Entertainment Systems Buying Guide

Universal Remote
In most homes the entertainment center(s) can represent a sizeable investment with a variety of equipment each having its own remote control. Before deciding what features are important to you for controlling a home entertainment environment, we encourage you to first review our discussion on the key core and optional features of a home entertainment control system in the home automation primer. This will provide you with some base information helpful in defining your own key buying decisions.

Since entertainment controls can vary from a single handheld universal remote to a subset of a complete home automation system, your first task is to define your desired end point. So, even if you plan to install your automation system in phases, you'll need to determine what features the entertainment control system must have after the system is completely installed.

    Start to define your desired end point for your entertainment control system by answering these questions:

  1. Do I just want to control one or more entertainment centers with a universal remote?
  2. Do I want to distribute music and/or video programming to other rooms in my home?
  3. Do I want to control lighting and/or climate (i.e. room temperature) with the same remote or user interface?
  4. Do I want to control my security system with the same remote or user interface?
  5. Do I want all of my digital media (e.g. music, photos, videos, recorded programs) to be displayed on one or more entertainment centers?

You Answered YES to Question 1 Only

Your remaining buying decisions will be centered on product features for a universal remote. We recommend you select a remote that satisfies the core features we defined in the homeowner primer for an entertainment control system.

Of course you'll also want to find a remote with a user friendly design that can control all the devices in your entertainment center. Note a universal remote can only control your devices by sending IR (infrared) signals. If you have a Bose system with a RF (radio frequency) remote, it will not be controllable by any universal remote. Likewise, if you have a Dish Network receiver serving two rooms in your home, a universal remote will not control the satellite receiver from the secondary room. As the Dish Network remote for the second room is an RF remote.

Also, you might want to check out some whole-house automation systems whose entry level controller provides a universal remote function. An example would be the HC-300 Controller from Control4. This approach will allow you the flexibility to expand your automation system in the future if your home and famly needs change beyond present expectations.

You Answered YES to Questions 1 and 2 Only

In addition to the above considerations, you will need to ensure your multi-room audio/video (A/V) distribution equipment can be integrated with your preferred universal remote. A multi-room A/V distribution system typically includes a wall-mounted keypad in each room receiving programming from central source devices in the main entertainment center or home theater. The distribution system may also use IR emitters to control the source equipment which enables the room keypads to control the source devices. The potential for conflict exists when family members in two rooms can control the same source devices at the same time. These potential conflicts may be acceptable as long as all familiy members understand they exist and follow the house rules to resolve the simultaneous access issues.

If you can not find an acceptable universal remote that can also control your A/V distribution system, you may need to look at integrated entertainment systems or whole-house automation systems where a single master controller approach eliminates the conflicts described above.

You Answered YES to Questions 1, 2 and 5 Only

In this case one of your source devices in the main entertainment center or theater room will be either a Media Server containing all your digital media or a Media Connect device that pulls media from other home PCs via the home data network (e.g. HP MediaSmart Connect x280n). As long as the device serving digital media is controllable via an IR remote, your universal remote will be able to control the display of your digital media.

You Answered YES to Question 1 and any combination including Questions 3 or 4

You'll want to review the additional buying decisions associated with whole-house automation systems.

The buyers guide section on lighting controls also comments on lighting systems that can be integrated with your entertainment center universal remote.

For relevant Entertainment Control Systems product reviews click here.