What is a Universal Remote Control?

Michael Pollick
Michael Pollick

A universal remote control can often be used to replace the factory-issued remote control included with a television, cable box, VCR, DVD player or stereo system. In most cases, it can be programmed to operate several electronic devices, reducing the need for individual controllers. Not all wireless systems may be compatible with a universal remote, but manufacturers of these devices usually provide a list of brand names and models that can be programmed.

A universal remote control may be used to operate a stereo system.
A universal remote control may be used to operate a stereo system.

With so many electronic entertainment systems featuring wireless technology, it's not unusual for consumers to lose individual remote control units. This can lead to frustration if the television must be tuned manually while the VCR or DVD remote still function normally. Fortunately, several companies realized a need for replacement remotes which were not programmed for a specific brand of electronic device. Customers who lost both a Sanyo television and Hitachi DVD remote shouldn't have to buy two factory-issued replacements. The programming codes for both models were known quantities in the world of consumer electronics, thus allowing the invention of the first universal remote control.

Universal remote controls operate a number of devices, such as televisions, cable boxes and DVD players.
Universal remote controls operate a number of devices, such as televisions, cable boxes and DVD players.

A universal remote control works on the principle that almost all remote control devices work on a limited number of codes. There may be numerous television, stereo and DVD player manufacturers in the world, but they all use the same handful of frequencies and programming codes. By identifying and listing the codes used by individual manufacturers, a universal remote can duplicate the functions of the original remote. Consumers simply find their make and model of electronic device in the coding list, then use the function keys to enter the necessary information.

Different remote control models control different electronic devices, so consumers should choose accordingly. Some models only replace one system, such as the television, while others can control almost every electronic device sold, from TVs to cable boxes to DVD players. If the remote operates more than one system, keypad controls for separate devices should be present. A function key for each system should be depressed first to let the remote know which device to control. Sometimes, users forget to change the functionality, leading to frustration as the television set remains off but the stereo turns on suddenly.

There are a few drawbacks with a universal remote control, however. Not all system codes are guaranteed to be readily programmable. Finding the proper values for an unknown device can involve a series of tedious experiments. If it loses battery power, all of the individual coding may be lost. This could mean reprogramming 4 separate devices manually. Some consumers find that universal remotes do not offer the same functionality keys as the original controllers. Users can perform the basic functions of each device, but cannot use the more advanced features remotely.

A universal remote control is an inexpensive alternative to ordering a factory-issued controller, but be prepared for a loss of functionality and a more complex programming routine.

Michael Pollick
Michael Pollick

A regular EasyTechJunkie contributor, Michael enjoys doing research in order to satisfy his wide-ranging curiosity about a variety of arcane topics. Before becoming a professional writer, Michael worked as an English tutor, poet, voice-over artist, and DJ.

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Discussion Comments


Is it possible to use a single remote for every television? If not then why?


OK, but what if your tv is a 26" sanyo that doesn't have an on/off button and you lose the remote? then, the tv must be on to program a universal remote, so what do you do?




i wanted to build an universal remote control for say 2-3 devices using an 8051+hex keyboard+ir transmitter. is it possible?

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