A lot of people have taken the time to upgrade their home theater systems during the pandemic. After all, if you’re gonna be stuck at home, you might as well have a killer TV setup.
While immersive sound and giant screens are fun, managing an army of remotes is more confusing than convenient. That’s why, if you’ve got a serious home-theater system — or even a semiserious one with three or more components — a universal remote control is an amazing device to own.
The best universal remote can unify all your clickers — sound bar, Apple TV, surround speakers, Blu-ray player, Roku streaming stick and more — into a single wand, with buttons arrayed in a way that can feel almost magical. The top universal remotes also have superior ergonomics, intuitive buttons and a better feel than standard remotes. And many have apps to ensure they work with your mobile device and voice-control systems such as Google Home and Amazon Alexa.
Here are our choices for the best universal remote controls currently available. All include the features above, and were also tested to ensure they were simple enough for a child to operate, even with all those buttons.
Logitech Harmony 665
The Logitech Harmony 665 remote, priced at $70, is the most basic clicker we can recommend for a smart home. The main appeal is the activity-based control. Press the “Watch TV” button to use it as a TV remote, or press the “Listen to Music” button and the remote turns on all the relevant devices (such as your smart TV, Blu-ray player and AV receiver). It also switches to the right inputs and maps the keys to that activity: volume to the receiver and channel up-down to the box, for example.
Unlike more expensive Logitech Harmony options, which use a universal remote app on your phone for setup and control, you’ll have to use Harmony’s Mac- or PC-based software to program the remote, which is less convenient than an app. The 650 and 665 also rely on infrared codes emitted from the front of the device — if you want point-anywhere convenience, you’ll have to spend more for a system with a hub.
Caavo Control Center
Caavo’s Control Center is priced at $160, which includes a remote, hub and a lifetime subscription to the company’s service plan, which lets you access the remote’s advanced features.
The Control Center includes a hub with four HDMI ports; you plug your stuff into the hub and the system handles the rest, including automatically recognizing your gear during setup. Caavo has its own smart voice-control system and onscreen display to help you find content on your streaming devices. The universal remote control device itself is simple and elegant, and includes a great remote finder. The remote can be pointed anywhere, and also works with voice commands from Alexa and Google Home speakers.
Amazon Fire TV Cube
The Amazon Fire TV Cube combines a universal remote control with the Fire TV 4K streamer and an Amazon Echo speaker, making it the king of your smart-home devices if you use the Alexa system. The buttons on the remote are sparse and rudimentary: The real device control happens via your voice. The Cube has an infrared emitter to control your gear and a mic sensitive enough to hear your commands over the blare of music.
On the downside, you’ll need to keep your old remotes (even ones that aren’t smart) around for many functions.
While priced at $120, the Fire TV Cube is often sold for as little as $80, so wait for a sale on this device — or Prime Day — before buying it.