Simple Remote Controls for TV Viewing

All-in-one remote controls promise to make TV watching simpler by reducing the number of gadgets to juggle when watching TV whether it is live, recorded at home, a catch-up service like iPlayer or film from a disc.  In this article we get hands-on with a budget model and consider if it succeeds in simplification and reducing clutter in the living room.  We then look at features that will help if seeing and using small buttons is becoming difficult and finish with some buying tips.

The days of getting up from the sofa to change between a handful of channels are long gone.  Today we have tens of channels from a TV aerial and hundreds from cable, satellite or telecoms companies.  Most TV companies make their programmes available over the internet on services like iPlayer or ITVplayer and we are able to record programmes at home or watch a film from a disc or over the internet on Netflix.  To choose and select from this vast library, remote controls have grown from having a few buttons and volume control to having upwards of 40 buttons.  The buttons and writing on them is kept small to keep the remotes from becoming huge, and there isn’t just one remote: each box has a separate remote and they all look much the same so you have to check carefully which one you’re using!

For the review we chose an All For One remote to control 3 boxes: TV, disc player and a cable or satellite box.  After testing for a week these are our findings:

  • Opening the packet is always the first challenge – good scissors are definitely required along with a new set of batteries as the remote was not supplied with any.
  • The instruction manual is reassuringly thick but covers a host of languages so the writing is small and when against a shaded background is difficult to read as the contrast is poor.

    The manual is clear but the small text can be difficult to read, especially in one of the highlighted boxes.
  • The instructions themselves are clear and I had my TV and Disc player set up in no time using the clever ‘SimpleSet’ steps.
  • Watching Live TV, on the TV through the aerial or via the YouView box: basic operations on all boxes worked well, and the ‘CombiControl’ allows both the YouView and TV to be controlled as one; for watching live TV this worked very naturally
  • YouView good and bad
    1. YouView was not simple to set up. Although the box has been available for over a year, it wasn’t included in the instructions. Internet searching did provide an answer that worked, but I found the details on a BT site, not the manufacturer’s website, which is disappointing.
    2. Live and catch-up from the 7-day guide was fine; the buttons are laid out differently but it made sense.
    3. On the YouView remote there is a prominent blue Y button to access the menu for recordings, this is the less prominent ‘menu’ button. Once within the menu, operation was fine.
    4. It cannot access the search menu and so cannot search for programs.
    5. Programs can be recorded but recordings cannot be deleted.
    6. Subtitles could not be switched on.

Overall, for less than £20 this type of remote can clear up the clutter of remotes and can be used for most functions. However, some things will require the original remotes, so they cannot be ditched completely.  It does simplify routine TV & film watching by reducing the number of remotes, but the YouView remote itself has basic TV controls built in (on/off, channels and volume) so it doesn’t simplify viewing any further and makes some tasks more difficult.  As it is the same size as a typical remote (for example the YouView remote) it also doesn’t help anyone who finds it difficult to find and press small buttons, or someone who uses subtitles.  But there are smarter alternatives.hero-ultimate-152-503-v1

Some products, like the Logitech Harmony Ultimate  offer more, for example, they

  • have a touchscreen
  • vibrate when the buttons are pressed to confirm the press
  • have illuminated buttons making them easier to see
  • have custom sequences – eg so the volume automatically adjusts to suit different channels or boxes
  • allow you to use a smartphone or tablet computer as a remote control

Using a smartphone or tablet computer sounds very promising if you want clear big buttons. Better still, advanced remotes can, from a single button, send several commands to the boxes. So a single press on a smart remote could switch on the TV and a Freeview box, tune to your favourite channel and adjust the volume to your normal level.  There are a few downsides … they are understandably more expensive, upwards of £100, and you may find it difficult to find one in a shop for a demo, so it may not be possible to try before you buy.  However, the biggest concern for products that promise to make life simpler is that reviews on the internet suggest that while they work very well they can be a nightmare to set up, even for those who consider themselves tech-savvy.

We hope to get our hands on one of these to find out just how good they are and post a review soon but if you are buying a remote to make life easier for yourself consider these points:

  • Have you got any old or specialist TV boxes? Check they are supported.
  • How big are the buttons – are they clear enough for you?
  • Is it easy to switch on all the functions you use, eg subtitles, audio description & search?
  • Will it allow you to send a sequence of commands, eg switch everything on and tune to your favourite channel so it always starts at the same place?
  • Buying and Setting up:
    • How much?! Some of these products cost several hundred pounds.
    • Getting it to work – how much help will you need?
      • If you don’t get on with it after a week, can you return it for a full refund?
      • Will a shop set it up for you and offer support to get you going?
        • Which actions do you want to be most prominent at the top, which lower down etc?
        • How much will a set-up service cost?

If you would like to help review a smart remote for SmartAgeing and live in Suffolk,UK, please get in touch via the contact form.  Or if there are other points on buying a remote to enjoy SmartAgeing which you think are important or you have any other comment on this article, please leave a comment or use the contact form – Thanks!