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Universal Remote is the saddest casualty of streaming

The living room was a very different place before apps. TVs used to ship with more than one physical switch or button, so you often needed a receiver if you wanted to use multiple home theater devices at once, and juggling all the different components in your living room was usually But falls on the remote.

The universal remote, with its programmable buttons and routines, was the savior of complicated setups, but thanks to streaming boxes, the rise of streaming services, and the mass adoption of smart TVs, there really isn’t much room in most homes in 2023. .

But the hangers-on exist, even though the remotes have been replaced with casting protocols and pack-in flingers with paid product placement buttons. Companies are still making universal remotes, and believers are miraculously still buying them.

complexity of simplicity

Why a reason? Lauren Petto explains, “The Sonos app makes me feel like a boomer.” In Verse above the zoom.

Lauren’s home theater setup began as a way to incorporate a speaker system she inherited from her father, which may not offer multiroom audio like Sonos, but is much easier to use. His setup has evolved since to accommodate the variety of old and new technology he’s acquired over the years, but building it has proven to be a welcome side project. Yes, she can use a separate remote or controller to hide her TV, receiver, Xbox, and more in a living room closet, but why do that when you can basically use a Logitech Harmony 665 Advanced Remote Control? Can get everything together?

Lauren’s system isn’t perfect. A Broadlink IR blaster was brought in to connect the dots as few could easily connect on their own (infrared light has its limits) and a separate tablet was used to play shows from dedicated UK-based streaming apps. But overall, the living room experience works—as long as you have its remote.

In Lauren’s words, “I know it’s corny, but I set it all up to be a nerd, you know?”

Logitech enters, and exits

Logitech’s Harmony remote changed how people interacted with their living rooms.

Amanda Edwards / Getty Images Entertainment / Getty Images

You can find Logitech, and the Harmony remote brand it acquired in 2004, at the center of many a personalized universal remote story. Canadian company Easy Zapper Inc. created the first Harmony remote with great intentions. According to their first press release about the remote, it can control everything in your entertainment system because of “its connectivity to the World Wide Web.”

The original Harmony remote can always be up to date, thanks to the ability to download TV and CD listings from the Internet (over a wired USB connection) and what will be the most important skill for a universal remote, Smart State Technology (SST). With the press of a button, the Harmony Remote can determine the status of your equipment (if you’re playing a DVD that could be your TV, DVD player, and speakers, for example) and over IR to receive everything. Issue the correct command set to view. The remote’s internal memory will allow you to save many of those routines for whatever you want to do with your home entertainment system.

Easy Zapper was eventually rebranded as Intrigue Technologies before being acquired by Logitech in 2004 for $29 million. Placed on a much larger platform (translation: selling the remote in more places than Canada), demand for the Harmony remote grew rapidly over the following years.

Unless, of course, it didn’t happen. The popularity of voice assistants like Amazon’s Alexa and Google Assistant may have been the first visible sign that interest in universal remotes was waning if you read through the lines of Logitech’s quarterly earnings press release. In Q4 2017, Logitech said home control sales grew 10 percent compared to 45 percent in Q4 2016, a “resurgence” it attributed to “voice assistants (such as Alexa and Google Assistant) in our Harmony Hub.” is given to “Continuous Integration”. Logitech also sold a Harmony remote with built-in Alexa called the Harmony Express, a saving throw that in retrospect has led to frustration, even though the remote looked cool.

By 2019, the writing was on the wall. Bracken Darrell, CEO of Logitech ledge Harmony sales comprised “about six percent” of the sales of Logitech’s keyboard business. Darrell suggested that Logitech planned to support the remotes for as long as people were using them, but the future of its remote business was uncertain.

Logitech finally brought some certainty to the situation in 2021 by discontinuing the Logitech Harmony brand altogether and pledging to support the remotes that are still in use. This basically brought us to the “mostly empty parking lot” that is the universal remote market today.

experimental outlier

Before the giant fell, there were promising options. The Caavo, an HDMI-switcher-cum-streaming box that used machine vision to determine what was happening on your TV, seems like one of the most advanced options out there. The Caavo’s universal remote capabilities were based entirely on what it understood to be the video signal coming in through your HDMI port, but considering how popular set-top boxes and video game consoles were when it first appeared in 2018 was done, Kavo seemed ready to manage. A crowded shelf under most living room TVs. No matter what device or service you want to watch live content on, Caavo can get you there.

Unfortunately, the Cavo hasn’t caught on the way its clever solution deserved. The company pitched its boxes as a solution for senior living communities, and despite promising revisions to its consumer hardware, it didn’t deliver. You can attribute most of its manufacturing issues to the supply chain constraints of the past few years and its pricing model – when you buy a set-top box you don’t immediately think you need to subscribe for $19.99 per month. Will be – but at the same time, unlike Logitech and Harmony, Caavo got into the game much later than everyone else. It’s difficult for home theater devices to be helpful when those devices will eventually scale down enough to fully feature people. Does anyone think Roku or Amazon have better interfaces for streaming sticks, boxes and TVs? No, but at a certain point, at the right cost, you stop caring.

Skip 1s sound intentionally familiar.

image via flickr

Another option, Skip 1s from Flickr, just launched this year and looks like it might actually have legs. Jason and Maggie Kotzin started Flirk to head off troubles with their Linux-based media center. Linux in the living room has natural trade-offs, such as having a keyboard and mouse.

“The problem was the cable,” explains Jason Kotzin In Verse, “Everything was done with cables and my fiancee, now wife, was like, ‘That’s a little bit ugly. Can we do anything better?”

The answer was making a dongle that worked with Linux Infrared Remote Control, the only viable open-source project for connecting a TV remote to a Linux PC. Kotzin’s first product was a dongle and accompanying software that simplified the process.

It looks like the Skip 1s remote comes from a similar place, addressing the complexities of universal remotes with touch, physical controls, and software to make programming the Skip 1s as “drag and drop” as possible.

Skip 1s are designed to be versatile yet easily programmable.

image via flickr

“The biggest driver was software and how can we make it as simple as possible? What did everyone do wrong?” Kotzin says. The Skip 1s doesn’t rely on any kind of cloud-based service to keep itself updated and can be managed entirely through your home computer. It has a one-screen is also the calling card of most Logitech Harmony remotes. “With the display I wanted to do something very unique, something that no one had done yet, but that was a lot more ambitious,” Kotzin said. Didn’t want to get lost trying to … otherwise what would be a more complicated remote with a lot of tech and lose the basics.”

Ultimate Remote respects the value of dedicated controls and tries to be useful to as wide an audience as possible. “If you keep it simple, you don’t have to look at the remote to know which button you’re pressing and that’s where we want to be.”

Flickr’s approach, and its early Kickstarter success ($85,722 raised, general pre-orders now open), suggest a small but dedicated crowd still willing to explore a hardware solution to a software problem . Darrell wasn’t wrong when he suggested that Logitech’s Harmony remote brand was too young to grow. But maybe it’s just that universal remotes aren’t as universally needed as they once were. And that demand is met much better by a company like Flirc.

“If you keep it simple, you don’t have to look at the remote to know which button you’re pressing and that’s where we want to be.”

The problems aren’t necessarily going away, even though the number of streaming boxes and streaming services has stabilized. Switching from your game console to your streaming box (god forbid) Blu-ray player still involves one or more remotes. It’s not fun to be the person who just isn’t happy streaming things through the built-in HBO Max, Netflix, and Hulu apps. Our problems may not belong to TV makers or the home theater industry at large, but somehow, and someway, they’re being met — if you’re willing to get your hands a little dirty.


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