infrared, and supports up to 15 devices.

Who it’s for: Those who own a lot of devices and don’t want to spend a lot on a universal remote.

Why we picked the SofaBaton U1:

Harmony remotes are great, but they force you to choose between affordability and compatibility. The Harmony 665 is inexpensive, but you’re limited to 10 infrared devices. The Harmony Companion adds Bluetooth to the mix and app-based programming and control, but you’ll pay between $100 and $150 for it.

That opens up a gap for a remote that has some strengths of each of these products; that remote is the SofaBaton U1. What makes the U1 unique is that it can control both IR and Bluetooth devices — up to 15 of them — but it only costs $50. You program it wirelessly with the SofaBaton U1 companion app for iOS or Android, which is way more convenient than using a PC and a USB cable like the Harmony 665.

Like the Harmony system, you can search SofaBaton’s database for your specific device models, and if they’re listed, adding them takes just one tap. If they aren’t listed, you can use the U1’s learning function to teach it the needed commands with your factory remote.

Don’t like how the buttons work? You can assign (or re-assign) them from the full list of every available command — from any added device. If you’re controlling your Apple TV, for instance, you can assign the volume keys to control your soundbar or A/V receiver instead of using the Apple TV’s volume controls.

To choose which device you want to control, a handy scroll wheel lets you navigate an OLED display at the top of the remote. We really like how quickly you can make changes using the SofaBaton app — they happen instantly, no synchronization steps required.

Is the SofaBaton U1 perfect? No. The buttons aren’t backlit so they’re harder to see in a dark room. Unlike the Harmony remotes, there are no activity buttons for things like “Watch Apple TV” that use Logitech’s helpful wizard-based programming.

But there is a workaround: The SofaBaton U1 has four color-coded macro buttons above the number pad, and these can be easily programmed using the app to execute any sequence of commands from any of your added devices. Better yet, you can set these four macro buttons for each device, giving you a maximum of 60 macros. There’s no way to label the buttons, so you’ll just have to remember what each one does.

The best bare-bones universal remote control: GE 33709

GE 33709

Why you should buy this: It does just enough, and sometimes that’s all you need.

Who it’s for: Anyone looking for a universal remote to handle the basics and nothing more.

Why we picked the GE 33709:

The GE 33709 remote provides a straightforward way to control up to four devices using a host of pre-programmed codes while sporting a traditional design equipped with a basic D-pad and all of the most salient TV/media commands you could need.

If touchscreens and programming via a PC or mobile app feel too convoluted for your needs, the GE 33709 is a perfect choice: It’s cheap — but not cheaply made — and it has everything you need to control your infrared devices.

The best universal remote for ultimate home theater control: Logitech Harmony Elite

Logitech Harmony Elite

Why you should buy this: If it can be controlled by a remote, this will let you control it.

Who it’s for: Home theater aficionados with lots of devices and a desire for a dedicated remote with a touchscreen.

Why we picked the Logitech Harmony Elite:

The Logitech Harmony Elite is undoubtedly the best and most effective remote on our list, even though it does have quite a high price tag to match its quality.

Picking up where the Harmony Companion leaves off, the Elite adds a built-in, full-color touchscreen so you won’t need to turn to your phone for help or to switch between activities and device-specific control. Its buttons are backlit for easy access in darkened rooms. Its internal rechargeable batteries should last for years without needing to be replaced, and an including charging station keeps them topped up when not in use.

Like the Harmony Companion, the Elite remote communicates directly with the included Hub, but it can also be used as a traditional infrared remote should you need it. You get two IR mini-blasters (the Harmony Companion only has one) to control components that may be tucked away.

Just about our only critique is that for this kind of investment, Logitech should really have included a microphone for voice-based control of devices. Then again, this remote was introduced in 2017, when voice-based control was just beginning to become a dominant feature of home theater hardware.

Still, given the Logitech Harmony Elite‘s capabilities, you may never need to buy another remote ever again.

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