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  • The Power of One

    Combining All Your Remotes
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    • Six Things to Consider Before Buying a Universa...
      • Put it in your hand. "Some of the new remotes feel very large and unmanageable to some users," says Casey Kamps of CLK Inc., Grants Pass.
      • "Get one with buttons that are readable a...
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      Six Things to Consider Before Buying a Universal Remote
      • Put it in your hand. "Some of the new remotes feel very large and unmanageable to some users," says Casey Kamps of CLK Inc., Grants Pass.
      • "Get one with buttons that are readable and big enough for your fingers to use comfortably," advises Rick Burditt of Larson's Home Furnishings in Medford. "Backlit buttons are great."
      • "Be wary of one that has a lot of buttons you don't want or need," Burditt adds. "You may activate things you didn't intend."
      • Go for a unit with small or no display windows, Kamps suggests. "I know this is an unpopular decision to most technofiles, but the savings in battery changes will be appreciated in the long run. Also, these windowed remotes sometimes intimidate users who do not feel comfortable with technology."
      • Buy a remote that has a memory back-up system that will survive dead batteries, says Kamps. This can prevent the loss of data and having an additional service call to re-program the remote.
      • Energy from fluorescent lights, sunlight and plasma displays can cause interference, says Brian Pahl of Rogue Technology Solutions. If that's an issue at your house, get a remote with a signal strong enough to overcome the interference.
  • You just sat down to watch a DVD. Whoops. The remote you grabbed operates your VCR. So you get the DVD remote and sink into your easy chair. Whoops. You forgot to pick up the remote that turns on your TV.
    A half minute later, you're finally ready to watch that DVD. But wouldn't it have been nice if just one remote handled all three functions?
    It is possible. Two words to remember are "universal remote." If you shop in a store that sells TVs, VCRs and DVD players, chances are it also carries universal remotes. You can also buy them from companies that install home theater systems.
    Remotes vary widely. Some simply operate your TV, VCR and DVD by pushing buttons. Others let you play games, listen to CDs or activate a special sound system. Fancier models have mini TV screens that briefly describe various activities like "Watch TV" and "Play DVD." You touch the screen to activate.
    Yet another, more expensive model can shoot a signal through wood. "This is extremely useful when the equipment is kept behind a closed cabinet," says Casey Kamps, owner of home theater firm CLK Inc. of Grants Pass.
    At the very high end is one that's a computer as well as a remote. It lets you surf the Internet and check your email as well as operate your home theater system, security system, audio and lighting systems, says Brian Pahl of Rogue Technology Solutions of Medford.
    You may not even have to buy a universal remote. Most newer TV remotes can be programmed to run your VCR and DVD player as well, says Rick Burditt, home theater and appliances specialist at Larson's Home Furnishings in Medford.
    "Sit down, read your manual and follow the instructions," he encourages people. "A lot of times that is enough." Instruction booklets list code numbers for most of the different makes of TV, VCR and DVD. You may be able to do it yourself.
    If you are buying a new TV and DVD player at the same time, consider getting the identical brand, Burditt suggests. It's likely that your TV remote will operate both and also the VCR regardless of brand.
    But if you just can't make the remote do what you want, it's time to get some expert help.
    There are a couple of ways to go:
    -  Call around to stores that sell TVs, VCRs and DVD players. Ask them, "If I buy from you, will the sales assistant help me program my remote?" Some will charge a fee. Others may be willing to offer some brief help at your home at no extra charge.
    -  Seek the help of a home theater professional, usually found in the Yellow Pages. Going this route will probably be more expensive, but if the project you have in mind is complicated, it may be a prudent choice.
    What will all this cost?
    You can buy a simple universal remote, one that operates your TV, VCR and DVD player, for as little as $12 and try to program it yourself.
    Want something better? Figure on $40 or more. Models that can send a signal into the cabinet go from $80 to $400. Those with mini TV screens start at $130. Want that fancy model that lets you surf the Internet and send email that Pahl mentioned? It'll run you $4,000.
    If you need to hire someone to program your remote, figure on $130 and up. But, if you buy a new TV or DVD player at the same time you get the remote, you may be able to negotiate an overall lower price.
    Whether you do it yourself or hire it done, there's a lot of convenience in the power of one.
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