There was a time when a single brand dominated the world of universal remotes: Logitech’s Harmony. That changed when Caavo shipped its second-generation Control Center, which is good enough to be recommended as the best mid-priced product in this category. Do you want something more powerful? It will be a Logitech Harmony Elite. Do you need something cheaper? Buy a Logitech Harmony 665.
Sure, you can still find a sub-$20 “universal remote” if your regular remote breaks, but those are little more than cheap replacements, not true universal remotes that live up to the name. There are also super-expensive remotes you can buy from customer installers, but TechHive is primarily focused on the DIY market, so we’ll ignore those in this story.
Here are our top picks in three categories, followed by links to the rest of our universal remote controls reviews (we will update this list as new models come on the market).
Best Universal Remote: High-End
Retailing for well over $250, this remote could cost more than some of the components you’ll control with it. And while the learning curve is steep, you can’t argue with its power for up to 15 other devices. Plus, its built-in touch screen makes it more intuitive for new users than any other remote on the market.
Best Universal Remote: Mid-Range
Caavo’s Control Center underwent a major update in May 2019 that added a host of new features, including new parental controls that let you monitor and control what your kids watch on TV. We found some bugs at launch and hope they will be removed soon. Caavo has also slashed 40 percent off the cost of the remote, but they’ll quickly recoup that through the increased cost of the optional subscription plan needed to take advantage of most of those new features. The hardware itself hasn’t changed and is still limited to controlling just four HDMI devices, so it’s still not the right choice if your home theater is chock-full of A/V components.
Best Universal Remote: Budget
For just $50 you’ll get this incredibly capable remote, a stand-alone model that includes a small LCD screen that displays contextual information depending on the device you’re using. Can’t remember what you programmed a random button for? This remote will give you clues.
How to choose the right universal remote
Logitech’s Harmony line can be divided into two camps: remotes that work with a bridge and stand-alone remotes that don’t. The bridge, called the Harmony Hub, is a unique device that ships with remotes at the top end of Logitech’s Harmony line. (Think of the remote as just an accessory that makes working with the hub easier.) The hub plugs into wall power and works like a massive infrared emitter. It also transmits Wi-Fi and Bluetooth commands, meaning you can use Hub-compatible remotes to control more than just the gear below your TV. If you want to use your phone as a remote, please purchase a system that includes the Hub.
Standalone remotes are exactly that: you program them through your PC, but they’re just standard infrared remotes on steroids. There is no way to use your phone or tablet with these remotes.
Keep in mind that whichever Harmony remote you choose, there will be a learning curve. Programming remotes via Logitech’s PC app (or mobile app, in the case of Hub-ready remotes) is easy to get started, but mastering it isn’t very intuitive, and these apps can be slow and slow. sometimes with errors. After making changes through an app, your remote will need to sync with the app, a manual process that can be cumbersome. The bottom line: If a Harmony remote is in your future, be prepared to spend some time getting the hang of it.
So does a universal remote really make sense? If your coffee table is packed with hardware to run your entertainment center, it has it, as long as you’re ready to accept that there’s no universal remote. truly universal. While these systems can mimic just about anything, some are simply impossible to copy: They can’t fully replicate the Apple TV touchpad, for example.
All our opinions on universal remote controls