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Exercise? Bah!

Time was when you had to get up and walk over to your TV or stereo if you wanted to change something on it. Slowly, the remote control has wriggled its way into our lives, making it much easier to adjust your electronics, and much harder to dust your coffee table.

Laziness aside, using a remote is the best way to control your home electronics. After all, where better to set your TV's picture, or adjust the balance of your speakers, than from the chair you use when enjoying the equipment? Yes, the days of making a fine adjustment to something, then running back to your chair and seeing how it looks or sounds from there, are thankfully over.

Just about everything electronic you buy now, at least in the home theatre world, comes with an infrared wireless remote. That makes buying one a lot easier, but it also tends to leave a pile of plastic zappers laying around the house. This is the main reason some people consider getting a new remote: consolidating the pile into a single, full-function, all-encompassing remote control.

Others just want to replace a remote that may have worn out, or become lost, or been run over by baby in his walker. This can most easily be accomplished by a trip back to your dealer, though you may also want to consider getting an all-new remote that'll add capabilities to the one you're replacing.

Type Casting…

There are two main types of replacement remotes, not counting the original model. They are the "Universal" and the "Unified" remote. And of course there are hybrid models that combine the features of both.

To further complicate matters, there are two types of "Universal" remote: learning remotes and "code" remotes. Learning remotes can be more flexible than the latter, because you actually teach it the codes you want it to use by pointing the one from which you're teaching at it and showing it the code in question. This process can be a pain, and it can take you more than one attempt before the learning remote actually learns its lesson (just like real life! Remember high school?), but you end up teaching it what you want it to know, not what some manufacturer thinks it should know.

These remotes are often bigger, more complex, and of course more expensive than their brethren, and can range up to a few hundred dollars in price.

"Code" universal remotes come with the functions of many brands and models built right in at the start. You activate the one that's right for you by punching a (usually) simple code into the remote so it knows which brand and component you want it to mimic. This is generally pretty easy, but the downside is that you're often stuck only being able to operate some of the things you want; it may work your VCR but not your CD player or it may operate your VCR, but not let you program it for timeshift recording.

Unified remotes often come with electronic components, which gives you a bonus right off the bat. They generally operate different components, but often only components from the same brand and the functions they control may be limited.

So the ultimate is the Learning Universal Remote, if you have the money and the inclination to put it through your own private school.

Chances are whatever remote you get won't do everything you want to every component you have, so there's a distinct possibility you may not clear that pile of remotes off your coffee table after all. But you'll be able to use a single remote for your most often used features, which is probably good enough ninety per cent of the time.

Some people might want a very simple remote, for instance one that only controls the basic functions of the TV. This can be useful if you want a "secondary" remote for someone else to use while you're hogging the main remote. These are also available, and they're priced appropriately cheaply.

Some remotes use doors to cover the "less used" buttons. This can be a nice touch until it breaks off or until you fumble with it in the dark. Others use switches to allow the various buttons to do double or triple duty. For example, the "PLAY" control could work a VCR, CD player, or tape deck, depending on which way the "master" switch is pointing. This can be confusing, though it's not generally a big deal once you're used to it.

LCD displays, or LCD touch screens, are also available and can be really nice in the ease of use department. Touch sensitive ones, like the illustration accompanying this guide, change as you use them, so if you're operating a CD player, the screen becomes that of a CD player; likewise, the buttons change to resemble a VCR's when you're controlling that. Neat, but generally expensive.

Points to Ponder…

When looking for a new remote, find one you think will be easy to use. Otherwise, what's the point? You should also take into account the room in which it'll be used, for example a remote with backlighting or lighted buttons for use in a dimly lit home theatre. And, if you're going to be wandering around the house with the remote, you might want to look at one that uses radio signals instead of infrared light. That's because IR remotes are pretty well "line of sight," though you can bounce 'em off walls (or at least the signals from them - you might not want to bounce the actual remote off the wall!), while "RF" remotes will work through walls, floors, or even parallel universes.

A remote should also be easy to hold, comfortable and balanced in your hand, and the buttons should make sense, especially if you're in a dim room. There's nothing more frustrating than trying to hit "PAUSE" on your VCR and slamming your finger into "SCAN" instead and finding the scene zipping by at the speed of light as you watch helplessly.

Make sure where you buy your remote will let you bring it back if it doesn't work what you want it to work. Most reputable dealers will do this, though, so it shouldn't take a lot of searching.

And take into account the number of batteries. Obviously, the more batteries it needs, the more it'll cost you. Battery size isn't a major consideration unless you live in Antarctica and there isn't a convenience store nearby…

Good luck!


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January 31, 2006