The best universal TV remotes have been popular for years to solve the age-old problem of piles of controllers cluttering up your living space – to operate all your electronic devices with a single easy-to-use and simple-to-setup remote. This avoids both the problem of searching through a jumble of zappers for the right one, and the danger of losing a wand down the back of the sofa.
However, this guide to the best universal TV remotes doesn't just focus on these things, because we've also got the best options to replace a lost or broken remote, or to swap out the fiddly and button-filled remotes of modern TVs with something that's simpler and easier to use for older people, or those with sight and motor impairment.
The popularity of universal remotes has waned somewhat over the last few years, primarily because HDMI connectivity and CEC (Consumer Electronics Control) allows a TV remote to control more than one device using two-way communication over HDMI cables. As a result, your TV remote can also double as a controller for one of the best soundbars or best Blu-ray players.
However there are downsides to this approach, such as only being limited to control over key features like the volume, or losing the ability to access certain features on your TV when its remote is pulling double duties. In addition CEC can be a nuisance, just ask anyone who has experienced their TV suddenly turning off because a connected device has powered down. CEC is great for most people, just not everyone, and the remotes we've chosen are ideal if that includes you.
The rise of voice-activated smart speakers with Amazon Alexa or Google Assistant has also seen the universal remote play a less important role in the living room, especially as more and more of the best TVs have grown to support this. However, not every device supports a smart assistant, and not everyone is comfortable using voice control. In addition the amount of control available can be limited, and often requires a specific set of vocal commands.
As a result the humble universal remote control still has a role to play, so here are options to meet every need and fit every budget.
What is a universal remote?
In simple terms a universal remote is a controller capable of learning and copying the infrared (IR) control signals of multiple electronic devices. So theoretically, one remote should be capable of controlling your TV, AV receiver, soundbar, media player, or disc player, thus both improving and streamlining your overall entertainment experience.
In general, you either want a universal remote to simplify controlling all your various devices, or to replace a lost or damaged remote control. The simplest universal remotes can achieve either of these goals in a cost-effective manner, but the more devices you want to control, the more sophisticated and expensive the universal remote becomes.
A basic universal remote will either have various IR commands pre-programmed or be able to learn them from an existing remote. This is achieved by simply pointing the two remotes at one another and systematically ‘teaching’ the universal remote each command. Obviously if you’re planning to replace a lost or damaged remote, you’ll need the IR codes to be pre-programmed.
The more expensive universal remotes are capable of accessing an online database of devices, which allows you to add them quickly and easily. Simply select the relevant device from the database, and all the commands will be loaded into the universal remote in seconds.
These more sophisticated universal remotes not only allow for control of a larger number of devices, but also offer the ability to create 'macros'. These are essentially custom activities where a single button press can trigger multiple commands from the remote. So for example, a macro called ‘Watch TV’ could turn on your TV, set-top box and soundbar, and select the correct HDMI input on the TV, all at the press of a button.
The best universal remotes: the list
The Logitech Harmony 950 is the gold standard of universal remotes for those who take their AV hobby seriously. It’s beautifully engineered, with a display at the top, comfortable ergonomic design, and an intuitive button layout. There’s even a docking station for recharging the batteries. It’s also easy to setup, with access to a database of over 270,000 entertainment and smart home products – you can just tell it what you own.
As a result, no matter what devices you’ve got in your system, this universal remote can support up to 15 of them at one time. You can also customise the controls for each device, and program a number of macros to add greater automation to your viewing and listening habits. It’s a superb universal remote control, but better buy one fast, because Logitech has now stopped production of Harmony remotes – it remains in stock in many locations, though.
If you’re looking for a cheap and no-nonsense universal remote for multiple products, the One For All Essence 4 is the best choice. This affordable remote is solidly built and sensibly laid out, enabling you to control up to four devices with relative ease.
This remote works via pre-installed commands, so you simply press a series of buttons to program the remote, selecting the specific codes for your devices. One For All supports all the major manufacturers, and since they rarely change their IR commands, no matter what you’ve got in your system this affordable option should work.
As consumer electronics products become more sophisticated, it’s easy to forget that some people find the bewildering array of buttons on a remote control overwhelming. This is especially true of older relatives, who often want to simply turn their TV on or off, channel channel or adjust the volume. The Doro HandleEasy is the perfect solution – it’s cheap, easy to setup, and keeps the buttons to a bare minimum.
With this simple clicker even the most technologically challenged consumer can change channel or adjust the volume with ease. The larger buttons and less cluttered layout are ideal for those of any age with limited sight or motor control too, since everything is easy to find and clearly separated.
One For All dominates this list because the company has specialised in affordable and effective universal remotes for years. The Contour 8 is the natural progression from the Essence 4, retaining the simplicity and solid build quality, but upping the number of controllable devices to eight.
As with all of the company’s remotes, it’s easy to setup using pre-installed codes, and there’s even a learning feature for any missing commands. If you want a cost-effective solution to controlling lots of devices in one elegant and easy-to-setup clicker, this is the one for you.
If you’ve simply lost or damaged your TV remote control and just want to replace it, then once again One For All comes to the rescue. The basic Essence remote is pre-programmed for every TV manufacturer, so all you need to do is enter the correct code and you’ve instantly replaced your lost device with a new one.
This isn’t a multi-device controller, so it’s a universal remote in the sense of working for any TV, rather than for all your devices, but it’s a quick and cheap solution to the perennial problem of a lost clicker. Just remember that this is a standard IR remote, and while it will still control your TV, it isn’t a replacement for more advanced wands like LG’s Magic Remote, which uses motion sensors and an on-screen pointer. But some people might prefer that anyway…