Multi-device remote controls

Used to be, a TV set had a remote control (used to be, farther back, it didn’t; but that’s prehistory). These days, however, everything has a remote control; indeed, I can’t wait for someone to create a tiny remote control for the larger remote control itself! 🙂

Three Remote Control unitsThe proliferation of these gadgets has created a real problem, and home electronics makers are responding by creating R/C units that can control more than one item; most typically, a TV set and the DVD, PVR or VCR feeding it.

Which is all very well, but how do you make one control work on many devices without confusing the user? There are different ways, and they vary in their usability a great deal. Let me illustrate with three units from my home: the remotes for (left to right) our LG recording DVD, our old Sony VCR, and the HOT cable company’s PVR. The first two can also control our Sony TV; the red one controls the cable box, the TV and a DVD or VCR. And each goes about the choice of function in a different manner, seen in the close-up photo.

Remote Control close ups

The R/C on the left simply has a section at the right dedicated to controlling the TV, with its own On/Off switch and channel and volume controls. This results in some redundancy with the controls of the DVD (which also has power and channel controls) but it completely eliminates any possibility of confusion.

The VCR controller in the middle incorporates a disappearing species – a mechanical slide switch at the top that determines what device is being controlled. The buttons on this unit change their role depending on the position of the switch, and have color coded dots to indicate whether they apply to the TV. Having to slide the switch is a bit more of a hassle than with the black R/C but at least you get definite visual feedback of which position you’re in.

The red unit works like this: you have to press the button (in the second row) corresponding to the device you wish to control; then, until you press another of these buttons, the unit controls that device. This is for sure the cheapest to produce; it’s all in the electronics. The price you pay is that there is no visual feedback at all; if you forget what you pressed, you will find yourself changing channel or cycling the power on the wrong equipment. There is also no labeling of which buttons work with which device.

All of these units do their job, but to my mind their user friendliness goes down from left to right. Not surprisingly, so does the cost to produce them…

2 Responses to “Multi-device remote controls”

  1. 1 charlie

    can you tell me why my car stereo has a remote?

  2. 2 Svend

    One very elegant solution is used by the B&O remotes. Apart from being satisfactorily heavy, they combine a lot of functions with a reasonable amount of buttons. You have a list of primary device selectors (CD, Radio, TV, VCR), a number keypad and a 8-sided “star” selector (think arrow keys) plus some special keys (List, Stop, Exit, Menu). The clever thing is a small LCD display that will let you choose extra settings. F.instance: Some films are shown with two separate language soundtracks on tv. To choose one you press List until the LCD displays “Mono” (sound settings). Then press the “Go” button that will cycle through Stereo/Mono/Left channel/Right channel. You can add devices to the list as you buy them. And i can control a DVD player even though my remote was buildt at a time when that wasnt developed yet. It just “thinks” it is talking with a CDV device, but it is compatible.
    Because it is so true with remotes: “There can be only one!” 😉



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