Best universal remote 2021: Control your home theater | ZDNet

As technology continues to progress, there are more and more devices being used in daily life — and more devices means more remotes. It’s not uncommon to have a remote for your TV, cable box, streaming device, and sound system. That’s only considered a basic setup for most home theaters. With the rise of streaming over the years, along with quarantines and social distancing due to the COVID-19 pandemic, home theater setups are booming.

Most people have been spending more money improving their home theater, and with that will come many new remotes. Instead of trying to juggle all these different remotes for different devices, why not program one single remote to control them all? This list contains the best universal remotes available in 2021. 

If you’re looking for the best universal remote, then this model is the winner. Despite being introduced in 2017, the Logitech Harmony Elite has been top-of-the-line since hitting the market.

The dimensions of this remote are 7.6 x 2.1 x 1.1 inches with a weight of 5.8 ounces and it comes with a battery charging dock. There are three distinct features that help to separate this remote from the others on this list, with two of them being positive and one being negative. The two positive traits are that this remote has a touch screen, which makes it much more versatile than standard buttons, and it can control up to 15 different devices, which should be more than enough to cover most home theaters.

The only negative — but it’s a relatively big one — is the price. You should expect to spend somewhere between $300 and $500 for this remote. While that price is a little high, it’s unlikely that you will find a better option any time soon. 


  • Activity-based controls
  • Alexa enabled
  • Can control 15 different devices
  • Dedicated smart home control buttons
  • Doesn’t require line of sight to work
  • Easy to set up
  • Enables 50 favorite channels
  • Mobile app
  • Touchscreen with full backlighting
  • User-friendly and intuitive interface


  • Expensive
  • Must be docked often to charge 

$379 at Best Buy


This universal remote is basically the much more cost-friendly version of the Logitech Harmony Elite. The Harmony 665 is 10.8 x 1.6 x 2.8 inches and weighs 7.2 ounces, so it’s a little bigger and heavier than some of the other options, but still fairly comfortable to use.

This remote comes with a small display — not a touchscreen — and back lit buttons, making it easy to navigate and use. However, one of the biggest disadvantages is that it uses infrared codes in order to control devices, meaning you will have to leave the control boxes of your devices visible, and this remote may not work on newer technology that requires Bluetooth or Wi-Fi communication.

One of the best attributes of this remote is its price tag. Ranging between $50 and $80, this is one of the more cost-friendly pieces on this list. While it may have some limitations compared to other choices, if you are simply looking for a remote that can control multiple devices easily, without spending a few hundred dollars, this is a very solid option. 


  • Activity-based controls
  • Backlit buttons
  • Can control 10 different devices
  • Comfortable and easy to use
  • Enables 23 favorite channels
  • Low price


  • Non-rechargeable battery
  • No mobile app, requires Mac or PC to program
  • No smart home controls
  • Not Alexa enabled
  • Works on infrared readers only 

$74 at Amazon


Probably the best overall value is found in this universal remote option. At 7.7 x 1.9 x 1.1 inches and weighing 5.4 ounces, this device is middle-of-the-pack in terms of size and weight. While it may not come with a lot of the fascinating features that some other options on this list do, it will get the job done and for a reasonable price. Costing around $50, this remote is the cheapest on this list, but it can still control up to 15 devices and works both on infrared reading and Bluetooth. Additionally, the app-based setup will help get it set up faster than some of the other options.


  • App-based setup
  • Can control 15 devices
  • Connects via Bluetooth
  • Great price


  • Doesn’t connect with Wi-Fi
  • Lacks activity buttons
  • Remote isn’t backlit
  • Requires batteries

$49 at Amazon


This choice is a little bit different than some of the others on this list. Instead of just being a programmable remote, this option comes with an HDMI switch that your devices must be plugged into. While this will lower the maximum overall number of devices controlled to only four, it makes it by far the easiest setup.

The control center is fairly small at 10.4 x 5.9 x 1.4 inches and weighing 2.2 pounds, and the remote is the smallest on this list at 6.9 x 1.5 x 0.9 inches and weighing 3.5 ounces. While this option is on the cheaper side, usually around $60, it does come with a catch: In order to unlock the advanced features you must pay a subscription fee of $4 per month, $40 annually, or $160 for the lifetime of the remote. While this will bump up the price a little, some of the features are very interesting. They include voice activation, Alexa and Google home enabling, universal searching, and customized lists of content. While the remote itself will work fine without this service, it probably wouldn’t make this list without these features.


  • Alexa and Google Home enabled
  • An accurate voice control system
  • Customizable and viewable lists of shows and movies
  • Doesn’t require line of sight to work
  • Extremely easy to set up
  • Good price
  • HDMI switch guarantees high quality viewing 
  • Mobile app
  • On-screen display
  • Remote finder
  • Universal search through connected devices and services 


  • Best features require a subscription 
  • No favorite channel option
  • No backlighting on remote
  • Only controls four devices

$199 at Caavo


If you are looking for a plain and simple universal remote, then this is the one. While it doesn’t contain any of the incredible features of the other options on this list, it doesn’t have the hefty price tag either. At 7 x 2.24 x 1 inches and weighing 3.2 ounces, this is one of the smallest and lightest remotes on this list.

While this remote will only control four options, it can control a wide variety of TVs, Blu-ray players, sound systems, and even some streaming services. Its simple design includes directional buttons for navigation, volume, and channel controls, as well as the standard number pad. Perhaps the most important detail is this remote can be purchased for around $5 to $10. 


  • Cheapest option
  • Easy to use
  • Simple design


  • Basic options
  • No special features
  • Only controls four devices
  • Requires programming codes to pair with devices

$9 at Amazon

Are universal remotes worth the money?

This answer depends solely on the complexity of your home theater setup. If you only have two remotes then no, bundling them together is probably not worth the money. However, if you have more than five remotes, and use them often, then a universal remote will pay for itself in no time.

Can I use an app on my phone as a universal remote?

The short answer to this question is yes, you can use your phone as a universal remote. It might require the purchasing of some more equipment, but since your phone uses infrared signals — just like plenty of other electronic devices — it is entirely possible. The setup will probably be more complex than using a universal remote, but it might save some money. 

What should I look for in a universal remote?

The most important factors when looking for a universal remote will vary for each person, but overall it will come down to three different categories: the amount of compatible devices the remote will work with, the overall number of devices that can be controlled by it, and the features of the remote itself. 

Buying a universal remote that doesn’t pair with certain brands or types of technology will severely hinder how effective it will be to you. Additionally, if you have a dozen devices that need to be paired, but the remote can only handle five, then it’s a waste of money. In the event that you have a few remotes that are evenly matched, then the deciding factor should be features such as a touch screen, voice control, or automatic pairing. 

Which is the right universal remote for you?

It’s hard to argue against the Logitech Harmony Elite being the best universal remote out there, but with such a high price you may be hard-pressed to justify buying it. If you have the budget for it, then it’s definitely the superior option on the list. However, the best overall value is probably the SofaBaton U1. It can connect with several different devices and is the best-priced. It should be more than enough to get the job done.

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