Runaway remotes: A hot-button issue

  • Article by: RANDY A. SALAS , Star Tribune
  • Updated: September 17, 2007 - 7:22 PM

They multiply like rabbits and disappear faster than you can say "clicker." What we really need is a one-remote world -- if we could get motivated enough to program the darn thing.

I am out of control -- remotely.

Walking through my house, I count more than 20 remote controls. I have them for TVs, DVD players, CD players, receivers, DirecTV units and more. If it plugs into the wall and provides entertainment, it has a remote. But there's also one for a fan, which can be entertaining at high speeds.

Oh, and there's a remote in my car for a recently installed stereo. (Is my arm that short that I'll need the remote to turn up the volume while driving? Am I likely to cede control over car tunes to my daughters in the back seat? Or do I park the car with the windows rolled down and blast songs remotely from a park bench or an outdoor seat at a restaurant?)

I have remotes the size of a credit card. I have one that makes me feel as if I'm wielding a broadsword when using it. I have some that are backlit, others that glow in the dark and a few whose button functions I can barely discern in bright daylight.

While I admit that I probably have more remote-needy devices than the average person, I suspect I am not alone in this predicament of drowning in a sea of remotes. It only takes a handful to feel that way.

Besides being the instigator of this problem, the consumer-electronics industry has created an entire side business dedicated to wrangling the many remotes that rule our lives.

For those who can never seem to find the remote, Innovage (www.innovageinc.net) makes a virtually unlosable jumbo remote control for $15 that's about the size of a slab of bacon. The store in which I recently saw one appeared to be marketing the device to the dorm-room crowd as a hip accessory. But package blurbs about the easy-to-see, extra-large buttons indicate that it probably is aimed at older viewers who pine for the glory days when a remote was called a "clicker" and Dad's preoccupation was hollering at the neighbor kids to "stay off my darn lawn!"

I actually think the jumbo remote looks cool. It's too basic for my needs, but it might make a fun addition to the girls' TV room.

Then there are organizers for remote controls. Whether they are made from cloth with pockets, wood with compartments or something else, they all seek to do the same thing: help you keep all your remotes in one easy-to-find place.

For example, I have a little wooden caddy in my home theater to organize the remotes that I use there. I can always find the caddy. It's usually empty. I have too many remotes to fit into it anyway, and some are too big -- including, ironically, the super-duper universal remote I bought to solve all my problems.

It's a highly rated remote from Sony that can control up to eight devices. I bought it several years ago. I still haven't programmed it or used it. While it can control the basic functions of many devices by entering a code, governing advanced functions requires programming them one at a time -- a long, daunting process for a roomful of gear. And then you have to remember that Button X controls Function Y of Device Z.

I paid less than $50 for the Sony universal remote, which is a pittance for a device of its kind, according to the essential website for people in my predicament, Remote Central (www.remotecentral.com). Among the website's many reviews are remotes that will singularly do everything but wash windows. A recent review raved about a new programmable LCD remote that goes for the bargain price of $449, plus an add-on controller for $799.

Am I the only person who sees something wrong with this picture? This is all backward. We're a society under the remote control of remote controls.

I look forward to the day -- before I start screaming for the neighbor kids to stay off my lawn, mind you -- when all electronic devices work off of the same remote, right out of the box and without compromises.

As I survey the electronics-littered landscape of my home now, the chances of that seem, well, remote.

Randy A. Salas • 612-673-4542

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