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Choosing The Right Remote For Your Home Theater

Updated on November 1, 2017

Setting Up A Home Theater Can Bury You In Remotes Pretty Quick

The Remotes Pile For My Home Theater
The Remotes Pile For My Home Theater

What To Look For In A Remote Control

There are a few different calibers of remote controls. If you are strictly looking to just minimize the amount of remote controls you have then a basic universal remote control would do the trick.

However, if you are looking for a remote control that would control more than just your A/V equipment (like lights or blinds) or have macros/scenes which turn on and off various devices depending on the activity your choices for a remote control narrow down pretty quick.

In this article I'll go over what I looked at when choosing my remote and how I set it up.

Why Not Just Use The Remotes You Have

Choosing the right remote control will drastically change your home theater experience. A typical home theater will have at least 3 remotes (for the TV/Projector, surround sound, Cable box or DVD Player).

Fumbling between all the remote becomes a pain pretty quickly. Many of the remotes devices come with in our days try to be universal-ish but they still fall short with home theater scenarios.

What's The Criteria

The remote I was searching for would replace the remotes for:

  • the projector
  • The surround sound amplifier
  • 4K BluRay DVD player
  • The Cable Box
  • Some way of controlling insteon lights

Remotes that can do all that are pretty sophisticated, which means they can also have a high price tag.

On the low end they are about $100 and on the super fancy high end you have a complete home automation system that controls just about any electronic device from a remote control (Savant is the system I looked into) which runs about $1000 a room.

For my house I already have a home automation system that I had installed so Savant wasn't something I was interested in.

My home automation is an insteon based system with the Universal Devices ISY controller (Model ISY 994i/IR Pro) that controls everything.

Logitech Harmony Ulitmate Home

In my opinion The Harmony family of remotes is the best value for the features. They have been in the remote control business for a very long time and they have excelled over the years.

Which Harmony remote you choose will be based on how many devices you plan on controlling. The Harmony remote I chose was the Ultimate Home, it can control up to 15 devices with up to 15 activities. The activities are basically macros, press the macros button and it'll turn on all the devices you need turned on for that activity.

Logitech Harmony Home Ultimate Features

The Harmony Home Ultimate is a feature rich remote control.

  • The Harmony App On your Droid or iPhone lets you control your devices using your the app
  • Configure macros or activities to setup all your devices with a click of a button
  • Control up to 15 Devices
  • Control devices using infrared, IP and bluetooth
  • Syncs the cable providers chanel line up with your remote - when the channels change around your remote will update itself.
  • Save your favorite channels as favorites, which show up as icons in the remotes screen.
  • a Screen on the remote allows you to customize buttons and activities
  • The hard buttons on the remote control are all back-lit (very important when you are sitting in a dark theater)

Channel Favorites listed on the remote
Channel Favorites listed on the remote

The Parts To The Remote Control Setup

There are three physically parts to the remote control. The remote control itself, a Hub and infrared blaster cables.

The hub is the brains of it all and the remote control communicates to the hub using RF (radio), which is great for home theater setups like mine where the AV equipment is in a closet out of sight.

The hub should go where you have the majority of your electronics since it's the one that will do most of the controlling.

MY AV Equipment

I've got a total of 6 devices listed in the MyHarmony app:

  • Universal Devices ISY-994i/IR (Home Automation)
  • Yamaha TSR-7810 (Amplifier)
  • Epson PowerLite Home Cinema 5040UB (Projector)
  • Arris DCX3600M (Cable/DVR)
  • Panasonic DMP-UB900 (4K BluRay Player)
  • Windows Computer

Setting Up The Remote For Your Home Theater

Harmony has done a great job with their remote controls. The basic initial setup was pretty straight forward.

Basically you can either install the MyHarmony software on your PC or the app on your phone and it will guide you through the setup process.

In my setup the hub was able to detect my Yamaha amplifier on the wireless network and I just had to tell Harmony what the make and model of my cable box, DVD player and projector were and it had the full set of remote codes for them already.

Much easier than the old days where you had to teach your universal remote the codes for each function. :)

A Home Theater Gotcha

If you have a theater like mine you have AV equipment tucked away in a closet close by but out of site.

The Harmony Hub goes in the closet along with all the AV equipment, but one gotcha is the projector.

Initially I wasn't sure if I'd have to run one of the infrared blasters into the theater to get it to turn on/off the projector.

Well Harmony had luckily thought of that already, in the MyHarmony App click settings, More >>, Remote and Hub Assignments and there you can tell it that the projector will be controlled by the remote and everything else by the hub.

Problem solved. :)

Getting Harmony To Talk To Insteon

Like I said earlier my home automation is Insteon based. When I was setting up my home theater I had done it with the expectation that I'd be able to somehow control the lights, and down the road maybe the curtains using my home theater remote control.

Insteon has a user friendly controller called InsteonHub which the Harmony can communicate with natively but my setup is a little more advanced with the Universal Devices controller, and initially it didn't seem obvious how I could get them to talk to each other.

Initially I thought I'd have to use some sort of Rest based commands to control the lights using the Harmony remote. In googling I did see something using a Raspberry PI and something called ISY Helper to do just that. From what I understand ISY Helper would allow you to send commands back and forth between Harmony and your ISY.

For my setup, it sounded like way too many moving parts.

Luckily the ISY I purchased has infrared, I believe you can also purchase the add-on module for the ISY if you have an ISY without the IR option.

What Insteon Devices Can You Control With Harmony

With the Insteon Hub I believe you can only control the lights. With the infrared module in the ISY you can basically everything that the ISY can control.

Let's say you have thermostats, lights and the front door lock connected to your ISY. Let's also suppose that when you go watch TV, you set the thermostat set to a certain temperature, lock the front door and dim the lights.

All you have to do is create a program on the ISY that does everything you'd like to have happen when the IR code is sent.

Pretty cool, and you have no limit to the possibilities. Actually you are limited to 40 IR codes but each of those codes can be configured to do a whole lot on the ISY side.

Setup On The Remote

All I had to do was add a new device in Harmony with Universal Devices as the manufacturer and ISY994i/IR as the model number.

As soon as I did that it added the 40 infrared codes that the ISY uses into the remote.

Setup On The ISY

On the ISY side I went into the admin console, the IR tab and clicked the 'Import Default IR Codes' button and it added those same 40 infrared codes into the ISY.

Using You ISY From The Remote

I wanted to be able to turn off/on Insteon lights from the remote control, both in Harmony activities and also independent of activities.

To add your ISY IR commands on the remotes menus click the buttons option in the MyHarmony app.

Under 'Screen Options' select your ISY device, in my case I called it Lights. and click Go.

Here you can add soft buttons for each IR command you would like to control directly from the remote.

Here's a list of my configured soft buttons under Lights:

  • High Hat On
  • High Hat Off
  • Screen Light On
  • Screen Light Off
  • Stair Light On
  • Stair Light Off
  • Loft Dim/Off

The ISY Listed as a device on the remote

The ISU listed as a device on the remote
The ISU listed as a device on the remote
The ISY Command Listed As Soft Buttons
The ISY Command Listed As Soft Buttons

High Hat Off Program In ISY Admin Console

Pretty Straight Forward - If it detects the IR command turn off the Insteon Lights
Pretty Straight Forward - If it detects the IR command turn off the Insteon Lights

Setting Up Harmony Activities

This is where the really cool parts of the remote control start to shine.

With the Harmony remote you can setup activities, which are basically macros that can have functions for any of your configured devices.

An example of an activity that I have setup is "Watch TV", when I press the button for that activity it does the following:

  • Powers on the projector
  • Sets the projector input to HDMI1
  • Powers on the amplifier
  • Sets the amplifier input to HDMI2
  • Powers on the Cable/DVR
  • Turns of the lights in the Movie Theater

When you are done Watching TV and want to turn everything off just press the button next to the activity again and it'll turn everything off.

Now if you have a home theater and don't yet have a remote control with macros, I think you can appreciate how with the press of one button you can have everything on, set and ready to go.

No more fumbling with every remote control you have to get things setup just to watch TV.

Before Harmony these were my steps:

  • Get the projector remote, press the power button
  • Get the amplifier remote, press the power button and set it to HDMI2
  • Get the Cable remote, press the power button
  • If the lights were on, get up and press the button to turn them off

A big difference in user experience. :)

The remote control is kind of like the mortar in the electronic building blocks of your home theater. It changes your experience completely.

Tweaking The Activities

MyHarmony has a GUI that helps you create activities in a pretty intuitive way. To setup a basic activity is not very difficult, it's just a matter of following the prompts.

Once the activity has been created the software will ask you to test the activity. I'd say the majority of what it sets up works pretty nicely. You'll have to tweak the activities that include devices which take a long time to turn on or devices where you need to give it cursor commands (things like click left once then up then enter).

After a bit of tweaking I've gotten my activities to work pretty reliably.

Below are my activities along with their settings.

My Activities List

Here are all my configured activities and settings. The Lights - IR004 entry in each activity is mapped to Turning off the Movie Theater lights under programs in the ISY admin console.

In the Watch Amazon activity there's no built-in button for it so I had to use cursor movements to select the Amazon App.

I also added the muting and the beginning and the volume down at the end because the DVD player makes an annoying Ding sound every time you move the cursor in the interface and I didn't want to hear it. :)

Watch TV

  1. Projector - Power On
  2. Projector - Input HDMI 1
  3. Amplifier - Power On
  4. Amplifier- Input HDMI 2
  5. Cable DVR - Power On
  6. Lights - IR004

Watch A Movie

  1. Amplifier - Power On
  2. Amplifier - Input: HDMI 1
  3. Projector - Power On
  4. Projector - Input: HDMI 1
  5. Blu-Ray Player - Power On
  6. Wait 10 sec
  7. Blu-ray Player - TopMenu
  8. Lights - IR004

Watch Netflix

  1. Blu-Ray Player - Power On
  2. Amplifier - Power On
  3. Amplifier - Input: HDMI 1
  4. Projector - Power On
  5. Projector - Input: HDMI 1
  6. Wait 10 sec
  7. Blu-ray Player - Netflix
  8. Lights - IR004

Watch Amazon

  1. Amplifier - Power On
  2. Amplifier - Input: HDMI 1
  3. Blu-Ray Player - Power On
  4. Projector - Power On
  5. Projector - Input: HDMI 1
  6. Wait 15 sec
  7. Amplifier - Mute
  8. Blu-ray Player - Internet
  9. Wait 14 sec
  10. Blu-ray Player - DirectionLeft
  11. Wait 2 sec
  12. Blu-ray Player - DirectionDown
  13. Wait 2 sec
  14. Blu-ray Player - OK
  15. Amplifier - VolumeDown
  16. Lights - IR004


Here are the activities listed on the remote
Here are the activities listed on the remote

Summing It All Up

In summary, I figured the Harmony Home Ultimate remote control would be much better than fumbling with all my original equipment remotes.... but I had no idea how much better the experience was going to be.

The remote control will make it a real pleasure to turn on and off your devices. If you have a home theater getting a Harmony remote control is a must.

The simplicity of use that a remote like this gives you is amazing.

Investing into a home theater without investing in a remote control like this really leaves your theater incomplete in my opinion.


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