Complete Control MX-950 Aurora
Complete Control MX-950 "Aurora" Remote Control

"One size fits all" is an axiom that doesn't particularly suit the remote control industry. Not only are the audio/video systems controlled vastly different in scope - ranging from a TV and cable box to something that Lucas or Spielberg would proudly call their own - but the needs of those using the systems also vary. There's nothing that says someone with a modest home theater will be happy with a grocery store preprogrammed remote, nor that a connoisseur would want a full Crestron touchscreen station. After all, sometimes simpler really is better.

With that said, there are a few undeniable facts: a 5-device remote won't adequately control a 10-device system, and someone who has spent five figures on a new home theater is going to want a universal remote that can make its operation easier, not harder. In these cases the most expensive or flashiest remotes may not be the best solution, but you're almost certainly going to need something considered high end.

Philips PHDVR8L Remote Control

As you shop for a new universal remote control
, what type of designs have been catching your eye - do you long for buttons galore, or does the thought of row after row of keys make your head spin?

Regardless of price, a remote control's designer will usually try to strike a balance between ergonomics and function-specific control. So, basically, a remote intended for home theater users should be easy to use, but also have enough buttons that it can capably operate complex devices such as DVD players or receivers. To meet these requirements, most high-end models employ "soft" buttons that add functionality without increasing the physical button count - either in the form of an LCD touchscreen that can display numerous pages of controls in a defined space, or a button-and-screen combination where specific hard buttons can be given several custom-labeled functions for each device.

Inexpensive remotes, however, don't have the luxury of screens or soft buttons. Instead, most simply have fewer buttons, period - both to keep costs down and to make them less intimidating to consumers. But what if you're a remote shopper on a budget who wants full control over your equipment? What if you actually prefer to have every function for a device available on a single control surface, without needing to constantly change modes? Well, there are others looking for just such a product!

Sony RM-VL710
Thereís nothing written in stone that says an affordable remote control needs to be limited in capabilities. Case in point, the Sony RM-VL series. Although items bearing the Sony label are typically associated with commanding something of a price premium, for several years now Sony has actually had the least expensive fully capable universal remote control models available.

Right about now you may be thinking that youíve seen blister pack remotes advertising learning capabilities for far less than $60, but this is one of those cases where itís important to read the fine print. The RM-VL900 has full learning capabilities, meaning that thereís enough memory to store a learned command on every single key for all devices. Those impulse-purchase remotes place heavy importance on preprogrammed codes and routinely have limited learning capabilities, often holding less than two dozen commands in total. Not even enough for an entire component! Some are further limited to no more than 4 learned commands per device.

Sony RM-V502
The Advanced Sony RM-V502

A short while after Sony released their updated series of preprogrammed remote controls, an additional upper-tier member was added to the family. Of interest, unlike the rest of the series, Sony did not have an RM-V501 to replace. Instead, the comparable model goes back a generation further to the RM-V60, a remote released in 1997 that inexplicably continued to sell well long after the rest of its generation was discontinued.

The main difference between the RM-V502 and the RM-V402 is an upgrade from 7 to 8 devices ?CBL and SAT now have their own dedicated keys ?along with the inclusion of an LCD screen at the top. Indeed the entire top of the remote has been redesigned, with a large glossy black plastic panel surrounding the 1.4?diagonal (3.6cm) LCD screen, 8 black device buttons, plus green [Power] and black [S] (setup) keys. Beneath the black panel the RM-V502 shares the exact same button layout as the rest of the series, although there are a few minor differences such as the inclusion of a tactile nub on the [Play] key and a slight enlargement of the small [TV/Video], [Display] and [Sleep] keys.