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Make Your Phone Into a Universal Remote

August 8 2013

Today, we’re going to use our smart phone or tablet to control our home theater. This is a project Iyaz was doing in his own home and he did plenty of research to find all the options.

Hardware-based option

The Logitech Harmony Smart Control is a hardware-based solution that makes your smartphone or tablet into your home theater remote control. It costs about $130 retail and is a two part solution. One part is the hub, which sits at your home theater components. It connects to your home network and will send an IR signal to your home theater components when it is activated by its companion app.

The second part is the free Harmony app that is available for iOS and Android. You install the application on your device and it finds your hub on the same network during the pairing process. The Logitech Harmony Smart Control also comes with a backup remote in case you want to go use physical buttons.

Troubleshooting
In our setup, we ran into some issues. To import our old Harmony remote settings, we had to set up a new “My Harmony” account for free and then import our older settings into the new account.

The hub was also sending simultaneous signals to the television and our set top box (in this case, an Apple TV). To fix this, we had to recreate the “Watch Apple TV” activity we had set up. Don’t be afraid to reset your activities if you run into issues!

Apps for your components

Your home theater components may have apps available to make your phone or tablet a remote. In Iyaz’s case, we found that his AVR, TV, and set top boxes (an Apple TV and a Roku) all had applications available for his devices. If your theater component has an Internet connection, there’s a good chance it has an app. Do a quick search in either the Play Store or Apple’s App Store to see if there is a companion app for you. In our experience, the apps weren’t the most polished, but work in a pinch. The downside is that you’ll have to switch apps as you would physical remotes when you want to control different parts of your home theater.

Here are the apps Iyaz showed off or mentioned:

Apps for your Media Center PC

If you’ve got a computer hooked up to your TV, there are companion apps you can use so you can avoid using a keyboard and mouse. The simplest app you can use is a virtual keyboard and virtual trackpad. Iyaz has been using the Logitech Touch Mouse on his Media Center for a number of years. You install server software on your Media Center, then your phone can control things via the free app. iOS. Here’s another, similar option for both iOS and Android: Remote Touchpad iOS | Android

If you’re using XBMC, there is a companion remote app for iOS and Android available for free.

If you’ve made a Mac mini media center, Remote Buddy is a great Mac OS X program that brings lots of control to your Apple remote or smartphone via an AJAX web app. Remote Buddy costs about 20 Euros.

Know-It-Alls

Viljar Kuusk asks "I also Just watched the cracked screen replacement and I'm wondering if this would work for a NEXUS 7? I have a cracked screen on mine and I'm using an OTG cable and wireless mouse and keyboard, but its not the same. Thanks!

Answer: According to iFixit, the glass is fused to the digitizer, so you'll have to get a new screen assembly and that runs around $50.

Questions? Comments?

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