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The Perfect Home Theater Remote

Gone are the days of 6 different remotes for all the components in your home theater.  Now we have universal remotes that control two or more of these components.  But a lot of times we wish these remotes did more.  This is a discussion on the ideal features of a practical home theater remote.

A Green or Green-like Button

Somewhere in the middle of the topside of the remote should appear a green (or green variant) button that brings you to the home screen on your TV. This also implies that you are running a home theater system that includes a PC or extender running Windows Media Center. There are many times when you just need to pull up the main screen of whatever home theater interface you have, the green button does this for you.

Customizeable LCD Buttons

The Perfect Home Theater RemoteHard buttons are easy to find by touch and know you are hitting the function you want, but they are static. LCD buttons are awesome, because you can customize them to whatever you want. Sometimes you hit one button when you meant to hit another, or your hand bumps up against the LCD and suddenly you are watching something not appropriate for the kids. What if you could have the best of both worlds? You can have that, with a programmable LCD button like the ones you find on the Switchblde UI of the Razer Blade gaming laptop. Six clear hard buttons with small LCDs below them that depict any icon or phrase should be adequate to give you infinite control of your home theater.

Hard Buttons

The Perfect Home Theater RemoteWhile a hard button only provides one function, they can come in all different shapes and sizes. This makes them incredibly easy to find by touch when the room is dark or you just cannot bare to look away from the screen. Being that the room is usually dark, it would be nice if the visual identification on the hard buttons were back lit. That would make identifying the buttons in the dark, or with 3D glasses on, much easier.

A Keyboard

The Perfect Home Theater RemoteIf you have ever tried to type out a sentence or even a word with the remote d-pad and the onscreen keyboard, you know it is a tedious and time consuming experience. It is also a pain to pull out a separate keyboard (no matter how small it is) to type on. However we all know the use of a keyboard is invaluable with a connected TV experience. A slide out keyboard in landscape position of the remote much like the Droid smartphone of yesteryear would be ideal. Just putting a keyboard on the bottom side of the remote would be easiest, but your fingers would inevitably hit one of the buttons and send your TV experience into a wild craze. A flip-up design, like on the [amazon_link id=”B0011FOOI2″ target=”_blank” container=”” container_class=”” ]Logitech Novo Mini[/amazon_link], could also work well.

A Track-pad

Yes, a wireless mouse would solve this issue. But like the problem with a keyboard, who wants to get up and screw with the mouse? A small track-pad next to the keyboard that you can manipulate with your thumb is just what is in order for clearing that occasional AnyDVD trial pop-up or a windows update window. You may not be able to play Crisis with it, but you can at least get some basic functionality out of it. With the coming of Windows 8, taking advantage of gestures would definitely be mandatory.

An Easy to Use Programming Interface

The Perfect Home Theater RemoteLogitech’s programming software for its Harmony remotes (our favorite is the [amazon_link id=”B002RL875A” target=”_blank” container=”” container_class=”” ]Harmony One[/amazon_link]) is close, but there are obvious reliability and functionality flaws. The software will need the ability to program the custom LCD buttons. So far I have only seen corded programming solutions, but I think wireless technologies like NFC, Bluetooth and Wifi are robust enough to program a remote.

Why no one in the past 10 years has gotten this right is beyond me. Its seems so simple to combine the features listed above into a small, compact dependable container. Let us know what other features you would include in your ideal remote. They can be practical or fictional.


About the author

Ben Wade


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  • I agree.. one of my favorites was the Harmony 688.  I recently upgraded though to the Harmony One but really don’t like the touch screen.  I find myself accidentally pressing the wrong buttons and have to concentrate too hard sometimes to press the buttons without hitting the next screen on the side.   The 688 had the physical buttons that were programmable.  If they could some how integrate a mouse and keyboard into the One it would be great.  They could add a little knob on the front and maybe integrate typing into the keybad like an old cell phone to make things easier.

  • It’s funny… my wife just told me she can’t stand the Harmony remote that we have anymore… The “activities” thing drives us nuts when all we want to do is turn on the tv and always go to media center. If it gets bumped too hard it restarts and then you have to press “watch tv” (and wait 10 seconds for it to fire all of the ir commands) before any of the buttons will work again. I’m just going to go back to a dumb media center remote, reprogram the volume buttons to control my receiver and leave the receiver on all the time…. Or use LM Gestion Remote KeyMap to send the power off and on commands to the receiver… not sure yet.

    As for the keyboard and trackpad… I just use software on my smartphone when I need to do that… (if I’m too lazy to grab the Vidabox keyboard/trackball combo I won from GeekTonic… http://www.geektonic.com/2009/09/vidabox-wireless-keyboard-giveaway.html

  • I’ve had the One (now the 900) since its release, and I love it, but I agree with the sensitivity issue on the touch screen, and the lack of a keyboard is a problem. I believe Logitech has a long way to go, though, to improve their software. Newer Harmony models are a bit better, but overall, I find their software cumbersome to use.

    In reply to Mark’s comment, I’d agree that a universal remote is largely overkill if all you’re going to do is watch TV. For that, Microsoft’s own, older Media Center remotes may still be your best option.

  • The problem with remotes isn’t so much the remote in and of itself, but the complexity of our home theater setups. When I first thought about building a HTPC way back in 2000/2001 or so, one of the main characteristics it had to have was it had to be an all-in-one device. TV/DVR, DVD, now Blu-Ray and Netflix, and whatever else, I wanted as much of my entertainment to happen all in the one device. That way, I would avoid switching inputs, and thus I would avoid all of the pitfalls that would then require a more complicated remote.

    These days, unless I’m gaming on my Xbox 360 or (far less often these days) my PS3, I never switch inputs. The only thing I concern myself with with another remote(s) is turning my display and my 5.1 receiver on and off.