The Best Universal Remotes to Tame Your Wild Entertainment Center
Hold the (entertainment) universe in your hand.
These days, we have a lot of devices to control. Our entertainment centers are packed with DVD players, Blu-ray players, cable boxes, DVRs, and game consoles—all of which play video. Throw in a streaming box or audio setup and the pile of remotes starts to get really out of control.
Enter the universal remote. These devices promise to rein in your out-of-control home theater with one remote to rule them all. But which ones live up to the hype? We’ve done the homework and rounded up the best below.
The 5 Best Universal Remotes on the Market
Specs and Features Comparison
|Model||Number of Devices||Touch Screen||Voice Assistant Integration||Price||Get It|
|Best Overall||Logitech Harmony Elite||15||✓||✓||$$$$|
|Best for Streamers||Inteset 4-in-1 Learning Remote||4||✘||✘||$$|
|Best for Smart Homes||NEEO Smart Home Remote and Hub||No limit||✓||✓||$$$$$|
|Best Voice-Controlled Universal Remote||Amazon Echo Dot||No limit||✘||✓||$$|
|Best for a Budget||Logitech Harmony 650||8||✘||✘||$$|
Data current as of 10/16/18. Pricing and features subject to change.
- Can control a large number of devices
- Works with a variety of smart home gear
- Has a smartphone app for added convenience
- Carries a high price tag
- Lacks good ergonomics
Logitech’s Harmony line is one of the most popular universal remote-control lineups, and the Harmony Elite is the flagship device. This remote consists of two parts: the Harmony universal remote control, and the Harmony Hub for routing the signal to your TV, DVD player, Blu-ray player, game console, or smart home devices.
The Hub is actually the best thing about the Harmony Elite since it isn’t just for entertainment devices. It’s a full-home automation hub with support for a variety of smart devices, like Philips Hue lights. The remote has an iOS and Android app for easy programming, and you can also use the app in place of the remote in a pinch—you never have to worry about missing the start of your favorite show if you can’t find the remote right away.
Lastly, it’s got Alexa integration for hands-free voice control, meaning if you’re three hours into a Netflix binge-watch and it thinks you fell asleep (or worse), you don’t have to move an inch to keep watching.
- Affordable price
- Preprogrammed for common streaming boxes
- No touch screen or voice control
- Limited number of simultaneous devices
If you’re a cord-cutter or heavy streamer, you may not need to control all the devices supported by most universal remotes. Most likely you’ve banished cable boxes, set-top boxes, and DVRs from your vocabulary and made your smart TV or streaming box the center of your entertainment world. The Inteset Learning Remote was designed with you in mind, and it makes controlling streaming devices simple.
The Inteset universal remote comes with preprogrammed buttons for Apple TV, Xbox One, Media Center, and Roku, so you can get up and running without losing your whole evening to a complicated setup.
- Sleek, modern design
- Simple setup
- Smart home device compatible
- Very expensive for a remote
The NEEO remote is another universal remote and hub combo, similar to the Logitech Harmony Elite. With a slick design and clean layout, the NEEO’s style will blend perfectly with modern and tech-focused decor. There’s a big HD touchscreen up top and only a handful of controls at the bottom. The whole thing looks a little like an iPod.
NEEO works with nearly any device, thanks to Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, and infrared and Z-wave sensors, so there shouldn’t be any compatibility concerns. Setup is a breeze with the NEEO app walking you through the process at your own pace. Our only real complaint is the price—this universal remote is not cheap and could take a large chunk out of your entertainment budget. It’ll sure look good sitting on your end table though.
- Has a low price
- Performs a variety of assistant functions
- Integrates with lots of devices
- Comes with a weaker built-in speaker than other Echo models
- Offers voice control only–no TV buttons
You might be wondering how an Amazon Echo can be considered a universal remote. Well, with the number of Alexa-compatible devices out there (and the list of Alexa Skills grows every day), you can totally get away with using an Echo as your remote control.
The only caveat here is that it won’t be as compatible as a traditional TV remote since Alexa isn’t as universal as an IR blaster. However, there are several TV providers offering Alexa control of their set-top boxes and DVRs, including DISH and DIRECTV. Add in smart TVs, TiVo, and streaming boxes, and you have plenty of options that work with Alexa. Alexa can even control the Harmony Hub and Harmony Elite remotes, in case you want to record the big game and turn up your thermostat while relaxing on the couch.
- Great price
- Easy to program
- Cluttered button layout
- Old-school design
If you’re on a budget or just want a basic universal remote with a couple handy features, the Logitech Harmony 650 offers a ton of bang for your buck. This old-school remote has been around for awhile, but it still made our list for good reason.
It can control up to eight different devices and is easily programmed using a PC. The screen allows for some dynamic buttons that can jump to your favorite channels or turn several devices on and off at once.
If you’re just not sure which remote is right for you, the Harmony 650 is never a bad choice. It does require line of sight since it uses an infrared sensor to communicate, but if you’re sitting within the optimal viewing range, you shouldn’t have any problems.
What to Look for in a Universal Remote
You might think any remote control is a useful remote control, but you should be on the lookout for a few specific features when shopping.
Now is the era of the touch screen, but many remote controls still come with old-school buttons. Touch screen remotes are out there, but you’ll have to intentionally look for them.
Is it worth it? The main advantage of a touch screen on a remote is the ability to show custom buttons, so you can set things like favorite channels and have them available with just a tap. It’s a convenient feature, especially because you’ll never have to scramble for the pause button when nature calls.
If you’re considering a remote without a touch screen, you should also consider whether you want a backlight function. This lights up the keys so you can see them in a dark room, and it’s really handy. If you like your living room to be as close to a low-light theater experience as possible—minus the popcorn stuck to the floor—a backlight is a must-have.
Voice control is really handy to have on your remote, especially if it lacks those touchscreen quick-action buttons. With voice control, you can simply ask your remote to perform an action, and it’ll take care of the rest. You can save time by asking your remote to find a specific channel while you heat up dinner or asking it to turn on multiple devices at once while you adjust your favorite recliner.
Many remotes (and TVs, for that matter) also integrate with smart assistants like Amazon’s Alexa or Apple’s Siri. This integration can be nice because you don’t necessarily need the remote handy to activate it. These assistants also tend to be more versatile, meaning it might be easier to ask them to set something up for you than trying to memorize the button combos yourself.
Before buying a remote, make sure it’s compatible with your devices. Don’t just check your existing gear, though—consider any equipment you might buy in the near future. This can save you a headache down the line.
For the most part, most devices should work fine with most universal remotes. It’s still a good idea to double check though.
FAQs about Universal Remotes
Need more info on the true nature of these all-powerful entertainment wands? Here are answers to some of the most common questions people are asking about universal remotes.
How do you program a universal remote?
The short answer is that it depends on which you buy. Many universal remotes today use a smartphone app or computer program for setup, and they’re pretty easy to use. Taking it a step further, some of the remotes with big touch screens actually walk you through the process right from the remote.
In other words, it’s not as complicated as you’d think, but you’ll definitely have to consult the manual.
Do universal remotes work with smart TVs?
Yes! As long as the smart TV has an IR sensor (or whatever connection type your universal remote uses, like Bluetooth or Wi-Fi), you’ll be good to go. The caveat is that if the smart TV has any unusual functions or special features, the universal remote may not be able to access them. If you want to double check, try contacting your TV’s manufacturer for a list of recommended universal remotes.
Why are there so many Logitech universal remotes?
Logitech makes some of the best and most popular accessories in all corners of the tech world, and universal remotes are no exception. The Harmony line is an excellent value and has several price points to choose from. They’re so good very few other manufacturers even tried to compete for a long time.