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How to use your mobile device to control your home theater

Michael Ansaldo | March 12, 2015
You've got the latest OLED TV, 3000 satellite TV channels, and a surround-sound system that would make George Lucas jealous. Why are you still using that 1980s-style hunk of handheld plastic to control it all? The clumsiness of navigating menus with a thumb-pad is matched only by the tedium of hunting and pecking letters on numeric buttons. Multiply that misery times the number of remotes you're using for all your home theater components and it's enough to make you wish for the simpler days of rabbit ears and horizontal hold.

TVs and Blu-ray players

Sony , LG, and just about every other major TV manufacturer offers some kind of app to control its TVs. But these don't just replicate the channel and volume controls of your plastic push-button remote; they're also chock full of additional features like gesture functions, QWERTY keyboards, full settings menus, and other options for interfacing with your TV more quickly and easily.

Likewise, manufacturers' apps for their Blu-ray players go beyond rudimentary controls and typically support gestures and text input. They also may display contextual information about the disc you're viewing, including the release date, cast, cover art, and more.

Depending on the manufacturer, it may offer separate apps for each product type with category specific features, or it may have one app that controls all its home-theater products. In the latter case, you may be able to double-dip and control two components with one app if you're particularly loyal to a brand. Just make sure to double check that the apps you download support your TV and Blu-ray models.

AV receivers

Popular brands including Yamaha, Denon, Onkyo, and Pioneer offer remote control apps for their networkable home theater receivers. These apps let you control your receiver's power, volume, and inputs; adjust your system's treble, bass, and other EQ settings; manage Internet radio services and audio streams from your DLNA servers and mobile devices; and more. As with TVs, many of the AV-receiver apps also do double (or triple) duty controlling other home theater products in that manufacturer's line, so you may be able to stretch the value of one app.

Media-streaming boxes

The physical remotes that come with popular streamers like Roku, Apple TV, and Amazon Fire TV are basically point-and-press devices. That's fine for browsing through channel stores or movies on Netflix, but when you want to search for a specific title, you must painfully input text by arrowing through an on-screen alphabet and entering each letter.

The Roku mobile app, Apple's Remote, and the Amazon Fire TV Remote App each provide all the functionality of their physical counterpart, with one critical advantage: they use your device's keyboard making searching a far more pleasant and precise experience. The Amazon Fire TV remote app even includes voice search.

That alone would be enough to recommend these apps, but they also support gestures for smoother navigating. You may also notice faster response time thanks to your device's superior processor.

Cable boxes and DVRs

All the major U.S. cable providers — Comcast (Xfinity), AT&T U-Verse, Cox TV, Time Warner Cable, Verizon, and Charter — offer proprietary apps that let you control your cable box, manage your DVR, remotely schedule recordings and easily search your programming guide using your phone's keyboard and, in some cases, your voice. Most will also let you view live and on-demand programming on your phone or tablet, turning it into another TV.


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