Dec 01, 2017

Hey, ManMade Readers: Can You Please Help Me Pick a New Remote Control?

Hi, all. Chris here. I spent a bunch of time trying to research something last night, and I'm still not sure I'm any more informed than I was before I started. So, I thought I might solicit the very smart and helpful ManMade audience, and let the experts weigh in.

My household needs a new remote control. We've been using the stock one that came with our receiver, plus all the individual remotes for our streaming devices. Currently, it requires at least two of them to select a source, start a show or movie, and ride the volume. The main remote, which used to work with most features, has been slowly dying, and now it can't even select a source or change the volume. I tried opening it up and cleaning the contacts, but it didn't really make a difference. So, new remote time. 


I believe our setup is pretty straightforward. We don't have a cable service, and so don't need anything in the way of channel switching or DVRing. We have a few devices: an Apple TV, Blu Ray player, and Amazon Fire that connect to our receiver (an Onkyo TX-NR515) via HDMI. We select the source there, and there's a master HDMI out that goes to the TV. The turntable preamp goes into the receiver as well via analog RCA.

The TV only uses one HDMI input (the out from the receiver), and 1-2x a year, we'll connect an analog antenna via coax to watch some live thing as it happens. (But that's so rare, I don't really care if the remote can handle it). All source switching happens at the receiver, not the TV.

Audio is handled from analog speaker wire from the receiver to a separate powered speaker selector which controls hardwired speakers throughout the house. Stereo only. 

So, basically, I'd like my remote to:

  • Switch between and control four sources – 3 HDMI, one analog RCA (and perhaps 1-2 to grow on)
  • Be able to talk to the Apple TV and Amazon Fire, and perform the same functions as their proprietary remotes. (With the exception of the Siri/Alexa voice control, which I only use to avoid typing long things. Or, if there are remotes that have microphones and can do that, that's a-okay too.)
  • Turn the TV and receiver on/off (preferably with one button) and control receiver volume. 

I imagine most remotes can do this these days, but the price difference is so huge, and I don't know how to distinguish what I actually need and what I don't. It seems like most solid options are made by Logitech Harmony, but they vary from $35 to $400. Other thoughts:

  • I don't need a touchscreen or graphic display. It's fine if it has one. 
  • I don't mind using my computer to set it up (I use OS X).
  • I don't have any smart lightbulbs or thermostats or anything else to control with the remote. Just the audio/video stuff. 

I don't mind paying for the right thing. I'm not really a geek and I don't get excited about features. My house is relatively "dumb". I stream my music, but it's played through wired speakers. I'd rather not spend a ton of money, but I will invest to get the features we actually use. We'll keep the Apple TV and Fire remotes (and DVD) handy, but it'd be nice to have one thing that can work with all sources. 

I appreciate any insights or recommendations you have. Thanks!



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Zachary Sims on Dec 07, 2017:

Harmony Remotes from lowest to highest will meet your needs; but like others have said, Harmony hub really does strike a great balance. Making sure the ir repeaters are well positioned can take some time however.

Chris on Dec 04, 2017:

Thanks David, Bryan, and QuarterSwede! I really appreciate your thoughts, and feel much more informed. I love this community.

QuarterSwede on Dec 02, 2017:

Here’s another vote for the Harmony Smart Hub. We have the basic no screen one and love it. It allows up to 6 activities which is plenty for most people.

You set it up with your smartphone, which is much easier than the old Harmony PC software, and it allows you to also control your devices with your smartphone as well. That’s a lot more useful than you’d think. Are the kids up early and have the system up too loud? You can turn it down or off from your bed.

The remote doesn’t have a rechargable battery but instead uses a coin cell battery. This isn’t an issue as the battery lasts about a year with regular use. We had a rechargeable Harmony 650 before we bought the Smart Hub and we prefer the coin cell. You don’t have to put it on it’s base or plug it in every night. Change the battery once a year and your set.

The only feature we wish it had is a child lock. Our 3 kids and 2 cats seem to turn it off or switch activists frequently enough for it to be annoying.

Bryan on Dec 02, 2017:

Highly recommend a harmony hub and associated remote. If you're willing to use a smartphone as a remote, the hub runs around $80. The hub + remote is more $140+. I recently purchased a "harmony ultimate" and like it a lot.

The key failing of non-hub based remotes is in control of IR based devices. You have to point the remote at the device, and if you don't, one input or another doesn't register. Then you have to go through the lengthy help process to fix it. Not hard if you know what you're doing, but not easy and not fun. The hub solves this because it goes in a single location (potentially with repeaters, included with the hub) that can always communicate with all your devices. Hence using the remote is more intuitive--no more pointing it at the right device at the right time. It's been a complete game changer for us.

David Davis on Dec 01, 2017:

Get a Harmony. Configuration is relatively painless with the included software. You tell it what equipment you have and how things are hooked up. Then you use the activity screen on the lcd (on the 650) to "Watch Roku" and it'll power up your stereo, change it to the proper input, power up your tv and change it to the proper input. You can even use it to control your Roku (although it needs line of sight, unlike the Roku remote). The main difference between them is the number of devices they support. If you want to control a specific device, you can do that and then use the hard buttons. It'll know when you hit volume up/down that the stereo controls that and if you're watching TV the channel up/down is for the TV or maybe your cable box. The nice thing about it is it knows what you are doing so if you have issues you can hit the help button and it'll ask what device you are having issues with and try to guess the issue and if that doesn't work it'll start asking questions (is the device on, on the right input, etc). You hit the power button and it will turn everything off.