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How to use your mobile device to control your home theater

Michael Ansaldo | March 12, 2015
You've got the latest OLED TV, 3000 satellite TV channels, and a surround-sound system that would make George Lucas jealous. Why are you still using that 1980s-style hunk of handheld plastic to control it all? The clumsiness of navigating menus with a thumb-pad is matched only by the tedium of hunting and pecking letters on numeric buttons. Multiply that misery times the number of remotes you're using for all your home theater components and it's enough to make you wish for the simpler days of rabbit ears and horizontal hold.

You've got the latest OLED TV, 3000 satellite TV channels, and a surround-sound system that would make George Lucas jealous. Why are you still using that 1980s-style hunk of handheld plastic to control it all? The clumsiness of navigating menus with a thumb-pad is matched only by the tedium of hunting and pecking letters on numeric buttons. Multiply that misery times the number of remotes you're using for all your home theater components and it's enough to make you wish for the simpler days of rabbit ears and horizontal hold.

A far more elegant solution is to use your iPhone, iPad, or Android phone or tablet as a universal remote. With the right selections of apps — and, in some cases, an additional piece of hardware — you can manage all your home theater components from the one device that's nearly always in your hands. Here's how.

Use infrared

The simplest way to control your home theater from your mobile device is to use infrared. If you've purchased a flagship Android phone from Samsung, LG, or HTC in the last couple of years, it likely has a built-in IR blaster that can communicate directly with your home theater components, along with the manufacturer's bundled remote control app. While these apps are worth trying out, a better bet is to download a third-party universal remote app such as IR Universal Remote or Galaxy Universal Remote. These apps support thousands of component manufacturers and models, many of which your device's native remote control app probably doesn't.

If you have an older Android device without an integrated IR transmitter, you'll need an adapter like the Irdroid. These modules range from a basic adapter that plugs into your device's headphone jack to models that allow you to wirelessly control infrared components over your network. All you need to do is purchase one and download the Irdroid app.

Because iOS devices don't have IR blasters, an adapter is the only way to go if want to use infrared to control your home theater from an iPhone or iPad. The iRed works much like Irdroid — just plug the infrared transmitter into the headphone jack of your device, download the accompanying app, and add your components from a database of more than 300,000 devices.

The developers of Peel — an app available for both the iOS and Android operating systems — ingeniously figured out a way to bypass the iPhone's and iPad's lack of an infrared blaster by using your Wi-Fi network to control your set-top box.

Use Wi-Fi

If you don't want the expense and hassle of adding hardware, you can rely solely on apps to get the job done. The downside is you'll probably have to download a separate remote-control app for each component in your home theater system. The good news is they're almost always free; you don't need line-of-sight to your components to use them as they work over your Wi-Fi network; and because they are proprietary to each component manufacturer, they're usually far less buggy than third-party apps.

 

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