How to Use a Universal Remote With Apple TV

Man changing channels watching television

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Siri is great, but those of us who still use surround sound systems or DVD, Blu-Ray, or HDD players with our televisions can’t control those devices using the Apple TV remote control, at least, not yet. That’s why it makes so much sense to configure and use a universal remote with your Apple TV.

What Is a Universal Remote?

If you haven’t come across a universal remote control then you’ve missed out on using a programmable remote control system that is capable of operating multiple types and brands of devices. You probably have a remote like this already, as some TV remotes can now "learn" to control other devices. Some higher-end models are completely programmable while others provide limited controls or control limited numbers of devices. The first programmable remote control was released by CL9, a startup company founded by Apple co-founder, Steve Wozniak, in 1987.

These days you can find a variety of programmable universal remote controls from numerous manufacturers, with Logitech’s Harmony range frequently seen as one of the best on the market. Apple TV is compatible with most universal infrared (IR) remote controls, though you don’t get to use Siri voice recognition or any touchpad features. However, not every remote will support Apple TV, so do ask your online or physical retailer to confirm this before buying one.

How to Setup a Universal Remote

Assuming you’ve purchased a universal remote that does support the Apple TV then setting it up to work with yours should be relatively simple. We can’t explain how to set up the remote control you’ve purchased as this varies between brands, do take a look at the manual supplied with your equipment, but these are the steps you’ll usually take when linking it to an Apple TV.

  • Open Remotes & Devices in Settings on your Apple TV
  • Tap Learn Remote
  • If this doesn’t work, or your remote doesn’t show up in the list make sure it is on and that you are using a new device setting.

Your new remote should now appear as an option in the Learn Remote menu. Select Start using the remote.

Now you need to program your remote:

  1. First, you will press and hold the button you want to use the Up button on the device. A progress bar should appear. This will disappear when you are done.
  2. You will need to assign six buttons in all: Up, Down, Left, Right, Select and Menu. In each case, you will press the button on the remote control you want to use for the command and hold it down until a progress bar appears and is full.
  3. When you finish assigning these buttons you’ll be able to enter a name for the remote control.
  4. Once these steps are complete you’ll also be asked to set up Play, Pause, Stop, Rewind and Fast Forward buttons. The process continues until you name other useful buttons, including Back, Next/Previous Track and Skip buttons. When you click OK at the end of the setup sequence you will be able to use your Universal Remote with your Apple TV.

It's important to note that some high-end universal remote control devices can be set up with a software patch over USB.

When you have completed this process you'll be able to use your universal remote to control most functions on your Apple TV.

Troubleshooting Problems and Solutions

Some common problems you may encounter when attempting to set up a universal remote include:

  • Problem: You see a "No Signal Received" warning
  • Solution: Your Apple TV did not detect the infrared signal from your remote. You should make sure there are no objects between your remote and the Apple TV.
  • Problem: You see a "Button Already Learned" warning
  • Solution: You have already assigned a function to that button on your remote control. It can also mean you have previously trained another remote which happens to be using the same IR code as the button you are trying to map. If you no longer have that previous remote then you should unpair it from your Apple TV in Settings. You should then be able to map the same button to your new remote control.