HEATHER NEWMAN: All-in-one remotes make appliance control a cinch

August 13, 2003


Your remote control is the part of your home theater setup that you use the most, but it's one thing we usually don't think about until we have too many of them.

Your receiver, your DVD player, your television, your VCR, your cable box and your personal video recorder each can have their own remote. No wonder electronics manufacturers developed so-called universal remotes that can handle all of these gadgets.

Fortunately, the universal remotes on the market today are not only simpler than ever before, they can do some delightful stuff -- and at bargain-basement prices.

Simple universal remotes that can learn a few devices go for $15-$25. Typically, they come with booklets that have lists of codes for different manufacturers. You press a setup button, select the device you want to program in and tap the appropriate code on the remote's number pad. Voila! Instant control.

Those codes don't always map all the keys from your original remote onto the new universal model, however, so the next step up is a remote that can learn from your old one.

You point your new and old remotes head-to-head, hit a button or two to tell the new remote you want to map a key, hit the key you want to change and then tap the button on your old remote. The universal remote learns the transmission from the old remote and stores it in that button for that device. That's especially handy if you have something a little out of the ordinary, like a TiVo or ReplayTV personal video recorder.

I used the learning remote that came with a Pioneer VSXD811 receiver and, using a combination of the codes from the book and the learning function, had our DVD player, receiver, television and personal video recorder all working in sync within 15 minutes.

If you've got a personal video recorder, one remote to check out is the One for All 6131, available for $12-$18 online.

If you want even more control -- plus the ability to do some nifty advanced functions -- there's another option.

Certain remotes on the market are built so they can be programmed with new codes at the factory. An enterprising bunch of hobbyists figured out that with a little soldering and a custom cord, they could attach a port to the remote that could then be connected to their PCs.

Fortunately for you, using this so-called JP1 programming no longer requires any soldering or custom code. You can buy your remote pre-altered, with a pre-built cord, for less than $50. The software to make special changes to your remote is free -- and blessedly, so is the combined expertise of hundreds of fanatics who have gone before.

What can a programmed remote do? Well, for starters, wouldn't it be nice to have a button on your remote that turned off all your gadgets -- without turning the ones that were already off on again? Or, if you're a personal video recorder owner, wouldn't it be nice to skip ahead three minutes, past the standard commercial break on your favorite channel, with a single touch?

All these things and more are possible. For information on JP1 programming, visit www.hifi-remote.com. To buy pre-altered remotes and cables, see that site or www.surfremotecontrol.com. And for a tremendous collection of expert and peer reviews of different universal remotes, see www.remotecentral.com.

Contact HEATHER NEWMAN at 313-223-3336 or newman@freepress.com.

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