(pic above from the One for All website, for review purposes only)
This post is:
- a review of Universal Electronics' One for All universal remote control URC 7555 aka One For All Universal 5 in 1 Stealth TV/DVD/SAT/AMP/VCR Remote Control (or One for All 5), plus
- a basic howto buying guide with general tips on what to look for when choosing a multi-function remote control.
The quickieIf you're after a single multifunctional remote control to control all your audiovisual gear - TV, DVD, Freeview, satellite etc - One for All's range is a good bet, given that URCs are one of their core product lines and they clearly try to provide decent customer support. The 7555 (One For All Universal 5 in 1 Stealth TV/DVD/SAT/AMP/VCR Remote Control) at under £30 (including postage) is superb value for money if you're happy with a (relatively) basic infrared URC which still has learning and macro capabilities.
I didn't bother with Philips URCs because I didn't think much of their website (in terms of helping potential customers find the info they want to know) or their pre-sales customer email support. Logitech also have a good reputation for their URCs but their price point was a bit more than I was prepared to pay for what I felt I needed.
The long and slow
What's a universal remote control?For those not familiar with URCs, a universal remote control is a single remote to replace all the several remote controls for your audio-visual (AV) devices like television, satellite or cable receiver, Freeview box, DVD, VCR, home cinema amplifier and other set top boxes (STBs). (For anyone interested: basics of how to connect up audiovisual gear). They're also known as multifunction remote controls, multi-function remote controls, multi-functional remote controls, you get the drift...
Their purpose is obvious - for not very much money (depending on which one you buy), you can save space and stop fumbling around swapping remote controls when watching television or home theatre. Plus, if members of your household tend to fight for the remote, well they can have one of their own!
The downside is, if you lose your single URC down the back of the sofa you'd better have your original remotes somewhere where you can still find them. Or buy another URC.
Criteria - what to consider when picking a universal remote controlBefore buying new gear, generally you should of course first figure out what's important to you (though good decision making rules say you shouldn't spend too long pondering, if you want to make the best choice). To me, it doesn't matter how cheap or expensive the gadget is - I still try to work out what would be best for my situation.
Below is the list of criteria I used to choose my URC, which I hope will be of help to others considering how to buy a universal remote control. Your own mileage may vary, of course - I finally decided on the One for All 7555 (One For All Universal 5 in 1 Stealth TV/DVD/SAT/AMP/VCR Remote Control), which I got via Amazon UK, based on my own personal setup and requirements.
What range of equipment does it support?My main requirement was that the URC had to work properly with my beloved Topfield 5800 PVR. You probably have other key equipment which you need to make sure any universal remote control you buy will work with, too.
Most URCs claim compatibility with all "common" or "standard" audio visual kit. If you've got any non-household name gear you consider essential, you might want to doublecheck, if possible, for the specific brand and model - e.g. with less common make or models like the Toppy.
How many devices can it control?Also, I needed a remote that could control several AV devices - TV, Toppy, old Panasonic hard disk cum DVD-RAM recorder (largely superseded by the Topfield, but I use it to play DVDs), old VCR in case I need it - with a little room for expansion should I get more gear (I've been eyeing BT Vision for a while).
So I thought a URC which could handle 5 devices would be about right. Some may want one that controls just 2 or 3; others, with full-blown home theater systems, maybe a dozen!
How many buttons does it have and what are they?If a remote you want to replace bristles with enough buttons for the twenty-fingered, a URC with just 10 keys won't do much except frustrate you - unless it's one of those fancy cost-the-earth ones with touch-sensitive screen where the same key or location can serve multiple functions, all nicely labelled with programmable LCDs which name the buttons differently depending on the selected device / mode.
Most URCs come with a basic set of standard buttons which do what you'd expect e.g. volume up and down, channel / programme up and down, numbered buttons, mute, play, stop, pause, fast forward / rewind, red, yellow, blue keys etc etc.
Some have extra buttons or keys on top of that, which can be programmed or assigned other functions (see learning, below) - the question is, how many of those extra keys do you need?
If you don't have many devices or many buttons on your existing remotes (or indeed even if you do, but you don't use most of those keys), a basic URC may be good enough. But if there are many buttons you regularly use, you'll probably need a URC with lots more extra buttons (maybe on a shifted basis, see below) or programmable keys to which you can assign the special functions that you use the most.
The Toppy remote has quite a few buttons so I had to be sure to get a URC with enough keys for my needs. But forking out for a top of the line touchscreen remote just wasn't worth doing, for me.
Is it programmable, how easily, can you get a key or button to "learn" a function from your existing remote?I chose the 7555 not just because it supports the Toppy, but because of its "learning" feature (IR code learning).
You can basically get any key on the 7555 (except a few reserved ones) to work the same as any key on the original remote control - it "learns" to do the same thing - just by pointing them at each other, doing a few keypresses on the 7555 and then pressing the original key whose function you want to copy, in order to beam the correct infrared signal over from the original remote for the URC to "memorise". Very clever.
Plus, the same key can be made to learn different functions in different modes (such as TV, or DVD). E.g. in TV mode you might assign screen aspect change to button X, but in VCR mode you could use button X to get slow motion playback.
The 7555 also has "shifted" learning. This simply means that the same button can be made to learn two different commands, one triggered when you just press the button, the other triggered when you press a special key first (called the Magic button by One for All) and then press the button. So, you can have twice the number of separate commands as you have available keys.
The manual says the 7555 can learn 25-40 commands; I've not needed that many so far!
How easy is it to keep track of what button does what? Can you be bothered to keep track yourself?This is related to the number and complexity of your devices, and how many extra functions you assign to the "spare" buttons on the URC.
If you get keys on the URC to "learn" functions operated by one or other button of your original remote's keypad, you need of course to remember which key on the URC equates to which key on the original. As the same key can perform different functions in different modes too, you may have to remember (or note down) different key assignments for different modes, too.
If you don't want to have to do that, you might prefer to invest in an expensive URC where you can program labels on the URC that change to describe what each key does for each mode you're in (TV, satellite etc).
Do you want programmable macros?This wasn't a major factor for me but has turned out to be helpful. You can easily set up the 7555 so that e.g. pressing just one particular key switches on your TV, satellite receiver and DVR all in a row (or in my case, just TV and Toppy). Similarly you can use one key press to power everything off (or rather put them on standby) in one go. Heck, if I wanted I could get one button to turn everything on, put the volume on high, tune it to channel X in widescreen mode and record it, then make the tea. Well maybe not the tea, but who knows what's on One for All's roadmap.
In short, any series of button presses on the URC 7555 (up to 15 keystrokes max) can be programmed as a "macro" to be triggered by a single key stroke. Useful. And again, as with codes learning, you can have shifted macros too.
One point to watch for though is that if you assign a learned function to a key in one mode, and then you try to assign a macro (sequence of key presses) to the same key, the macro just won't work. The key will only operate the learned function.
Do you need to control stuff that's out of sight?Is your gear tucked away neatly in rows of closed cabinets, controlled by radio frequency (RF) remotes? If so, a humble cheaper infrared URC won't do, you'll need a URC that transmits radiofrequency signals. To work, infra red remotes need a clear uninterrupted line of sight to the infrared receptor on the appropriate box. I barely have room for my existing stuff never mind cabinets, so infrared was all I needed.
Do you want easy PC setup and control?The higher end URCs can be connected to your computer and configured and controlled etc on screen via the PC. This hopefully makes life easier and simpler for the user, of course, especially novices. But the extra user-friendliness certainly comes at a price. I didn't feel I needed something like that myself, I'm quite happy to putter around inputting codes into the URC direct myself rather than have a computer automate that.
What's your budget?Last, but not least, I only have a few AV gizmos. Home cinema afficionados with 10 pieces of kit might want an all singing all dancing URC that costs £200 or more, and if they can afford so many bits of AV gear they can probably afford (and might find most convenient) a top of the rangeURC too.
But me, I just want it to do what I need - I ain't gonna spend £300 when less than £30 will do. I go for value for money and fitness for purpose rather than buying the most expensive unit I can afford.
Why not Philips?Philips supposedly has a good line in URCs, and I have an excellent widescreen Philips TV - but their pre-sales support was hopeless. Many of their online "manuals" (brochures, more like, usually) weren't detailed enough; and their site search function was equally useless (sorry but I don't have time to individually download each of their many URC PDF manuals just to see if (a) it lists the supported gear in the first place - many don't - and (b) the Topfield is in the list).
That's just me and my "boycott the consumer-unfriendly" principles talking, though. I'm sure others are happy with Philips, and as mentioned I do like my Philips TV. But then I don't need any support from them for that, I can even turn it on and off all by myself, wheee, fancy that (or if I can't, well my 7555 can now do that for me!).
Logitech are also known for their URCs e.g. the Harmony range, but their starting price was higher than I was prepared to pay for what I wanted, and after the nightmare of trying to find out which Philips URCs worked with the Topfield, I wasn't prepared to risk going through the same palaver again with Logitech.
So, I turned to the Toppy forums. (One reason I bought a Toppy rather than some other brand of hard disk recorder, apart from twin Freeview tuners, 250 GB hard disk and the availability of user-programmable mini-apps called TAPs to enhance it, was the supportive and helpful online community of knowledgeable enthusiasts e.g. at Toppy.org.uk).
I saw from their URC thread that someone had got an One for All 7555 and was happy with it, so I took a look at prices and checked out the One for All website - which was much more user-friendly, consumer-friendly and informative than Philips'. I went for the 7555 and it does exactly the job I need.
The One for All URC 7555 universal remote controlThe One for All 7555 URC One For All Universal 5 in 1 Stealth TV/DVD/SAT/AMP/VCR Remote Control controls up to 5 devices, i.e. has 5 modes. The device buttons are labelled TV, Satellite (for satellite, cable or Freeview), VCR (for video recorder wouldja believe), DVD and Amp (for amp, tuner etc) - but you can change e.g. the VCR button to control a second TV or whatever, if you prefer.
So if you press the TV key, the channel changing buttons etc will work on the TV. Press the Sat key to make the same buttons change the channels on your satellite receiver. And so on.
Setup / installationAs is standard with URCs, the 7555 comes preprogrammed to work with many common units, but you need to do some initial setting up to tell it what equipment you've got, by entering the right codes.
There's a list of brands at the back of the manual, with corresponding codes (sometimes more than one set). To get the URC to control your equipment properly, you enter the code given for your make and model of gear, and then rinse and repeat in a different mode for each of your bits of kit (TV, Freeview etc).
You can also get the codes for your manufacturer and model from the One for All website, and if all else fails there's a search function to try to get to a working code. But the choice on offer is massive so hopefully not many people will have to do that.
If several code options are given, just try and see which one works best (Topfield is listed in the Satellite section).
ManualThe One for All URC 7555 manual that came in my box, in 7 European languages (downloadable manual in 13 languages), is concise and clear, taking you from setup to more advanced functions. And it's a proper booklet too, not like the CD many companies fob you off with when flogging you computer hardware or software, or a flimsy 1-sheet leaflet stitched together by someone writing in their four & a halfth language. There's a detailed page with support contacts (email, web, phone, fax) in different countries, and what info to give them when contacting support.
Yes, I feel a rant coming on about manuals, one of my consumer bugbears. If One for All can provide users with a properly written hard copy user guide for a gizmo that costs less than £30, why can't manufacturers of much more expensive gadgets e.g. mobile phones or camcorders do the same? They simply have no excuse not to, in my book.
Preliminary tip. It pays to spend a few minutes working out and noting down in advance which extra functions on which remote you want to assign to the extra keys on your URC via the learning feature. And similarly for the macros you want to program. Then you can do it all smoothly in one go.
TVTo control my TV, there are two functions I use a lot which on my Philips remote are tucked away, I even have to open a flap to access one of them.
Mapping them on to two obvious keys on the 7555 has made life a lot easier. (I've even sneakily got one key of the URC, in Sat mode, to emulate another key on my TV remote! Worked for me, anyway.)
TV tip: the power button turns the TV off but won't turn most TVs on, use a number button instead to do that.
Topfield 5800 PVRThe 7555 doesn't have as many buttons as my Toppy's remote. But it has just about enough for what I need, even without resorting to shifted learning commands. I don't in fact use all the buttons on my Toppy anyway - others might, and if so they might want a URC with more buttons, or more customisable buttons.
LearningI've set out my Toppy button assignments below for anyone interested. Non-Topfield owners can of course skip the next section.
Topfield 5800 PVR key mappings
Code 1545 seemed to work best for me. But I had to make it learn volume up and down and channel up and down, to get those buttons to work properly.
Tip: to record, you have to press the Record key twice in a row, this is just a "feature" of the URC 7555.
In case this may help other Toppy owners, here are my key assignments on the 7555 (reflecting my reliance on MyStuff EPG and QuickJump), copied via the learning function:
- ? = Archive on the Toppy's remote
- Radio = White, for deleting recordings from the archive
- >>| = Text, for QuickJump's back 30 seconds
- Subt = PIP Swap, for QuickJump's back 1 minute
- |<< = |> (search), for setting a new ControlTimer
- Back = Exit. Seemed to make sense to me.
- -/-- = Opt (for powering off 10 mins after it finishes recording, if still recording when I want to go to bed).
(I found that keys in about the same position as on the original Toppy remote worked best for me, as I seem to use them more by memorised location / feel than label or look.)
MacrosI've mentioned what macros can do. The macros I use on the 7555 are:
- Fav key (bottom right) - turn on everything
- PPV (bottom left) - turn off everything
- Magic key then Power (a shifted macro) - turn off TV now, and turn off the Toppy 10 mins after it finishes recording (using the Opt 10 minutes trick).
Macro troubleshooting tip: at first I couldn't get a macro on a button to work in Sat mode, even though the same key would output the right sequence of keypresses in other modes like TV. I realised it was because I had also programmed the key to learn a command from the Toppy remote. Once I cleared that "learning", the button worked fine to operate the macro in Sat mode.
There are other macro gotchas e.g. you can't program a macro onto the Record key, best read the small print notes for them! My one quibble with the manual: warning notes on stuff like that should be more up front, in my view.
Other featuresThere's other clever stuff the 7555 can do which I won't bore you with. Like "Key Magic", where even if you don't know how, the One for All customer service team will help get you the codes to program a function from your original remote control to the 7555.
And how was it for me?I find the URC 7555 One For All Universal 5 in 1 Stealth TV/DVD/SAT/AMP/VCR Remote Control very handy indeed, and very good from a "design for usability" viewpoint. It took me half an hour or less to get to grips with it and make it all learn the keys I needed to control my Toppy the way I like it, but if your AV boxes are more standard and your URC has enough buttons, you may not even need to get it to learn anything at all after you've entered the setup codes for your equipment.
I really can't think of any disadvantages. To get learning and macro features at this price is just excellent value for money, in my view. It's worked for me every time so far, without a hitch. I've not had cause to use the customer support yet but the website appears very well set up and consumer-friendly. There's even a "Find my remote" section in the One for All site's sidebar to help you decide which model of remote to choose, depending on what equipment you want to control ("Find my remote" is a bit of a misnomer I feel, as it's meant for pre-sales help rather than post-purchase support for "my" One for All remote - I think they should rename it "Remote picker", or "Which remote?").
One for All are a market leader in URCs and they offer a huge variety to suit almost every need and pocket, from the relatively cheap one I bought to ultra sophisticated ones like the well known Kameleon range. If I need to upgrade in future I'll probably get another One for All (but certainly not a Philips).
(And it shouldn't need to be said but I have no connection with One for All except as a satisfied customer!)