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How Universal Remotes Work

Universal Remote Technology

Universal remotes fall into two categories: multibrand and learning. Multibrand remotes come preprogrammed with the codes to operate a number of standard electronics -- this means you don't have to spend time entering a lot of complicated codes yourself. These remotes can typically be used to manage about four electronic devices, and they usually control only their main functions, such as channel turning and volume control.

Learning remotes go beyond multibrand universal remotes. While they also often come preprogrammed to operate a number of popular electronic models, they have the ability to "learn" the functions of the original manufacturer's remote. Simply hold your learning remote head-to-head with your original remote and infrared signals will be transmitted to the learning remote that allow it to duplicate the other remote's commands. If a new high-tech electronic gadget comes out after you've already bought your learning remote, it can still learn all of the devices' new commands. Some multibrand remotes can also be programmed to operate new devices, but it depends on the model.

Learning remotes can operate a much wider variety of electronic devices than multibrand ones, making them the true universal remotes. They also have the capacity to be programmed with "macro" protocols, which we'll discuss in a later section.

Because of their relative simplicity, multibrand remotes are much less expensive than learning remotes. One of the least expensive universal remotes available is the Sony RM-V310 Universal Remote Control. It comes preprogrammed to operate the basic functions of as many as seven electronic devices and costs about $15.

A more expensive model is the Logitech Harmony 670 Universal Remote, which ranges in price from $65 to $150. It was designed especially for DVR users and is PC-programmable. Pricier still is the Logitech Harmony 890 Advanced Universal Remote Control, which costs about $190 to $400. It uses both radio frequency and infrared signals to communicate with electronics from as far as 100 feet (30.5 meters) [source: Hunch].

Beyond the basic categories of multibrand and learning remotes, there are additional types of universal remotes such as RF remotes, PC-programmable remotes and LCD touch-screen remotes. We'll learn about these remotes in the next section.