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Remote Controls Buying Guide

Remote controls can be very handy or very annoying. After all, how many people live with two, three, or even more remote control devices that are used each day to play TV, DVD, or other devices? Why struggle with all of these gadgets when there are so many "universal" remote control options available. Of course, it is just as confusing to try to choose from the myriad remote controls, unless you know what it is you are looking for.

The Factors to Consider

Essentially, it boils down to these things:

1. The way the device communicates with the components in the system;

2. Whether it has built in codes to communicate easily with an array of devices;

3. Programming;

4. Cost (including the battery life and how this impacts operating expenses);

5. The appeal of the "interface".

Let's consider them on a point by point basis beginning with the way the device will communicate with all of the components. For the most part, the most common form of communication from the remote to the devices is known as IR. This allows you to point the remote at the different devices in the system and to hit the buttons that trigger the command.  There are "line of sight" options and then there are "direct input" styles that ask you to insert a special "jack" into the device and then into some sort of "extender" that allows the devices to communicate.

There are also RF options, and these never demand any "line of sight". In other words, you won't have to move from one part of the sofa to another if you are trying to get the remote to work. Instead, there is an RF base that picks up the signal from the remote and triggers that function immediately. There are also WiFi options and the RS-232 options (which are still a bit rare). When a remote control is capable of interacting with computers or the Windows Media Centre it is usually due to the use of a USB based IR receiver that is plugged into the system.

In addition to understanding these communication systems, you must also take into consideration the number of devices you intend the remote control to power. Generally, you want at least four or five devices to be able to be controlled by the remote. This is a lot more significant than you may initially realize. After all, you don't want to invest in a costly remote, take the time to install and program it properly, and yet still need one or two additional remotes to get some of your frequently used peripherals to operate.

Naturally, what this leads to is a discussion of the budget. For instance, it is fairly obvious that a remote can be very affordable, but it may not be as feature rich and functional as you require. Of course, there are also a lot of programmable remotes that are as expensive as high-end cameras. Thus, you don't want to choose only based on price, but you do want to look at your budget and determine the absolute maximum you can afford. Don't overlook the battery issue too. There are some devices that have effective charging stations (similar to wireless house phones), and this can cut down on operating costs - especially if you are opting for a remote control with advanced displays (such as an LCD remote). 

Finally, we come to the issue of the interface. This is the interface you are going to use every single day, so be sure that you appreciate the design and feel of the unit, the size of the buttons, and the various features that the interface offers. For example, if you do not want to memorize a lot of different buttons, be sure that you choose one that has programmable "soft keys" that allow you to hit one key to get to a specific function.

You can also opt for a touch screen unit. This is one that will let you make your choices directly on the remote rather than pointing the device at a screen or component and pressing buttons. There are very advanced models that allow volume control, screen settings, and more to be controlled by the touch screen. Be sure, however, that you test this out or read reviews about the functionality of the screen before investing in it. 

There are some very well known wireless device makers offering remote controls. They include Logitech, Epson, Hauppauge, Nikon, Sony, and many more.

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