We're streaming a lot more TV these days, so it makes sense to pick up one of the best universal remotes to complete your home entertainment center setup.
The best universal remotes let you consolidate your TV remote, your streaming device's remote, and your soundbar's remote into one device, eliminating clutter and getting you to the program you want to watch that much faster. That's because a universal remote automates a number of tasks—such as turning on your TV and soundbar and changing to the right settings—all with a single button press. Some universal remotes also have smart home controls and voice search, so you can look for shows, movies, and more across multiple streaming services more easily.
What are the best universal remotes?
Among the best universal remotes, the choices are less than universal. Logitech, which has a number of models, is by far the dominant player, with the Logitech Harmony Elite as the best universal remote overall. It can control up to 15 devices, which includes not just entertainment system components, but a number of smart home devices such as smart lights and smart thermostats. It integrates with Alexa and Google Assistant, and has a touchscreen that lets you access every setting for every linked remote control.
Logitech announced it was discontinuing its Harmony remotes, but said that it would support the remotes for new and existing users. The remotes will be available while supplies last.
Our second-favorite universal remote is the Caavo Control Center. It acts more as of an HDMI hub (which limits you to four inputs), but what it does offer is an easy way to flip not just between your devices, but through your various streaming services as well—many of which are supported by the Caavo itself. Plus, the Caavo has a universal voice search built in, so you can press a button on its remote, and search across multiple sources for your favorite shows. The Caavo also offers curated lists of programs, and lets you create your own favorites, too. However, the Caavo does require a subscription (though, if you pay an extra $160, you're covered for life).
The best universal remotes you can buy today
Logitech’s top-end remote, the aptly named Harmony Elite, can control up to 15 devices at once. In addition to physical buttons, it has a color touch screen from which you can quickly select a favorite channel. You can also create custom buttons, such as Watch a Movie, to automatically turn all your devices to the right settings.
The Harmony Elite works in conjunction with the Harmony Hub (included), enabling you to hide electronics in a cabinet. It also works with several smart-home devices, including Philips Hue lights and the Ecobee SmartThermostat. It can be connected with Amazon Alexa, so that you can issue Harmony Elite commands using nothing but your voice. It's one of the best Google Home compatible devices, too.
Read our full Logitech Harmony Elite review.
The best universal remote for those on a budget, the Logitech Harmony 665 has a small display (which is not a touchscreen) with buttons arrayed around it, letting you quickly access activities, favorite channels and more. On-screen help makes it fairly easy to troubleshoot any issues.
The Harmony 665 can be paired with up to 10 devices, and you can program up to 23 of your favorite channels on the remote, too. However, the Harmony 665 works via infrared (IR) only, so you can’t hide any of your entertainment center’s components, and this remote can’t be used to control smart-home devices. But those many not be important if all you're looking for is an inexpensive universal remote that feels great to use.
Read our full Logitech Harmony 665 review.
While the Caavo Control Center can only control four devices at once, it separates itself from Harmony's remotes in that it offers a unified interface, through which you can search through content on any connected device, as well as a number of streaming services. It even works with Sonos, meaning that you can see what’s playing, pause, skip and view your Sonos playlists, right from your TV. You can also connect streaming services directly to the Caavo, obviating the need for separate streaming devices. Here's a list of all the streaming apps Cavvo supports.
The Caavo remote has built-in voice search, and a unique section of lists of shows and movies curated by others—That's something Harmony doesn't have. To get all this, though, you'll need to sign up for a Caavo subscription, but you can get the Contro Center and a lifetime subscription for $160.
Caavo also has a Watch With Friends app, which lets you sync Netflix on Roku, Apple TV and Chrome browsers, so you and your friends can watch shows at the same time—and you don't need a Caavo Control Center to use this feature.
Read our full Caavo Control Center review.
Similar to the Harmony Elite, the Harmony Companion can also control smart-home devices in addition to your entertainment center. The biggest difference between the Harmony Companion and the Elite is that the Companion lacks of a screen of any kind, so you’ll have to designate physical buttons to enable Watch TV mode, for instance.
However, the Harmony Companion comes with the Harmony Hub, so you can not only hide all your AV components, but also let you use Alexa and Google Assistant to control your TV and more. We also like that it has a physical number pad—something the Harmony Elite lacks—so it's easier to jump to specific channels on your cable box.
Let's face it: The worst thing about the Apple TV is its remote. It prizes form over functionality, which with its minimalist design, is a real pain. The Function101 remote may not look as sleek as the Apple TV remote, but it's a heckuva lot easier to use. And, its larger size actually makes it more comfortable to hold.
However, the Function101 remote does not have a Siri button, so you can't use Apple's voice assistant to look up shows or enter passwords. But, at $39, it's a worthwhile tradeoff — until Apple designs something better.
Read our full Function101 Button Remote for Apple TV review
How to choose the best universal remote
If you've gotten this far, you know by now that truly good universal remotes aren't that common. Logitech's Harmony remotes are pretty much the only game in town, and work well; the main choice you have to make is how much you want to spend.
The Harmony Elite, at the top end, costs around $250, but lets you control everything you would want, and has a little touchscreen at the top that makes it easy to switch between watching, say, cable TV to your Fire TV stick to your gaming console.
The Harmony Companion doesn't have a touchscreen, but we do like that it has a physical number pad at the bottom, which is better suited for those who like to punch in channel numbers. Both the Elite and the Companion have dedicated smart home controls, so you can dim the lights easily, and you can also use Logitech's app to control everything if you happen to lose your remote.
If you're looking for something a little different, the Caavo Control Center is an inventive universal remote that acts in many ways like a super-smart HDMI switcher. It also has its own universal voice search, so you can search across multiple devices and services for the program you want.
How we test the best universal remotes
To test universal remotes, we set them up in our home entertainment system, and connect them to several streaming devices (an Apple TV, Amazon Fire TV Cube, Roku) as well as a Dish TV receiver, and a soundbar.
We look to see how easy things are to set up, and once everything is up and running, how quickly and accurately the remote can send commands to all of our devices.
We also take into consideration the feel of the remote in our hands, as well as the ease with which we can reach all the buttons.