This section looks at the types of universal remotes and their technologies for use in home entertainment systems. The assumption is that they have to work in a lounge environment and that you don't have a suitable flat surface on which they could sit. This is to rule out more typical input devices such as a mouse.
The majority of remote controls used with consumer electronics devices use infra-red (IR) technology as it is reliable and cheap. IR remotes require 'line of sight' to the device(s) being controlled but, this wavelength of light can be bounced and reflected to a certain extent. Because of this is almost always restricted to use in a single room, though 'repeater' devices are available to overcome this limitation.
Bluetooth is an open wireless technology standard for exchanging data over short distances using short wavelength radio transmissions. As well as being popular on computers and smartphones, it is often used in games consoles like the Nintendo Wii, Sony PS3, Microsoft Xbox, etc. The standard is continually evolving bringing improvements in speed and range.
The main advanatage of Bluetooth over IR is that it doesn't require a line of sight view between the remote controller and the device being controlled. It can also support two-way communication at a relatively high bandwidth.
WiFi is emerging as a popular technology for remote control as more and more devices become Internet connected. Mobile devices can also use it to talk to convertors (IR blasters) to other technologies.
Universal remotes aim to replace the many remote controls in your lounge with a single device. This device is then programmed with details of your devices and can control them all. They can also perform complex sequences of commands, in order to acheive a desired goal, e.g. in our house watching TV involves the following sequence: switch on TV, switch on STB, switch on home cinema amp, set TV input to home cinema amp, set home cinema amp input to STB and then enable volume control on home cinema amp.
Adaptors, Gateways & Converters
Some of the universal remotes can also work with accessories that allow them to work with multiple technologies. As an example, Logitech universal remotes can work with an adaptor that converts the outbound IR signals to Bluetooth. This means games consoles can be included and controlled as part of a wider home entertainments system.
Hybrid remotes are remote controllers that are built around other pieces of equipment or software applications that run on devices with another primary function. Mobile phones and Smartphones are examples of this and iPods & iPhones are examples of this.
Software remotes generally run on tablets or Smartphones and use a device to convert your commands into IR commands (or via other technologies), that are understood by the devices in your home. The main advantage of this si that the app can present a nice, graphical and intuitive interface for controlling multiple devices.
Logitech Harmony Link
The Logitech Harmony Link is an piece of hardware that works with a app on Smartphones and tablets. The apps is free on both iOS and Android devices. It can replace up to 8 physical remote controls. The mini 'blaster' accepts commands from the app via WiFi and converts them to IR commands. This means that it can be hidden inside cabinets with your equipment if requried.
The GlideTV Navigator is a palm-sized remote control that features a trackpad and backlit AV buttons. It works with Windows XP or Vista (Windows 7 version due soon), Mac OS X, and the Sony PS3, and the package includes a charging cradle and USB receiver. /
Hillcrest Labs Loop
The Hillcrest Loop is a bangle-inspired design for a remote control device, with four buttons and a scroll wheel. It is compatible with Windows, Mac, and Linux operating systems. It detects hand movements to control the cursor around the screen.
New Kinetix have turned the iPhone into a universal remote control by adding an infra-red (IR) adapter. The Re IR accessory and app combine to turn your iPhone or iPod Touch into a universal remote control that can work in any room of your home. The app has a feature rich user interface and allows you to personalise settings and create macros. It also has a built-in IR device database and can learn codes for any remote.