How to Program a Universal Remote Control

Clean up the remote control clutter

Woman Watching TV in Living Room
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A Universal Remote makes it easier to control your TV and other components.

To get started make sure you:

  • Install batteries into the Universal Remote.
  • Are able to point the Universal Remote at the TV or another device you are trying to control during programming. If this "link" is broken, you will have to re-start the programming process.

Specific programming options and steps may vary with each universal remote control brand and model. The following are examples of options that may be provided and steps that may be required.

Direct Code Entry

Universal Remote Direct Code Entry Example
Remote Image Courtesy of RCA

The easiest way to program a Universal Remote is to enter a code that identifies the product you wish to control. Codes may be provided via a "code sheet" or a web page where the codes are listed by brand and type of device (TV, Blu-ray Disc player, Home Theater Receiver, Cable Box, VCRs, and sometimes media streamers).

  1. Turn on the device you want to control.
  2. Press and hold the appropriate DEVICE button on your Universal Remote Control (some remotes require that you press a Setup button before pressing the device button). The LEDs for the device and power buttons will light up. 
  3. Tip: Although the buttons may be labeled for a specific device, you can use them for any compatible device, you just have to remember which button corresponds to the device you are controlling after programming is done.
  4. With the device button on the remote held down, ENTER THE CODE for the brand of the device. If a brand has more than one code, start with the first one. As you enter the code, the power button on the remote will turn off.
  5. After entering a code, keep holding down the device button. If the control's power button lights up and stays on, you have entered the correct code.
  6. If the power button blinks several times, then the code you entered is not correct. Each time you are unsuccessful repeat the code entry step for each code until one works.
  1. After programming, see if the universal remote controls the basic functions of your device. For a TV, you should be able to turn it off and on, change the volume, channel, and source input.

If using Direct Code Entry, write the successful code(s) in your user guide for later reference.

Auto Code Search

Universal Remote Auto Code Search Example
Remote Image Courtesy of RCA

Auto Code Search can be used if you don't have access to the specific code for the brand or type of device you wish to control. The Universal Remote will search through the entire list of codes it has in its database, testing several codes at a time.

Here is an example of likely steps:

  1. Turn on your TV or another device you wish to control.
  2. Press and release the DEVICE button on your remote that is associated with the product you want to control (TV, etc...). As mentioned previously, you can use any device with any of the labeled buttons — just remember to write it down.
  3. Press the Device Button again, as well as the POWER button at the same time. The power button will turn off and then come back on again.
  4. Release both buttons.
  5. Press and release the PLAY button on the remote, then wait a few seconds and see if the device you are trying to control turns off. If so, then the remote has found the correct code. If your device is still on, press the play button again and go through the waiting and turn off process. Do this until your device turns off.
  6. Next press and release the REVERSE button your remote every two seconds until your device turns back on. When it finally does, the remote has successfully searched for the right code.
  7. Press the STOP button to save the code.
  8. Test several functions on the remote and see if they work for your device.

    Brand Code Search

    Universal Remote Brand Code Search Example
    Remote Image Courtesy RCA

    Using a similar procedure as Auto Code Search, you may be able to narrow down your search to just a single brand. This comes in handy if the brand provides more than one code.

    Here are the steps:

    1. Turn on the device you wish to control (TV, VCR, DVD, DVR, satellite receiver, or cable box).
    2. Locate the Brand Code(s) from the list provided with your Universal Remote Control.
    3. Press and hold the DEVICE button you wish to program (TV, DVD, Aux etc...). When the LED for that button turns on and remains on, keep holding down that button.
    4. While holding device button, press and hold the POWER button. The power button should light up.
    5. Release the power and device button. The device button should remain on (if not, repeat the steps).
    6. Using the universal remote's keypad, enter the first CODE of the brand you are looking for. The LED light for that device button should then remain on.
    7. Press and release the Power button repeatedly until the device you are trying to control turns off. If the device turns off, the Universal Remote has found the correct code.
    8. Hit the STOP button on your universal remote in order to save the code (the LED light will turn off).
    9. Use several buttons (volume, etc...) to see if the device can now be controlled by your Universal Remote.
    1. If your device doesn't turn off and the LED light blinks four times, this means you have exhausted the codes for that brand and you need to use another programming method.

    Manual Code Search

    Universal Remote Manual Code Search Example
    Remote Image Courtesy of RCA

    Instead of having the remote scan through all, or brand, codes automatically, you may also be able to program the remote by having it check each code one at a time. However, keep in mind that since there are so many codes, this process can take a long time.

    These are the steps to initiate this option:

    1. Turn on your TV or another device you wish to control.
    2. Press and hold the corresponding DEVICE and POWER buttons on the remote at the same time. Wait until the power button comes on and then release both buttons.
    3. Pointing the remote at the TV or another device, press the Power button on the remote and wait 2 seconds.
    4. If the power on your TV or device turns off, the remote has found the correct Code. Press STOP to save the code.
    5. If your device fails to turn off, press the Power button again so that the remote tests the next code in the database. Perform this step until a code is found.

    Programming via IR Learning

    URC50 Universal Remote—Learning Feature
    Photos by Robert Silva

    If supported, the IR learning method requires placing your universal remote and the remote of a device you wish to control so that they are pointing at each other. This allows IR control light beams to be sent from the original device remote to the universal remote.

    1. Press the appropriate device button: TV, etc...
    2. Activate the learning mode for your universal remote. If there isn't a Learn button on your remote, you will need to consult the user guide to find out which button performs this function — not all Universal Remotes support this option.
    3. Press a button on the universal remote (such as volume up) and then press the corresponding function button (volume up) on the device remote.
    4. Repeat these steps for every function you wish to duplicate (such as volume down, channel up, channel down, input select, etc...) on your universal remote.

    This process is long and tedious, especially if you have several devices you want to control. However, if you don't have access to the remote control codes, or if other methods fail, you may be able to use the IR learning process as your last result, provided your Universal Remote supports this programming option.

    Programming via PC

    Logitech Harmony Remote Programming—Add Device
    Image provided by Logitech

    Another programming option available for some Universal Remotes is with a PC. One brand that supports this option is Logitech Harmony.

    Instead of searching for the correct code, you simply plug a Logitech Harmony Remote directly into your PC via USB connection and do all your programming online through the Logitech Harmony website, which not only has a continually updated database of about 250,000 control codes, but saves all your programming setup preferences for easy access when needed.

    The typical setup includes:

    1. Select or enter your Logitech Harmony Universal Remote Control model number.
    2. Designate the types and brands of devices you wish to control.
    3. Create "Activities" that allow you to turn on and perform several additional tasks across multiple devices at the same time.

    The Bottom Line

    Woman watching television
    Getty Images, Betsie Van Der Meer, Taxi Collection

    A Universal Remote is a great way to clear that space on your coffee table, but also keep the following in mind:

    • A universal remote is not always an entire replacement for the original. Some only control basic functions, while others may provide access to advanced picture, sound, network, and Smart TV or home control feature settings. However, the use of the original remote may still be required for some or all advanced features, so store it, and some batteries, where you can easily find them.
    • Not all Universal Remotes can be updated.
    • When shopping for a Universal Remote, take note of what programming options are available.
    • Check to see if the remote has a temporary memory that stores control information for a few minutes when you have to change the batteries. Otherwise, you may have to reprogram the remote.

    As mentioned at the top of the page, programming options and steps may vary from one Universal Remote Brand/Model to another. Consult your user guide for specific details.