How Universal Remotes Work

Types of Universal Remotes

PC-programmable remotes allow you to type in the model numbers of your electronic devices and program how you want to use the remote. All of the required programming commands are then downloaded to your remote through a USB cable. If you have a universal remote that's PC-programmable, it likely has an RS-232 interface that allows your computer to "talk with" and control your remote by way of a serial port or USB port.

WiFi-enabled remotes are some of the newest universal remotes available. These allow you to bypass your cable provider to find out what's playing on TV by using your WiFi network. It transmits the latest sports stats and news updates onto a small LCD screen on your remote.

LCD touch screen remotes have a luminescent LCD screen that's operated by touch. These screens are usually located at the top of the remote and are roughly 2 inches by 4 inches (5 by 10 cm). Some LCD touch screens even allow you to decide which "virtual buttons" you want on your remote and how you want them displayed. But if virtual buttons aren't your thing, there are other LCD remotes that come with physical buttons.

Radio frequency remotes use radio frequency waves to operate electronics that are blocked by obstacles like cabinets or walls. For example, if you're in the kitchen and want to turn on your home-entertainment system in the living room through the adjoining wall, an RF-capable remote could be used to control infrared electronics in the next room. The universal remote broadcasts an RF signal command to an RF extender in the same room as your programmed electronics. The extender then beams out the same command at an infrared wavelength that your electronics can detect.