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April 11, 2013 10:58 AM   Subscribe

I need recommendations for a universal remote control. Parents recently entered the HDTV/Cable TV world and are using 3 different remotes. It's driving them crazy. I'd like to get them the easiest most intuitive universal remote to control everything. They've used universal remotes in the past that required you to move the slider on the top to select each component. They'd never remember to change the slider and then be confused why the DVD player wouldn't work. Help!

Their current setup is
TV: LGTV 47LV4400
Cable Box: Verizon FIOS 7232-2
DVD: Toshiba SD7300KU

What remote should I get them? I'd prefer to spend less than $100, but am willing to pay more if it'll get me something that blows everything else out of the water for ease of use.
posted by Arbac to Technology (12 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: I bought my dad a Logitech Harmony 700 last Christmas based on The Wirecutter's review. It's $90 (although I see now that Logitech may have pulled it? Anyway, the review is useful and mentions other models). He was a little bit of luddite about it at first (he complained that it didn't work, and I had to go over and show him that there was a STICKER COVERING THE SCREEN) but he did get everything set up eventually without any intervention from his tech-y kids. I must say that it is a total godsend—when I was home for Easter my mom and I were actually able to watch TV without his intervention and without juggling 7 different remotes.
posted by bcwinters at 11:13 AM on April 11, 2013

We have a Harmony One. It's web-based setup - pick the components, tell it which ones work with which activity (for instance, Watching a DVD needs to turn the DVD on while Watch Cable TV does not) and it will set all the functionality up via USB.

The real beauty of the Harmony One is Activities. One button to watch a DVD. Another button switches everything over to Watch TV and turns things on and off as needed. We also set up favorite channels, so after it does all this, it displays buttons for each of the networks - so guests or babysitters (or the kids even) can easily tune to a couple of channels - Nick and Disney for the kids, broadcast networks and HBO for guests.
posted by neilbert at 11:24 AM on April 11, 2013

I don't have a good alternate solution, but I've had issues with the Harmony remotes and non-technical people. Yes, you press a single button to "watch TV", but then you have to keep pointing the remote at the TV for 20-30 seconds while it sends all the various commands. It's surprisingly unintuitive. If you forget, then one or more of the components will be in the wrong state, and you have to go through the menus on the Harmony to get it to sort things out.

It seems like some kind of IR blaster would help with this, but I'm not sure if any of the remotes support something like that.
posted by smackfu at 11:25 AM on April 11, 2013


As I said in the above thread, I have a Logitech Harmony One and I love it. I wouldn't hesitate to get one for my folks, though it does require a bit of expertise and patience to program (and thus I'd plan on programming it myself for them). But it is remarkably easy to use, does just about everything well once you get it set up, and has a great Help function that allows the user to easily resolve almost all typical situations where one device didn't turn on or didn't set itself to the correct input.

They are pricey new, but on CL perfectly good used Harmony One's on go for ~$100 or less. The newer models have a few more buttons, but the older ones will be just as good for your folks and will allow you to save a few bucks.
posted by mosk at 11:25 AM on April 11, 2013

We have a Logitech Harmony remote, and my husband and his brother gave their parents one for Christmas a couple of years ago (although I don't remember the model on either). His parents work quite well with it, probably far better than we do, because my husband has an elaborate setup with a billion different gaming consoles and other electronic A/V doodads and toys on ours, and at times after I've managed to screw up what device should be on at what time, I've resorted to just shoving the remote at him and demanding he fix it. But his parents have a much simpler system set up on it (more elaborate than your parents, as they have a DVR and a Wii console) and have had no complaints.

The good thing about the Harmony is that it's got a simple troubleshooting mode on it: if something doesn't work as you expect it to, you hit a button. It does something, then asks if that fixed the problem. You hit Yes or No. If it's No, it does something else and asks you, and it goes on until either the issue is fixed or it's run out of things to try.
posted by telophase at 11:26 AM on April 11, 2013

Harmony, Harmony, Harmony.

You plug it into a computer with a USB, pick your components (by make/model, not by some code number) and it programs it all for you. The you press the button for "watch TV" or "Watch a DVD" and it turns on everything you need.

For their needs the low-end one will probably be enough.

The only tip I can say, and I keep telling my mom this, is to press the button you need (and it's only ever one button) and then point it at the TV and components for a few seconds. Shouldn't take more than five seconds. If you press the button and then quickly put the remote away it might not have time to turn everything on. There's a somewhat less intuitive "help" button that will guide you through everything but my mom (81 years old) has trouble using that. It works fine 99% of the time though.

I had a low end one and in addition to all my components (Apple TV, Tivo, DVD, TV, receiver) I was even able to control my A/C with it!
posted by bondcliff at 11:30 AM on April 11, 2013 [2 favorites]

I'll join the chorus on the answers here and Mosk's "Previously" link. My brother in law forced a Logitech Harmony remote on us to manage our LG TV, Roku, Apple TV, ReplayTV, and DVD player. I was a skeptic, but it works surprisingly well - the only problem I've encountered is that the (no name Taiwanese) DVD player seems to turn on some of the time in response to the TV power on/off signal.

The programmable one-button "Watch a movie" etc. buttons are surprisingly good, although as someone upthread said, your parents may have to learn to hold the thing pointed at the setup for several seconds while it does its thing (Power on, switch device, power on, wait, select input, etc.). Also teach them how to recover when things don't work - the "Help" button is surprisingly helpful at trying to fix the problem, but it is faster to switch to the specific device and fix it yourself if you know what the problem is.

Overall, really worth it.
posted by RedOrGreen at 12:37 PM on April 11, 2013

I have a Harmony Somethingorother. I don't recall the exact model; I think it was higher end and/or most recent, as of maybe a couple years ago. I am very happy with it.

I have only one complaint about it, which I'll tell you, but I want to first note that I consider it minor, and again say that I am very happy with it overall. The problem is that the clock on its display screen will sometimes reset itself for no apparent reason. To get it back to the real time, you have to hook it up to the computer. But even if you do that, it will reset itself soon anyway. Kind of annoying, but again, minor, and again, overall I am very happy with it.
posted by Flunkie at 12:45 PM on April 11, 2013

OK, I just looked it up: My Harmony Somethingorother is actually a Harmony 900.
posted by Flunkie at 12:49 PM on April 11, 2013

I've got an old Harmony remote, and I think it's the best option, but it's still not perfect.

The basic problem is technical, and would need all the equipment makers to agree on a new standard: communication between remote and equipment is strictly one-way. So if anything changes on the equipment, you've got a mismatch between the remote's internal state model and the external state.

For example, my receiver can sleep itself (which it seems to do, erratically). So it behaves like it's off, when the remote thinks it's on. Hilarity ensues.
posted by adamrice at 1:15 PM on April 11, 2013

I have an older Harmony remote and have been very pleased with it, except that some of the buttons no longer work properly after about 3 year use and I need to get a new one.

It is important to remember two things, though:
  1. Keep the remote pointed at the equipment after pushing the relevant 'activity' button for a few seconds, because some commands are timed (eg first turn on receiver, wait a couple of seconds, then set it to digital 1 input) and it takes up to a few seconds for everything to happen. Same when turning off.
  2. Secondly, if you are changing activities (eg from watching TV to listening to a CD), turn everything off with the remote off button first, then push the relevant activity button to turn back on what is needed for that activity. Because of the issue that adamrice mentions, many devices are turned on and off by the same command (ie push for on, push for off) and the remote will get out of sync with the state of the equipment. If you do get things out of sync, though, using the 'help' button gets it back with varying numbers of button presses.

posted by dg at 8:38 PM on April 11, 2013

Response by poster: Thanks for all the tips! I ended up going with a refurbished Harmony 700. We'll see how it works out.
posted by Arbac at 4:00 PM on April 14, 2013

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